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August 30, 2010

The Input/Trust Scale

August 30, 2010

"What if we charged our clients less money for more freedom?"

This was put to discussion by Ed Rice a month ago at one of our Monday team lunches. I was on vacation but Ben Jehring thought it was a good enough idea to bring it up to me during a check in call. We've been struggling with managing client expectations for years. Every services business has this challenge. It is difficult walking the line between over communicating around our process (essentially training them how to be a Small Box employee) and assuming that the client knows how we work. Too often we erred on the side of assumption. Then we played catch up later when the client felt confused and overwhelmed by the process.

So we were regularly entering into relationships based on a number of assumptions. Unnecessary assumptions.

Have you ever seen the show "9 By Design"? The premise is that this NYC interior design couple, with 7 kids!, are hired by a client and given a budget to redo a house/condo, etc. The client has almost no input. They trust this couple to do something they would like based on their previous work. Also, the couple knows that if the client was to get involved the process would take much longer and cost a lot more. So the client says "I have X dollars to spend and want this overall outcome" and the couple can either accept or reject the opportunity. It seems to work really well for all involved. Of course there is some editing involved but it really resonated with me. I started thinking how this could apply to Small Box.

"Maybe some of our clients don't want to be fully engaged and just want to trust us to get the job done. Isn't that why they chose us anyway?"

Somehow we got a little lost along the way. We assumed that every client wanted to be an integral part of the process and sign off at every decision point. We assumed that they didn't really trust us. Those are the habits of a start up paying its dues, not a Web company that has done over 150 websites for almost every kind of business. We had to change the way we sold and managed projects. We needed to ask our clients how much engagement they wanted and then scale the project timelines and budgets to match that engagement level. Out of this has come the Trust/Input Scale. Here's how it works.

We ask clients to score their desired engagement using this 1-10 scale.

Trust/Input Scale

1- Complete Trust: "Show us when it's done. We are available to answer questions but your team has complete freedom to do what they think is best."
5- Input/Trust Blend: "We have some specific needs but trust your team to take care of the details."
10- Complete Input: "Our companies need to work together as one team. We will be highly engaged and want input at every decision point."

In asking our clients to score themselves it accomplishes a couple things. First, we have a better idea of what the budget and timeline will look like- the more trust and freedom we have the faster we can work. Secondly, it sets expectations on both sides for the entire engagement and creates accountability for both teams "You said we had complete trust but now you are wanting to give design feedback" or "I asked for a high level of input but you never explained your process and I feel lost". We have already found it useful to talk about projects using this scoring system- "They are a 4 so we need to have them sign off on the site map and home page designs but keep the rest internal".

We have recently signed our first "1". I will be writing about that in an upcoming blog. The whole team is excited about having the freedom to work fast and get great results. Stay tuned.

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