Quality means fitness for purpose. So no matter what you produce – a good or a service – it must be fit for its purpose. To be fit for purpose, every good and service must have the right features to satisfy customer needs and must be delivered with few failures. It must be effective to meet the customer requirements and efficient for superior business performance. – Juran’s Quality Handbook, 6th Edition
Thinking for too long can be a problem.
Sometimes you just have to get out there and find out what people need so that you can build something that they want.
Something that helps them achieve their purpose.
Building something fit for purpose
The idea of quality seems simple but it’s a word that can get complicated very quickly.
After all, what does quality mean to you?
For some of us quality is found in the aesthetics, the design, the look and feel.
I know people who are turned off instantly if what they see is ugly.
Other’s couldn’t care less about the surface impression – they’re interested in the numbers, the detail.
Other’s think about the philosophy, the values, the intent of the producers.
And it can get quite complicated to unravel very quickly.
Take the iPhone, for example.
The iPhone is designed to be beautiful, to be eye catching – to be the best phone, to be a symbol of prestige.
It’s certainly an indicator of wealth.
It turns out that you can map where the rich people are by mapping the density of iPhones – the more iPhones, the wealthier the neighbourhood.
Then again, if you just want a phone, some apps and a camera there are cheaper options, there are second-hand options.
It depends on whether you care about having the latest model.
And then, for me personally, I haven’t bought an iPhone for a while because the philosophy of Apple irritates me – the focus on keeping control and trying to imprison you in their ecosystem.
They make it hard to use their phones with any non-Apple systems and that lack of interoperability just makes it too hard to trust their machines – I’d rather use something else than deal with all that.
The point I’m making is that what is obviously a great quality product to one person may be seen very differently by someone else.
Your job as a professional is to work out what quality looks like to the person you’re trying to provide a product or service to.
And that starts by understanding their purpose – what are they trying to do and what are their constraints.
When you understand that you can build something that helps them achieve their purpose within their constraints.
Something that is fit for purpose.
But first you have to understand what all that looks like from their point of view.
Letting the prospect talk
A good sales process starts not with answers but with questions.
Why does the person need a professional like you, what are they trying to do in the first place?
You’re not going to think your way to the answer there, you need to start listening to what people have to say.
For example, let’s say you have a software development firm and a prospect comes to you – most people will launch into a pitch about what they do and the features and benefits of their product.
Not many will let the prospect talk about their situation, their problems and the reasons why they are looking for a solution.
But that’s where you really should start – by understanding the situation they are in, the problems they are facing and what that means for them – the impact that it has.
And you can’t find out any of that without letting them talk and asking questions that illuminate their situation.
When you do that you start to get a feel for why they are in the market for a product of service.
Are they looking at the value of time – they haven’t got time internally or their time is busy doing other work – so they’re looking to buy some time from someone who can do the work.
Do they realise that they haven’t got the skills they need so they’re looking for someone who can provide those complementary capabilities.
Or perhaps what they need is a restricted capability – something only a lawyer or accountant can provide – or they have to do it in order to comply with a rule or regulation.
Perhaps they don’t know what they’re looking for exactly – but they do know they’re trying to solve a problem that’s been around for a while.
It’s only when they recognise the unique shape and size of what they want and see that there is a need for it that they’re going to take the next step of working with someone like you.
Think of it like a puzzle – one with a strange shape that they don’t yet recognise.
They just know there is a hole.
If you can help them understand and articulate the shape that will fill that space, that’s a start – now they know what they need.
If you can show them that you can do it with quality – build something that’s fit for purpose then you’re in with a good chance of getting that project – now they know they can get it from you.
If you can show them that going with you is the best alternative – because you both now know what needs to be done you can do it at the best possible quality and the lowest possible cost – they now know you’re the best choice.
Bringing it all together
Once you’ve listened to what the prospect has to say and asked questions and helped them to understand what they need and how you can help you now need to put it all together in a proposal they can approve.
That actually becomes quite a simple task.
Because you know what they want you can simply list out what you’re going to do to give them what they want.
One of the things I’ve learned is that short proposals work if you put in the time to understand what people need.
When you don’t know you throw in everything you have – you try and explain everything you do hoping that something will stick and attract their attention and interest.
But if you know what they need you can cut out everything that isn’t relevant – you can create something short and to the point.
Just add costs, preferably costs that you’ve already established work within their budgets and you’re done.
Now, what’s the value you’re brought here?
It’s showing the difference between doing it yourself and hiring a professional.
A professional can help you do a quality job – quality in the sense of doing what’s needed to the standard needed, free of failures.
And you can only be a professional if you can provide a quality service – something which you have spent time developing and which is the best use of your time.
That’s something to explore next.