Never talk about your tools

Young kid holding tools in a garage

Have you ever heard a prospective client ask you questions like…

“My friend said I should use Ruby on Rails instead of Wordpress.”

“I want someone who’s really good at Photoshop, especially CS6. It’s really good.”

“I want to stay away from Ruby on Rails, because it’s really expensive.”

“How many years have you been doing InDesign?”

When I ran my consultancy, I got questions & statements like this all the time from prospective clients, trying to determine if Creo was a good fit for their project. They were using criteria like this to evaluate us before hiring us.

Seems kinda silly, right? I mean, who ever asked the General Contractor building their house, “Are you guys good with a hammer? How many years of hammering experience do they have? What brand of nails will you be using?”

On the surface, this seems like the client is being an idiot, looking at all the wrong criteria. And maybe they are. We know that skilled craftsmen will work with the tools which are the most appropriate for the job, and deliver amazing results.

But let’s step back, why would someone ask us about our tools in the first place? Why do they think this is an appropriate metric to judge us on?

One reason: We told them to. We are the idiots, not them.

Let me explain…

I recently did a survey of freelancers / consultancies, and 64% of their marketing websites spend significant time listing (or bragging!) about the tools they use. When a potential customer visits the site, they immediately have the (too often correct) impression that the company is more excited with their tools used in the project than the outcomes of the project.

In addition, of the 64% who use the “tools” approach to their marketing, 82% of them had posted something related to their tools on social media (Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus).

We are teaching our customers to ask us about our tools, because that’s what we talk about.

And that’s a terrible place to be, for them and for you.

All of this “tool talk” leaves the potential customer with the unfortunate impression that the best criteria for choosing a company is their expertise and experience with the tools.

2 women working together at a computer

For the customer, it gives them the impression that their job is to find the best people in a “tool category”. It also means they have to understand the tools, care about the tools, and choose the tools. This makes them care about the wrong things, which won’t help them choose the best vendor for the job.

For you, it makes you simply a competitor in a “tool category”, rather that someone who delivers value to their business. In addition, it limits your ability to choose the right solution because you sold yourself as the expert with a particular tool, and changing tools would be unsettling to them.

My survey and review indicated, unsurprisingly, this “tool obsession” problem is more prevalent with technology / software companies than design companies. So, why do we do this?

I believe software folks often feel “safe” talking about their tools because from the beginning of their careers they are taught to value expertise over effectiveness. They end up seeing the value in how well they use a particular tool, rather than in delivering value. Talking about our tools make us feel safe and secure, which meets OUR needs (but does nothing for our customers needs!)

Designers / marketers / copywriters don't seem to suffer from this particular insecurity (they have others!), and from the beginning of their careers they are taught to “focus on an audience”. That, and it’s blatantly absurd for a copywriter to brag about using MS Word 2010, but somehow acceptable for a programmer to brag about using AngularJS.

In 2014, it’s silly to talk about your tools. As Bob Newhart famously said, “Stop it. STOP IT.”

Instead, stop hiding behind your tools behind and muster the courage to talk about value and outcomes. This simple change alone will win you more business.

So, here’s your homework:

  1. Find someone who doesn’t work with / for you, and ask them to look at your website.
  2. Ask them to write down every reference to something that looks like a “tool or technology” that they can.
  3. Remove or change those references to something which speaks to the promised value your client will receive from working with you.

And finally, the next time someone asks you “What does your company do?”, never talk about your tools. If you need a reminder, re-watch Bob’s video. ;-)

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