When the best thing for your client is to fire yourself

Sometimes what's needed is someone else

Today I had a strange experience. As part of a substantial new account, my company was tasked with finding the best solution to a large data problem which included e-commerce and back office integration. The client already committed to giving us the business, and we committed to performing the initial discovery at no cost. Our discovery work lead us to a solution which was bad for us but good for them.

After the initial meetings and courtship, we had started a good relationship and had proposed some preliminary solutions to their problems (with associated costs). As with most new technical projects, we didn’t know the precise way we’d achieve their goals but we had a general sense of what it would entail. We spent time being educated on the current pain points, watching demos of the existing systems, and learning about the client’s business. We drafted proposals and recommendations. In short, we did what it took to win the business.

The last step was to do some research on precisely how we would solve a data aggregation and formatting problem before we provided an estimate for that work. Following that project (and payment for the services), we would begin the larger e-commerce and back office project which would take advantage of this newly curated data. The entire project would combine to be a meaningful sum, one that would be greatly welcomed in our small business. During the research searching for the required data, we came across a third party solution which noone involved had been aware of.

This new solution not only provided and maintained the exact curated data the client was looking for, but they also tied that data into a hosted e-commerce solution built specifically for the industry. What’s more, they did it all for much less than we could do it for - and at first glance, better than we could possibly do it because they specialized in it.

So now I was in a pickle. Nobody else knew this other solution existed. By bringing it to the client’s attention, I would be effectively firing myself and turning the large project into a small loss. This is a business after all, in a competitive marketplace to boot. I know thriving businesses who make almost all their money based on the lack of technical knowledge most people have. So what do you do? Had this revelation not been stumbled on we would have all proceeded as planned and we would have built the client a good solution, far better than what they have currently, and our business would benefit from the work. But would it be the best solution?

The first this I did was get in touch with this third party. I went through a tour of their offerings, asked a ton of questions specific to my client, and made sure it did everything they needed it to do. It did. Then I gathered a price quote for all of the components they would need to see if it would be a better value than going with us. It was.

What else could I do? I detailed all of my findings, complete with examples of the product in action, listed out their pricing options, supplied them with my contact’s information, and told them they needed to set up a demo and see the solution for themselves. I knew this would mean our removal from the project. I also knew that it wasn’t likely to turn into any future business for us because most of their needs would be served. It’s possible that this was a bad decision for my business. We’ll feel the loss, but I’m not sure I’ll feel it as much as I would moving forward for the next 6 months knowing there’s already a better solution out there.

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