Ten questions to ask before you quote your next eCommerce project

It can be hard to estimate store projects

I'm not lying when I tell you that I once knew a team that sent a customer a quote for a project, only to discover the developer involved had only quoted half the project. Estimating is tough work, and estimating eCommerce projects is the roughest of all. You forget to ask a few questions, and you might miss huge parts of the project.

I'm going to tell you something right now, and I'm pretty sure I've never said anything more true than this. Ready?

The largest risks to an eCommerce project occur long before the coding has ever started.

If you've worked on an eCommerce project, you know exactly what I'm saying. The discovery (or lack thereof) will kill long you long before you get into coding challenges.

Before you quote your next eCommerce project, ask the right questions

So how you do mitigate the risks associated with eCommerce projects? Before you quote your next store project, you make sure that you know and have the right questions to ask.

That's why I've picked 10 of my 40 scoping questions to focus on. (Of course, I recommend asking more than ten questions, but these are my favorite ten that can help you.)

The ten questions to ask

I don't know if you recall the TV show, “Nip and Tuck,” but they would always start their interview with a prospective patient with, “tell me what you don't like about yourself.” That's where we start.

1. What about your store would you like to change? Why? or What is driving this new store?

What I want to know here is the driving force. Sure, it may be a feature that is lacking – most of us make that assumption. But what if we're wrong. What if they tell us they have a budget they have to spend, by a certain date? Wouldn't that be useful to know? Or what if it's a single integration and they just assumed they need a whole new site? Again, wouldn't you want to know?

2. Do you have a budget for the work you want done?

I know, you're likely going to tell me you have your own way to ask about budgets. Or maybe you just get stressed about about budgets. But I find that it's always helpful to make the direct ask. And if someone tells me their budget (even if it's lower than I want it to be), I have a great place to start with – from an education perspective.

I once had a prospect give me a really low number. I didn't blink. We just visited a handful of previous projects where I mentioned (for each) what those projects had cost. At each store, the client would say, “oh yeah, I want that.” By the end, they looked up and said, “Ok, I get it. I need to dig deeper into my wallet.” They sold themself.

3. Who are the rest of the folks that will need to approve the final project?

What I don't do, anymore, is make the assumption that I'm sitting across from the only and final stakeholder. There are always more people involved. And I would love to know that earlier rather than later before I create a quote. After all, the larger the set of interested parties, the more revisions and meetings I need to budget for.

4. Do you have a timeline, or is there a specific deadline we're trying to hit?

When we're talking about questions to ask, you know the deadline question is critical. Not just because it's key to knowing how many resources you might need, and what kind of work you'll have to do with project management to hit the goal. None of that. What I'm listening for goes beyond a “desired” date. I'm looking for external dynamics. What is causing the deadline?

I once worked on a project where we had to assemble a team of five engineers and write code that would take us months – all for an international tradeshow (where this would be launched). Then we heard that the date had been changed and we went from 18 months of runway to 12 months. That's the kind of craziness I want to know about up front.

5. Do me a favor, rank the following: speed of development, speed of design, or the speed of the store.

It's a crazy request, right? How are they supposed to know? But the discussion is always fascinating. And the truth, that you already know, is that the rank order of preference will actually have a substantial impact on how you think about the project.

One of the most important things you can do with a client on an eCommerce project is to make sure there's alignment when it comes to priorities.

6. Beyond your buyers (customers / shoppers) who else interacts with the store?

The first time I asked this question, I expected to hear the normal responses (including people who update inventory, the support folks who look up order status for customers, etc). What I didn't expect to hear was a list of third party companies that had built integrations.

And when you get a surprise answer, you know that will drive more expense into a quote. I don't love surprises, but I feel a lot better if they arrive before I deliver a quote.

7. When you built the last version of this store, what took the longest time to get done?

You're likely catching a theme. These questions all come from projects where I didn't ask the question. It's the painful lessons that leave a mark, right?

Three us of were working on a project to replace an older online store. We asked for, and received a demo of the current solution. Then we went to work for three weeks and felt like we were close.

That's when we heard the question, “where's the calendar?” It wasn't the words that caught us off guard. It was the fact that the person asking was the person who had shown us the demo. We felt like we'd seen and been given a tour of the entire codebase.

But we were wrong. The calendar question opened up an entire part of the project we'd never heard of. And it represented, no joke, 40% of the code we'd have to write. And we'd missed it.

Learning to ask this question is just another way to make sure you don't miss anything.

8. Are you using other sales channels?

These days everyone is using other channels. But this is the time to find out. Because of all the questions to ask, this one may highlight all the integrations you might have missed. Are they selling on Google? What about Instagram? What about Facebook? What about other platforms you've never heard about?

9. Will you need help testing your store for performance?

Before you quote your next eCommerce project, make sure that you're asking about performance testing. And if you don't do it, learn how. Speed is everything these days and you should be able to make sure that hundreds or thousands of concurrent visitors can arrive and shop at the store at the same time.

And now let's get to my favorite question of all.

10. If your store was going to fail, what volume of orders would make that ok?

I know, it's a crazy question. But you'd be amazed at the answers I've heard over the years. If your team is filled with engineers, you'll likely discover that you overshoot the answer to this question regularly.

As people who are technically oriented, we want to build something that won't fall over. I once consulted on a project where someone famous stated they'd be thrilled if they crashed the server. (That was a new one for me back then.)

So it's critical to understand what success means from the customer's perspective. I've had clients tell me their number and I was surprised to discover it was less than half of what I had been expecting / planning for.

May your next project be a huge success!

I hope these questions help you as you think about the questions to ask on your next eCommerce project. If you have further questions about these questions, or my longer set of 40, hit reply or hit up my contact form, or schedule a call on Clarity.

And if you're looking to host your next WooCommerce project, hit me up to get on Nexcess.

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Chris Lema
Chris Lema has been working with WordPress since 2005. Over the years he's been a blogger, a speaker at WordCamps, a coach for WordPress product companies, and the founder of the conference for WordPress business owners, called CaboPress. Today he's the VP of Products at Liquid Web, where he manages the world's first managed platform for WooCommerce stores.

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