Sell Simplicity but Enable Complexity

Over the past few months, I met with several current and potential agency partners to discuss their experiences with hreflang, specifically Hreflang Builder. I wanted to understand why they were not using it as much as they should be. The responses were interesting and eye-opening. After absorbing all of this input and reflection, I came up with the article titled Sell Simplicity but Enable Complexity. 

I created Hreflang Builder out of necessity as an internal solution to solve website traffic cannibalization issues for our multinational clients who could not implement hreflang using their CMS. I never set out to create a separate commercial product. My vision for Hreflang Builder was to eliminate, or at least minimize, most of the enterprise’s hreflang challenges. Anyone who works in enterprise-level web infrastructures is aware of the “many challenges” that come from the size and breadth of enterprise websites, making hreflang XML sitemaps the only viable method. Each iteration of Hreflang Builder solved a new challenge posed by a client’s complex website architectures or CMS limitations.

Before having dinner with the CEO of an agency that should be one of our biggest customers, I asked him to poll his team and see why they don’t use the application.  His response shocked me.  They told him they were not using it because it was too complicated and they could make more money via consulting and helping a client try to implement an internal solution. I had a range of emotions, specifically frustration, but I did not display it, so I thanked him for the feedback.

My frustration came from the fact that their head of technical SEO had seen a demo of an early edition and tried to use it for one of the most complex projects I have encountered but had little budget to make any manual adjustments. Despite multiple attempts to demo the newest versions, there was no interest.

I received a similar response from another agency  CEO who had watched our demo video and thought it was great, but users might think it was too complicated.  The demo shows the simplicity, but we describe the complexity and challenges of hreflang it overcomes.  That was his point; just talk about how easy and magical it is.  Save the detailed features for other videos.  Again I was frustrated   I told him it is painfully simple to use requireing just a few clicks but unfortunatly what he perceived as complexity was my trying to explain that we can deal with the chaos of complex site archetectures.

He recommended selling simplicity and acknowledging that we can manage complexity if needed.  Part of my frustration is doing process improvement consulting. For the past 30 years, I have seen firsthand the fundamental problems of sales teams selling simplicity and the backend people having to deal with the reality that the project was anything but simple.   One client had a 77% annual turnover due to over-selling simplicity.  The clients were sold the illusion of instant success and simplicity. Still, the team could not deliver due to the complications of the website their dev team built and the dominance of competing sites, especially their higher-paying clients.

After sleeping on it, I told them both they were right.  We need to demonstrate the simplicity and power of our solution first, how they can, in a perfect world, set up their project with minimal effort.  That is actually what the tool can do.  Introducing complexities they may not have can give the wrong idea that the solution is overly complicated and create unneeded anxiety.  These challenges and complexity are unique to each customer, and due to the superpowers of the solution, we can overcome them as needed.  Those aware of their challenges and unique needs will engage with that content related to their known complexities, making it more relevant and engaging.

Being brilliant marketers, a few agency heads suggested renaming the product to something like “Easy Hreflang” or “Instant Hreflang” with a selling point of generating an output in less than 15 minutes.  This is all true and should make people want to sign up.   Each mentioned other tools that sold the illusion of simplicity and had a hundred people offshore scrambling to make the more complex work. 

Following their input, we went with videos, marketing, and demos showing simplicity and ease. We did not have any change in the type or quantity of customers.  We have both simple and solving challenges. I so like presenting an infomercial easy-button solution with a quick caveat that their setup will be contingent on their unique solution.

It was great to get honest and direct feedback from the agency teams. But you also need to listen to customers and your gut. In 2024, anyone using a “simple solution” already has one with their CMS. Nearly all of those who contact us fall in the complex area, which is the very purpose for which we created the solution.  We will keep the simple message and reference that we can deal with “outlier scenarios” and extend our videos and content to introduce those features separately.