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Cost vs. Investment

By virtue of being a consultant to business, I am often put into a category by existing clients, prospects, and business associates that I would rather not be a part of – annoyance. While I fervently believe I have value to offer, and work hard to always refine the benefits of what I offer; there are some in the companies I approach that are fearful of talking with me (out of concern I will “sell” them something they don’t need? Can’t afford? Do not want?). I recently had one such occasion.

As a consultant, I often feel like my clients perceive I see them as targets to acquire.

With the names changed or any identifying information removed, here is what the client responded to me:

Sorry for the delay in getting back to you.  Is there something different than what you and <subordinate> discussed that you’d want my feedback on?  The reason I ask is that, as I mentioned, <subordinate> manages the budget for the department.  She is correct when she said we do not have any budget designated for outside consultants.  I feel I need to be up front with you and not waste your time, as we will not be engaging any outside consults.

At first reading, this executive is being upfront, honest, and candid about the chances of my having an opportunity to sell my services to the organization.  Rather than extend our conversation, commit to doing more work in preparation, only to have it end without a sale, this executive is letting me know that there is little chance for us to conclude a conversation with a project.

However, underneath what is written, I perceived a very different reality.  This executive was so focused on meeting current and identified needs, that an opportunity (which had yet to be identified to the executive) was not even going to be given any attention because it was not budgeted!  That is akin to refusing to hear about an insurance policy for flood coverage right before a monsoon, or the specials at a restaurant because they are not on the menu!  Rather than determine if what I had to offer was perhaps of greater value to the organization (or to the executive) than what was budgeted, this executive was prepared to pass on the chance to even hear about it.

I responded as follows:

Thank you for replying and sharing your thoughts on the email below.

I completely understand the concern about “being sold to” or having to waste your time and/or mine, only to reiterate that there is no current budget for outsiders.  Given that what I want to discuss with you would involve a re-orientation of how members of the organization engage and interact with each other, and it is not something that is currently a “product,” it is not a surprise that there would not be a line-item for it in the budget.

However, I do believe that the idea is so powerful and so “right,” that the budget can and will be found from other sources if you would agree that it is worthwhile to pursue.  I thought of <company> because of the successes I have had with <an executive from the company I have worked with before> and his team on other initiatives.  I respect that your group may not be in a position to accommodate the initiative and therefore will not pursue it further.  My view on it is that this is an investment with returns that far exceed the fees, not a cost.  However, it is not an investment for everyone.  I am not offering this opportunity broadly (I am avoiding making it a “product” to be sold across the industry).

It has been my experience that expertise when applied correctly can be of tremendous help.  While I have basic knowledge in nutrition and general healthcare, I still see Drs. for check-ups or when something ails me.  I would not attempt to represent myself in a court of law, no matter how many episodes of Law & Order I had seen. And, with tax season upon us, I would not rely on my own bookkeeping capabilities when filing my taxes.  While each of these experts charge a fee, it is far less than what jeopardy I would be under if I did not use their services.

My role is to share the merits of the curriculum and provide the prospect/client with a reason to shift funds from other less worthwhile pursuits (in comparison to what I am suggesting) to this one.  However, if there is no interest or there is no opportunity for an outside agent to positively impact the organization; then I will not try to force it upon anyone.

Thank you for the consideration and for responding back to me.

It may not come as a surprise that I did receive a response back asking when we could speak about the initiative and explore it further.

David Zahn