Oh to have companies who will pay for expertise

It is amazing to me how Irish companies will do everything in their power to resist paying for expertise.

I was contacted recently by one of the country’s mobile operators. Would I help them see “how we can go about using online communities, blogs etc to [company name’s] advantage”?

No problem, delighted to, said I!

The meeting was arranged, the aganda for the meeting was set and I was asked to address:

1) Overview of what is happening in this space
2) Example of companies that have employed some of these different tools and how they are getting value
3) How do you think [company name] could leverage these tools in order to gather insight and create a positive customer experience out of it?

I asked what their procurement policies were, did I need to send in a PO, or what was the story?

What, money? You want money? You must be dreaming. We don’t pay people for their work, they should feel priviliged just to be talking to us, seems to be the attitude.

They seriously expected me to spend several hours preparing for this meeting, travel to meet them in Dublin (3 hours each way) give away all my knowledge of this area, and all at my own expense?

When I said I’d have to charge, they cancelled.

It is not like I was going to cause a massive dent in their profits. I was only asking for a couple of hundred Euro plus train fare – half of which I would re-imburse if more business came out of it.

No, no, no –

our normal vendor policy is that all agencies would have an initial meeting with us to discuss ideas and possible ways to work together in the future


Yeah, that’s well and good except the outline of the first meeting was more like a let’s see how much information we can suck out of Tom’s head. Then we’ll go away and do it ourselves. Ha ha, won’t he feel silly then?

I even offered to do the initial meeting by conference call free in a last ditch effort to be reasonable. I haven’t heard a word since. Infuriating.

I should have mentioned in the post that the carrot that was offered to me by the mobile co. was that there was the possibility of a one day workshop with them if things went well! So I was expected to spend a day and a half between prep, travel and delivery for the possibility of a day’s work.

24 thoughts on “Oh to have companies who will pay for expertise”

  1. I had some experience with mobile operators (circa 2001) when I worked with Mobile2Meter. Dealing with them was not the easiest task as the attitude was very similar.
    We were looking to partner for delivery of the service (pay for parking using txt messages) and to establish a revenue-share. Revenue-share then was definitely a no-no and the reaction was quite incredulous that we could even suggest such a thing.

    I am sorry to read from your post that things do not seem to have changed much.


  2. Colin – it is very discouraging, I have to say.

    Sterling – really? That surprises me, I would have expected US companies to be more used to paying for knowledge.

    How do you get around it?

  3. Tom, this sort of situation is never an easy one. My own view on it is that the greater the potential opportunity/relationship, the more leeway I am inclined to give the potential client.

    Sometimes, it helps to ask directly if they are actively seeking a vendor or are simply educating themselves. If the former, then a meeting to clarify their business objectives is fine. If the latter, its a consulting gig. If its a consulting gig and they don’t want to pay, end of story. Did they set the agenda? That may be part of the problem.

    It seems to me that giving a SHORT presentation 10-15 mins of whats happening in the space, followed by an exploration of their business objectives are legitimate objectives for an initial meeting if they are seeking a vendor. A presentation covering parts one and two could be a short generic presentation that you can use with any potential client. I would not expect to be paid for this. Its a sales meeting. The trick is not to get involved in any form of consulting within the meeting itself. (Not always easy)

    The third element is def a potential consulting assignment based on what you discover during the exploratory meeting. If the meeting is mostly focused on clarifying their business objectives and why they are interested in this area, then you should have a good opportunity to put together a killer proposal that addresses point no 3 and win the business.

    From my own experience, the key is to be crystal clear with each other from the beginning. Sometimes, marketing execs, particularly those who have not worked outside a company need to have this spelled out very clearly from the initial contact.

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  5. I think this was discussed recently on Open. I’ll meet someone for free within a certain radius – say Cork city and surrounds – for an hour or so; but I won’t move outside that without expenses, and possibly payment (depends on the consultancy).

    In these particular circumstances I agree with you completely, since you could cover an awful lot of the basics in just one meeting. Leveraging community isn’t particularly complicated, let’s be honest.

    They just don’t have the mindset, and they’re too greedy. Even if they’d met you with you they’d have been incapable of implementing your suggestions properly, so it would have been a waste of your time.

    echo aganda | sed s/ga/ge/

  6. More stories from the US. Like Liam said, it is never an easy situation. You need to look at it from both sides – the company looking for help and the vendor providing the service. Many service suppliers give away lots of information and ideas (not always their own!) as a means of establishing credibility. The fact that the mobile operator contacted you is a good sign that you have some credibility. There are many steps in the sales cycle and many more books and guides to help suppliers through the process. It might we worth revisiting this opportunity. Think about what you need to do to close the opportunity, including getting paid, and think about what it does for your future business opportunities if you land this company as a client. That said, as a supplier you need to be able to identify, quickly if possible, those companies looking for free advice versus those genuinely interested and who will pay for value provided.

    Good luck.


  7. Very unprofessional on their part.

    Did they have any decision power, any budget or any respect at all.

    They must have thought you were a journalist getting paid by your publisher for a great story.

    It really does pay to qualify leads on the phone. So much can be achieved by setting the expectations at the start.

  8. Having been on the business side of this story, as a Senior Systems Architect. I believe that they were out of line setting your agenda. If you had a product or service that they were interested in, they could have expected you to present a sales pitch of your choosing. But I believe that you were correct about their motives in this case. However, if it was your presentation, with an expectation that you could make a sale of a product or service, you would be expected to pay your own way. As a matter of expenses, that would be rolled into your cost as part of the contract should there be one, and you could write them off as advertising.

  9. Thanks for the comments guys – I just updated the main post with the following additional info:

    I should have mentioned in the post that the carrot that was offered to me by the mobile co. was that there was the possibility of a one day workshop with them if things went well! So I was expected to spend a day and a half between prep, travel and delivery for the possibility of a day’s work.

    Pat, tbh, I think my posting this story here effectively shuts off any chance I have of getting back in there again. That sound you hear… it’s the sound of a bridge burning!!!

  10. i (also) think this is an interesting one and possibly an issue for those of us who blog…perhaps there’s an assumption on the part of the company you mentioned that because you blog (i.e. engage in conversations for free) that you would be willing to do the same offline with them? i.e. a misunderstanding of what blogging is about?

  11. True story:

    “Would you stop by the office and discuss mobile hotdesks with us?”

    “Sure. Can I have a developer’s SIM for long-term use?”

    “How about this one from the stand? It’s not time-limited.”

    “Ok. See you Tuesday.”

    I used that SIM for two years. Readers know I never have a mobile phone bill less than EUR 200 a month. That two-hour meeting cost Eircell at least EUR 5000 in network revenue but taking it out of hide actually cost the operator nothing.

    To each his own.

  12. Tom,
    Forgive me saying that I think you got it all wrong. They ring and ask you to come meet them. You don’t have a relationship with them, and you don’t know whether you’d want one. So go explore, on a day that suits you to be in Dublin. You travel on marginal cost, meaning that it costs you nothing extra to make the trip.
    They ask you to present on one topic. You have options: (1) do exactly what they want = not a good idea; (2) you present on only what you want = good but a bit risk = they might resent you ignoring their needs; (3) you present a little bit of their needs, just enough to leave them gagging for more, and you present some of your own stuff that they didn’t know you could do and leave them wanting more. You do a short meeting, so that they want you back for more and you’ve had time to suss them out to see whether you’d like to meet them again.
    Money is a distraction. Time is the most valuable resource. You use the opportunity to do research about their company and the least you get is another item for your CV.
    Remember they are paying for your company with their time. The more of them at the meeting the bigger the investment they are making, the greater the pressure on them to produce some value from the meeting.
    Of course, if you have loads of other client baying for your time, you can afford to play hard to get.
    It’s not too late to go back to them with an offer to meet them next time you want to travel to Dublin for the Yeats exhibition., or a session with Microsoft, or some other assignation.

  13. Tom,
    Afterthought. How about inviting them to Cork for the meeting? That would give them a day out of the office, which they might relish. It would show how far down the track they were on this. It would put them into your territory. You could bring others along too and turn this opportunity into relationship building…
    Just a thought

  14. Tom,

    As Sterling said, it happens over here, as well–all the time. Here’s what I do: I make it very clear that this is what I do for a living, but I will come by for an unstructured 90-minute conversation (one requiring no preparation on my part. If they are more than a one-hour drive from my home, I require travel expense.

    During the 90 minutes, I give the very best help that I can. I am aware that both the company and I are using this time to understand what it would be like to work together.

    At the 90 minute mark, I lightly state that this concludes the free portion of our program. In some cases I state what my consulting rate are. In others, I just wish them well because I’ve concluded for a mere 90 minutes of my times that this would be yet another client from Hell.

    I consider the free time to be most helpful in winnowing out the ones I have no desire to work with before money has changed hands.

  15. Tom,

    I am sure there are alot of small SME tech companies that would empathise with the scenario you described. The knowlege economy that we work in, is sometimes seen by people as being a free service rather than a paid service. Because the information is in your head and you are not physically building a wall or landscaping a garden, the perception it does not allways require payment.

    For some of them it may not be advice or it may be more in the line of I want free tech advice/support. For others it involves them carrying out some tech/servicing work and the customer being surprised that they are being charged.

    Dilbert summed it up recently when he asked to network a home for a colleague in his office. His reply was to ask them to come tile his bathroom.


  16. Annette,

    I think there’s a lot to what you mentioned – because we give it away for free on the blog, there’s an implication that we will give it away in general.

    Paul, I probably did fluff it, you are right. Possibly I should have bent over further to accomodate them but my feeling was that then they wouldn’t value my services and I would be approaching the relationship from a point of weakness.

    Asking them to come to Cork is not a bad idea. I don’t for a sec think they’ll do it, but no harm asking anyway!

  17. Tom,
    Thanks for your response to my comment. I notice you saying that you felt that they wouldn’t value your services. That surely is their business and you’ll never have control over that. They may or may not value your services but you do control how much you value the services you offer. They have no control over that. If you say to yourself something like “whatever they think, I know my services are really good. They would be lucky to meet me. I’ll see them on that basis.” Such an approach would ensure you would enter the relationship from a point of strength.
    I’m not suggesting that it would have been a good thing to have accomodated them. That type of thinking would undermine your value by putting you in a weak mind set. I’m suggesting you look for mutual advantage and an opportunity to go do some research. There might well be some junior person who has not budget who is trying to make an impact within that organisation and who might be grateful to you for a service. You might return having laid the foundation of a good long term relationship with someone who is going places and who will have big budget in future.
    The main thing is, I think, to do something interesting and challenging. I’m sure there is time for that.
    Good luck.

  18. Tom

    While I understand your situation, I think you misunderstood the context. It’s an initial meeting – usually an exchange of views, which should result in a longer term consuting opportunity if you are anyway decent.

    You’re expected to lay out your knowledge wares in summary form for free, to prove you are competent in the area – perhaps they did set the expectation differently but i think you were also a little niave. Intial meetings are speculative and therefore should be absorbed in cost of sales – you’d recover the cost in the subsequent fees you’d charge.


  19. D,

    to an extent you are right but I couldn’t justify a day plus travel expenses for what *may* yield a one day workshop.

    If they are not willing to commit to at least reimbursing my expenses for the day, then they are not serious enough about the project.

  20. Two cliches jump to mind in this debate:
    (1) If you don’t know where you are going, than any road will take you there. If this company said, ‘Tom, we are looking to start a year-long program for 125,000 euros. We are asking three vendors to jump through the following hoops. Then Tom would know what game he was supposed to play and that might have changed how he handled this. It sounds like this company was asking him to spend a great deal of time and expense, while keeping its own cards so close to its vest that they could be mistaked for a tattoo.

    (2) A bad courtship leads to abad marriage. Over the years, I’ve learned to rate chemistry much higher in choosing client to pursue than I used to. It seems to me that this company and Tom would not end up singing in harmony. Tom would spend his time trying to make the relationship work without succeeding. Meanwhile he would be too busy in a frustrating relationship to take advantage of another, better opportunity when it arose.

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