Friday, February 8, 2013

Selling the Dream

I used to be acquainted with someone whose motto for running his business was "Sell the dream but deliver the reality." Does that make alarm bells go off in your head? It does mine.

We all have dreams. Maybe it's buying a house or getting student loans paid off. Perhaps it's a vacation to somewhere exotic. My dream car is a Range Rover Evoque but it is just that, a dream car because at this point in my life I can only afford one in my dreams. Dreams are where our every wish and desire are fulfilled. Sometimes dreams do come true but usually through a lot of hard work and determination.

Now if I went down to say, CarMax, told them I wanted a Range Rover Evoque, had $25,000 to spend, and they said, "Okay" I'd be pretty excited. However, if when I showed up to pick up the car they handed me the keys to a Honda Accord, I'd be pretty upset. Just to be clear, I drive a Honda Accord, his name is Eric. He's unassuming on the outside but slip into the driver's seat, wrap your hand around the six-speed manual, and you'll soon learn there's more than meets the eyes. In other words, it's a great car. Nonetheless, if I'm promised one thing but given something different - or worse, inferior, I will not be a satisfied customer and in fact I will feel cheated.

Besides the obvious that the customer doesn't get what they expected, doing business this way establishes a relationship built on lies from the very beginning. If they're willing to tell a big lie, no doubt they're willing to tell little lies the entire time they're working together. Unfortunately by the time the client figures out what's going on it's too late.

In a perfect world, business ethics wouldn't even be a topic of conversation but I think this behavior is reprehensible. And I'm proud to say that I think my current employer is the most ethically sound company I've ever worked for both in the ways they interact with clients and how they treat their employees. I digress. I personally don't ever want to get burned so it is my desire to put out into the world that which I think can help others.

Here are some things to look out for to make sure you don't end up locked in with a snake oil salesman:
  1. Promises to do a lot more than any other bidders
  2. Promises to do the project for a lot less money than any other bidder
  3. The proposal is extremely vague
  4. The proposal is so long you don't know what it's talking about or is full of a lot of flowery language about how wonderful their company and process is
  5. Any part of the proposal seems to be too good to be true
  6. The vendor has no concerns about meeting any of your requests (not to say they can't be fulfilled)
What you can do to protect yourself:
  1. Solicit multiple bids and compare them in detail, not just the price quote
  2. Insist on extremely detailed contracts*
  3. Demand transparency
  4. Get references for recent, comparable work. Check them and look at the finished product if at all possible
  5. Listen to your instincts - If you think you're being lied to, you probably are

* I recommend watching this video. It's aimed more at the vendor than the client but the advice is spot on and really, contracts protect everyone. Note, there is a fair amount of vulgar language and there is one metaphor used that is poorly chosen. Nonetheless, I think the good outweighs the bad.

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