Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Death of a Consultant

I keep finding myself running into situations where the "experts" that one turns to for advice turn out to be shadow-salesmen -- that is, salesmen disguised as advisors, who have all kinds of conflicts of interest built into their trade. The biggest offenders are the finanical advisors -- brokers, insurance agents, etc. What they fail to tell you (usually) is that they will recommend whatever they have to sell, and that they will probably sell you whatever is most profitable to themselves, not what is most suitable to your situation. Doctors are not much better. It's quite rare to find a doctor who will tell you that you don't need another test or another medication; after all, they make money by selling you procedures and tests.

I find this especially troubling because . . . I'm one of them. I am a consultant who also happens to profit from the software and services I sell. How do I make sure I am not succumbing to the conflicts of interest that abound in so many other fields?

Actually, there are some really good ways to keep things honest:
  1. Offer the customer choices. You can make your recommendation for what you think will be best for the customer, but you should also tell them about other options available to them, including options that don't involve paying you money. This requires having a lot of confidence in the value of your products and services; you have to really believe that you have to best solution, to put yourself side-by-side with competing solutions. It also requires letting some work go; sometimes, the customer really is better off going somewhere else with a job, and you have to be willing to let that go.
  2. Talk about price up-front. Many salesmen, worried about losing customers from sticker-shock before selling them on the value of their solution, will be evasive or even outright dishonest about the ultimate costs. If you have to hide the costs, odds are good you're not offering the right solution for the customer.
  3. Never surprise the customer -- especially with the bill. If there's going to be extra cost, you need to let them know ahead of time, and give them the choice to pay it or not. If the end-product is going to be less than what you promised, you need to tell them that, too.
  4. Never hide information from the customer. If the transaction requires that the customer not know something, then odds are good it's an unfair transaction. (Besides, in the age of Google, there are very few secrets. Even your margins on your products and materials can be known . . . )


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