People & Performance: December 1997                                      back to articles menu

Life with Punter

"On Matters of Honesty and Price"

I often speak out on contentious issues, only to find others agreeing with me afterwards and saying things like – ‘glad you said it – someone had to!’. Why me, Lord? Into the valley of death….

This could have been a moan, but I stopped myself just in time. Come on Punter, practice what you preach. "Don’t moan – that makes you part of the Problem. Come up with suggestions – that makes you part of the Solution!" So here are some suggestions!

The only time your average self-employed training consultant gets to sit in front of a computer to do a proposal, is in the evening or the weekend. That’s because during the business day we’re out there running training workshops for people just like yourselves. If we’re not doing that, we can’t generate revenue, which means we don’t eat. And the process of answering a customer enquiry via a proposal can take between one hour, and four or five hours. Depending on the complexity, it could take a week. We may have to do research – even wait around for legal opinion in some cases. So when we do go to all that effort, it would be nice if the ‘no thanks’ letter was a little less obvious. What am I talking about you ask?

Some of my friends – and I include my competitors in that label – will be thinking – ‘I know where he’s headed with this and I wish I could say it too’.

I’m talking about the people who ring us for a proposal, who already have their preferred trainer, who already know what they are going to do, and already have the specific project costed out and ready to go. To be on the safe side, they decide to get ‘a couple of check prices’, just to satisfy the boss, the shareholder, the Minister or the ratepayer that proper procedures have been followed. Or maybe they’re just looking for ideas to pass on to their selected trainer (yes, it happens…). So we get the enquiry phone call, attend a meeting on the other side of town or the other end of the Country, prepare a proposal, and because we’re busy too, we work a Sunday, nearly miss the deadline and end up paying $35 to a licensed bandit on a motorbike to get it there…

In return, we receive a one-line faxed reply saying ‘thanks but no thanks’. Or no reply at all, in some cases (is courtesy dead or just sleeping?). What a waste of three precious resources – Time, Enthusiasm, and Money. We know darned well that we’ve just been used as a check price or for content ideas, and it’s not a very nice feeling... if you prick us, do we not bleed? Do unto others…

Here is my suggestion. When you ring us in future, if it is just for a check price, please - BE HONEST. You think we’re going to bite your head off? No way. Quite the reverse! You will earn our thanks. And we will be quite happy to take a verbal description of the job, and ring you back later with an opinion on what our price range might be. You get what you want, and we don’t waste vast amounts of non-chargeable hours every year. The difficulty is, unless you are honest with us, we have no way of sorting out the ‘dishonest’ from the genuine ones. Obviously, we’d like to spend the quality time on proposals for our clients or prospective clients who are genuinely wanting a proposal for serious consideration.

It’s understandable I think, that we have, over time, formed some less-than-enthusiastic opinions about certain large organisations who are ‘not worth the effort’, who repeatedly do the check-price dance, and who’s main criteria is the cheapest price. We know not to waste marketing effort in that market. Which is sad really, because those markets are typically the ones most in need of quality training.

What’s in it for you? Well, if you’re honest when you ring, we’ll be just as happy to help, and when you ring next time, we’ll still be happy to help. But if you are one of the time-wasting check-price brigade, after a while good consultants will become gun-shy and you’ll get casual treatment, or we’ll all be ‘too busy’ when you ring. NZ is a small country, the good training consultants have an informal network, and you would be surprised how we compare notes in airport lounges…

I know some training organisations don’t like giving you prices over the phone. Neither do we when the caller is curt, abrupt, and (sometimes) won’t even identify themselves. I am continually surprised at the manner of some people out there in HR land, considering our profession. And all so unnecessary - our fees are published in our company profile - you don’t have to be devious or a Sherlock Holmes to get an idea of what we do and how much it might cost. Just ring and ask!

I remember how surprised I was when, on getting tenders for a major home renovation, one of the builders said to me (quite flatly) "Is this a check price?" and when I said ‘no, I need comparative quotes’, he then said "well, how many are quoting?" Somewhat intrigued, I asked him why he wanted to know that. He said "Well, if you’re getting two or three, I’m willing to put some time into it. But if you’re getting more than that, I’m simply not interested. I’ll just drive by and give you an estimate". At the time, I was somewhat taken aback. Now I understand the feeling, and salute the effect of it.

While I’ve got your attention, a quick comment on Price. Everybody has budgets to work to. But if a trainer is instantly available and/or the price is way below benchmark – doesn’t a little bitty part of you worry as to why that might be? Why would someone with a good track record and excellent skills (do you really want anything less?) be instantly available and ready to work for half the going rate? ‘Loss Leaders’ are a good retail ploy, but in the Training world you get what you pay for, and it’s your employees that will experience the difference.

Yes, there are ‘trainers’ – I use the term loosely - out there who will work for peanuts. The desperate, the tired, the untested, and the low-grade (but cheap) chalk-and-talker. Never mind the qualifications – knowledge by itself is pointless. As Albert Einstein said – ‘Imagination is more important than Knowledge’. And so the poor quality cycle repeats itself, and reinforces itself, each time. Just jam 30 people in a room with a whiteboard and a thousand overheads, and talk at ‘em all day. All it takes to complete the ‘Gliding On’ profile is the shiny pants and the pullover. Looks good on the budget variance reports, though….

"Look Boss, I saved us $50,000 on the training budget"

"Yes, but people are telling me that because the trainers are so appallingly boring they won’t go to the courses anymore…"

"I know! Isn’t it great? We save even more money…"

To summarise, this is not a moan. It is a request, a ‘deal’ if you like - with benefits for both sides. By being honest we can save each other a lot of wasted time, time we can put into the serious proposals that are considered by genuine customers in a fair competitive environment. Alternatively, it’s time you can put into preparing for the damage that the peanut-eater is going to do to you.

If you want quality training, it comes at a fair price. Good consultants don’t have to accept peanuts. If our phones start to ring with a mixture of requests for estimates only, and requests for serious proposals, I will smile and say "It Worked!".

I will now don hard hat & flak jacket and await incoming fire. Merry Xmas!

Carpe Diem

Steve Punter ANZIM, Dip Bus (PMER), FHRINZ
Staff Training Associates Ltd, Auckland, New Zealand. email: steve@sta.co.nz
© Steve Punter 1997 All rights reserved by the author

steve@sta.co.nz                                                                                                                                    back to articles menu