If you’ve ever worked with a freelancer or consultant before, or conducted a review to select an agency, this question probably permeated the room like the cloying, flowery-sweet perfume your Aunt Beatrice bathes in: How much will it cost?

Variations like “What’s the damage?” or “What’s something like that run?” get lobbed over the discussion table like the bully grenades they are (subtext: “This is me, intimidating you into rethinking your worth so I don’t have to reallocate my budget or request new funding. ‘Cuz that would require some legwork, and like, a report or something.”). And while yeah, I got the telegram alerting me to the fact that we’re in a down economy and there are people that need to be aggressive or wiley over price lest they feel they haven’t “won,” I’d like to assert that this question, in any of its forms ranging from short-sighted to downright rude, is really not the question that should be asked. Not at this time, and not in that way.

What is it worth, and why is it important to my business? That’s the question, folks. That’s the question to ask whether you’re considering integrating social media into your operations and marketing communications, thinking about a logo refresh, or breaking off a product to stand on its own steam under a new endorsed brand.

What’s this endeavor [potentially] worth? Now, six months, a year from now?

Why is it [potentially] important to my business? The straight-line opportunities, the risks, the downstream advantages?

This advice might seem obvious. But too often a preoccupation with price will inhibit real problem-solving. If real problems can’t get solved, price is of little import.

social media cost

Bargain-hunting: social media filet at cube steak prices

Sometimes the important questions can’t be answered in absolutes. There are no guarantees. Only research, focus groups, customer surveys, internal evidence-gathering, peer advice, education, return rates, instinct and intuition. Your gut’s as good a baromotor as any when it’s backed up with every resource you can reasonably amass.

Once I was in discussion with a large commercial printing company. This company had an outdated compensation arrangement with its old-school salespeople, ones who still held fast to annual contracts with a few large corporations. Print the scale the company had historically known was starting to fall by the wayside and the owners knew they needed to make print relevant again in addition to finding ways to create value for graphic designers, corporate purchasing specialists, and other targets.

The company started experimenting with QR codes and PURLs to build cases for print as an effective, measurable direct response vehicle still appreciated in the marketplace. They were curious about how social media might help them connect more strongly with a customer base of current and new targets. Whether if by sharing some of their specialized knowledge online would bring them more, rather than cost them. Could digital marketing and social media help them?

Unfortunately, the old-school salespeople didn’t want to actively prospect the new services within their assigned client bases. It was too much to learn, they didn’t know how to sell it, and hey, my personal accounts are still meeting quota so why bother?

This company’s problems went beyond product to seep down into culture. But the highlight of my story is this: even knowing there were performance and attitude issues with the staff, even knowing that month after month revenues were declining, even knowing products like QR codes and PURLs were critical to avoid a commodity path and offered great margin, even knowing that digital marketing and social media held the potential to shine a light on their core competencies, the president of the company still discontinued our exploratory discussions. Why?

Because the company didn’t like the price tag on my proposal. Rather than coordinate with me to arrive at a less aggressive, less expensive initial plan of action (which, incidentally, I offered because I saw some other strategic benefits), they stopped discussion. “Mr. Smith thinks you’re the perfect candidate skills-wise. But we can’t afford your plan at this time (last month missed goal again), and he thinks he can find a junior employee at reduced cost and get them at full-time capacity.”

Yes, indeed. That’s the way to turn the Titanic around.

Price is important. Budgets need minding. But I think cost is a factor that’s best evaluated as part of a whole set of criterion and objectives. Lateral thinking, creative bargaining, or any number of alternative arrangements can sometimes bridge the gap between cost and worth.

Because when your focus is on price, any old hunk of cheap meat will do.

Heather likes to mix metaphors. It’s part of her charm.

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About Heather Rast

Heather Rast

Heather is Principal of a boutique Cedar Rapids digital marketing company. She develops brand positioning strategy and marketing communications plans to distinguish small businesses from the competition and attract their ideal customers. Her content planning, writing, and online community-building work helps larger businesses better serve their audiences with useful information that solves problems as it builds affinity for the brand.

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://twitter.com/cksyme Chris Syme

    I like the idea of asking, what is it worth, rather than how much does it cost. Good advice.

  • http://trafficcoleman.com/blog/official-black-seo-guy/ Black Seo Guy

    Price is everything in this economy and people have to watch that bottom line if they don’t want to be in the poor house.

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

  • Madison Bushell

    Sounds like they weren’t considering the ROI at all- big mistake.

  • Madison Bushell

    Sounds like they weren’t considering the ROI at all- big mistake.

  • Madison Bushell

    Sounds like they weren’t considering the ROI at all- big mistake.

  • http://www.skinnyemmie.com skinnyemmie

    This is a two sided issue: first, I agree that many companies are extremely driven by dollars right now. As a corporate marketer, I have a budget to stick to and if something falls way out of line with that, sometimes there isn’t anything I can do. What you did was smart, and something all consultants (I wear this hat also as my side hustle) should do: offer more “affordable,” scaled-down versions that will build the relationship and still provide the value proposition they’re looking for. I don’t mean selling yourself short – I just mean scaling a program back and giving them a CHOICE.
    As a consultant, I’ve found recently that offering a few different options per proposal at different price points has helped result in less sticker shock. Companies are looking at options A, B and C and they can pick what they’re comfortable with. As long as expectations are set as far as what the deliverables are, it works great. 
    Great post, Heather. 

  • http://twitter.com/Justin_Dupre Justin Dupre

    Research is really the key here. Different scenarios call for different actions.

  • Jared J

    I really liked what you had to say, sometimes people just go into certain conversations or proposals with a set mind and aren’t willing to budge in order to benefit their business. You would think if they really cared they would for compromise. 

  • http://www.online-business-virtual-assistant.com/ Virtual Business Assistant

     Most of the small companies are still blissfully ignorant of business transformation influence on customer choice of products/services. ….

  • http://resumecvservice.com/ professional resume

    thanks for the post! liked it!

  • http://twitter.com/parissab Parissa Behnia

    Interesting post.  Price is discussed during the selling process and not during the negotiation as you correctly point out with your question of “Why is it important to my business?” which is code for asking how painful their current business problem is.  

    That said, price is never an issue when folks make a decision though they often use that or other tangible reasons as the excuse.  Folks make decisions based on emotional drivers which they then use tangible reasons to justify.  The onus is on us to figure out what’s going on in the soft side of things to help the purchase decision along.

  • http://twitter.com/itsRobynwithay Robyn Davis Sekula

    This is a terrific point. I run into this, too, as a freelancer. What will it cost you, ultimately, to do nothing, which is what will likely happen in that scenario? I often find that the sales people are the most resistant to change – in fact, I think in the newspaper industry, that’s one of the biggest issues. They’ve been a monopoly for so long that their sales staff has no capacity for customer service, and they STILL can’t envision a future in which they are not dominant. They don’t know or like or use online tools, and therefore, can’t sell them. Like the post a lot and I think you mak some great points.

  • http://aliciavaz.com Alicia Vaz

    This sounds very similar to a situation I’m facing. You mentioned there being, a strategic benefit of a less aggressive, less expensive plan of action. But can alternatives and perhaps lesser strategies be implemented without diluting the worth of the brand? If so, then alternative approaches are a great idea. Otherwise, I feel its likes settling for a Band-Aid knowing fully well surgery is required.

    Having a client that recognizes their need for change and willing to not settle for half-baked ideas but instead are on board throughout all phases is ideal. So even if they’re faced with budget constraints, which I’m sensitive to, the end goal should still remain the priority.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Shivi-Vohra/830049777 Shivi Vohra

    Nice article….

  • Henry Jakson

    Business
    Process Transformation is an approach to the positioning of a business
    enterprise by essentially redesigning the structure of the business from the
    ground up. This radical approach seeks to interpret the standard business
    model in a new way, making more efficient use of available resources
    by seeing the function and purpose of those resources in new ways. Business process
    re-engineering is also known as business process redesign, business
    transformation, or business process change management.