How much does business transformation cost?

by Heather Rast |

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 This company had an outdated compensation arrangement with its old-school salespeople, ones who still held fast to annual contracts with a few large corporations.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.


About the Author

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.