September 1, 2010

The Third Party Blues – A Cautionary Tale by Jill Rodriguez

jill@amtopmcreative.comOne skill you won’t see in our list of capabilities is Sales. We operate by the theory that a good product will sell itself and guess what? This theory works. Not to downplay the role of a salesman because in some industries, they are the relentless hamsters in the wheel keeping the lights turned on.

In our industry, the client and service connection should be black and white. Do you like our portfolio? Can we build out the functionality you need? Can we add value by expanding on your already well thought out ideas? Do our personalities mesh well? Four yeses and voila! A match has been made.

However, our industry remains tainted with shades of gray and we have salesmen to thank for that. They’re budget focused vs. scope focused. They’d rather create the need than fulfill an existing need. And worst of all, they often misrepresent their business by going down the third party road once a job is under contract.

We’ve had the unfortunate pleasure of being that third party and here’s how it goes down. A slick salesman pitches a skill-set that doesn’t exist, lands the job and then shops for the cheapest third party so they can take a nice fat markup on top.

Being that we offer big agency output for what many would call “peanuts,” these middle men see the profit potential and try to take advantage. If the opportunity is too good to pass up, we sign ourselves up for the task knowing that the truth will surface, as it almost always does. Why? Because these sales guys all operate in the same fashion – they don’t integrate themselves into the project, inevitably exposing themselves while the third party takes over all of the communication.

Do we love to take over these projects under the cover of someone else’s business while that someone else sits back and lobs emails back and forth? Not really, but there is some vindication when karma takes effect. These clients are not blind – they know when a third party is involved and they don’t appreciate having to pay the extra bodies in the middle.

To our fellow guests invited to the third party: if you want the job and can overcome your bitterness toward the middle man markup, then rock it out. If your work stands out, the client may reach out to you directly next time. We once had a client contact us midway through a project to have us take it over, while they started a lawsuit against that particular middle man, who was trying to make tens of thousands on top of our ten thousand. KARMA!

To the unsuspecting clients in search of a firm: don’t be fooled by the technical language in the sales pitch. You can avoid paying a middle man by asking to meet the entire team before signing on. Ask the team specific questions about their employment with that firm and their work history. Don’t be afraid to probe until you feel confident. If you can meet in person, even better.

To the outsourcing sales firms: get your own skill-set and sell that! Or consider a finder’s fee – that’s definitely fair, but anything more than 15% off the top is a raw deal. If you have to keep the real budget a secret, you’re doing bad business and it will catch up to you.

Monkey in the MiddleLet’s see, how many clich├ęs can I sum this all up with? Honesty is the best policy. The truth shall set you free. Follow the Golden Rule. Don’t be the monkey in the middle. I may have made that last one up just now : )

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