Six Tips for Avoiding the Commodity Nightmare
Procurement practices are designed to turn every service purchased into commodities so the corporations can get the lowest price. Designers, writers, creative planners and strategist are not commodities. They spend their lives developing their creative skills because they love the work. Creative firms are made up of groups of such individuals.
Every creative group has an individual and idiosyncratic offer. That is the source of the magic that helps clients succeed — the singular difference that differentiates one firm from its competitors. That magic is the reason that clients choose to work with them, sometimes making billions in the process.
There we have it: Talented people throwing their heart and soul into projects that enrich their clients, while in return the clients ask for RFIs, RFPs, work on spec, reduced fees, and fast(er) turnaround — and reward them with late payments.
Worse, creative firms tend to commoditize themselves. They describe themselves in ways that sound alike, use case studies that emulate their competitors, and publish processes that are almost an “industry standard” because they are all so uniform.
It’s no surprise that by the time they arrive at the bargaining table they have given away much of the magic that got them there in the first place.
But there is another way. It’s simple, logical, and anyone can do it. Firms with valuable offers are demonstratively not commodities. They just have to refrain from commoditizing themselves. Here’s how:
1. Never respond to a Request For Information (RFI). The questions commoditize you. Explain that the questions are too narrow. They make it impossible to explain the benefit of your specific experience. RFIs are simply too limiting. Ask the client why they are interested in working with you. Their answer will give you a clearer picture of why you were included and whether or not the opportunity is worth the effort.
2. Do not respond to a Request for Proposal (RFP). RFPs are designed to put all responders into the same commoditized context so the client can compare, contrast and learn enough to work the finalists on price. Read the RFP carefully — and if the opportunity seems like a fit, consider how your experience will help them. Determine how you would help them exceed their expectations. Then call and tell them that although you will not respond to their RFP because it limits their opportunity to succeed, you will be happy to show how you can help them achieve their goals.
3. Never do spec work. It’s demeaning, unfair to your paying clients, and proves that you are desperate. Just say no.
4. Stop using a standard multi-step process. Describe how you actually do your work and how it helps to achieve success. Show how you look for and find the insights and observations that produce results.
5. Never use the term “case study.” Instead, think about the story behind how you and your team came to understand what the real problem was and how you addressed it. Then write that At the end of the story, list the challenges and accomplishments — and above all, explain how your work helped the client’s business.
6. Think about why you do the work you do. Describe when you first realized what it was that you wanted to do. Explain how you have refined it over time. And finally, how it helps others. Then go tell your story to those who will be helped most. Continue to modify and evolve your story as you learn and grow.
Following these tips will move your firm out of the commodity trap, will help you get back to loving your work, and increase your profitability. And you will have more time for the rest of your life.
This article originally appeared at Marketing Daily.