This is the tale of two clients. The names and details have been changed to protect the innocent.
The question: Which client got the better value for their money?
The show: Both clients requested pricing for almost identical situations- a 500+ person sales conference, including AV, stage design, meeting room decor, graphics and PPT template design, special event design and decor for their awards banquet, and production support, including show caller, technical director, and production manager. There would also be some post-meeting video editing of the footage. Both bids were full scale meeting productions, but were based on some smaller work we’d done with each client, so this was a big inroad for us in each situation. As such, very reasonable pricing was given out of the gate to help sweeten the deal, in order to get the larger portion of the total event expense.
Client A- The Negotiator. Even given the initial generous pricing, the client negotiated the price even further down, until a lot of what we pitched was dropped down to at cost or below cost to get the business. Many services were even thrown in for no-cost, including the post production editing, which is my time. Hey, we all know this happens a lot, especially with new clients. Once you get the business, you hope to recoup over the long-term relationship you build with the client.
They continued to question every single price in the process, citing non-realistic consumer level (think Home Depot) and internet pricing for room decor (which did not include labor, setup, delivery, etc). They changed one of their conference days from a half day to a full day, and seemed outraged that we’d charge more for labor for the AV crew. They questioned the roughly 10% (a couple hundred bucks) in profit we sought to gain for arranging the hanging of several thousand square feet of ceiling treatments. They tried to cut staff that we weren’t charging for anyway in hopes of further discounts.
On top of the negotiating, they also kept requesting more and more of the “free” services we were providing. More graphics, more video, alternate edits, and “oh by the way”s galore. We finally had to put our foot down and start line item-ing each and every addition, which inevitably meant more price negotiation on each and every item.
On site, and throughout the conference, there was even more of these add-ons, and truth be told I couldn’t help but feel like they thought they owned me for the run of the show. We continued to line item every item, every request, and we only did what was asked of us and no more.
I also got the feeling they were looking for mistakes, cataloging every minor detail and filing it away, so that after the conference they could come back for more money off the bill. We always strive for the perfect show, but in my 15 years in the business, I’ve only seen maybe one where absolutely nothing went wrong and this was no exception. Additionally, a lot of equipment and crew redundancy was cut due to the budget concerns. Unfortunately there are some clients that you can't help but feel that they count on trying to get money back at the end of a program, by accumulating a list of things they're dissatisfied with and disputing the bill. The entire conference run was one of stress and anxiety.
After the show I was tired, cranky, bitter, and feeling a little used.
Client B- Minnesota Nice. Almost the polar opposite of Client A. While budget conscious, there was never the feeling of constant nit-picking or chiseling. They seemed to understand that things A) cost money, and B) we might make a profit on them. Whenever things were added, they were always amenable to adding to the overall bill. Above all else, they were always extremely polite, and very understanding of the time and effort that goes in to putting on a conference. As their conference went on, I genuinely came to like the people involved- the conference committee, the executives, the attendees. As a result, as I look back, I actually did a lot more for them than Client A. All the little add-ons didn’t feel so bad, and I found myself wanting to help them make their conference better and better for their attendees. They added a rush order to the post-production, and even after a week of travel I found myself wanting to work through the weekend to get it done for them so that they could get the conference materials into the hands of their folks in the field.
Due to hotel restrictions, we were forced to use the in-house AV, and unfortunately for our client, they really stunk up the house. Tons of equipment and crew issues. In the case of Client A, we might have been tempted to just shrug our shoulders and say, “Not our fault”, but instead we were right there in the fray, passionately advocating for our client, making sure they were dealt with fairly in the end.
Since the program, we’ve even provided some “at cost” services to help them out with the post production distribution. Why? Because they asked nicely.
After the show I was tired, but really looking forward to the next time we work with Client B.
My Take: While we all agree that, in theory, all clients should receive the same treatment, I think we can also agree that that’s not human nature. In the end, the two companies' bills, minus the differences between the two shows, were probably only a few thousand dollars different. I’d be curious to know, if they knew each other, which client thought they got the best deal- the best value for their money. My guess is that they both would think so. In my heart of hearts, I’d have to say that at least when it came to my time, my effort, Client B got the most value for their money, and will continue to do so as long as we have the privilege to work with them.
I am not anti-negotiation. Around the office I have the (occasionally derogatory) nickname “Consumer Brandt” because I detest bad customer service and have no trouble telling people when I believe they’re giving it to me. I will not hesitate to ask for fees to be waived, prices matched, or things to be thrown in. But there is a line, and it’s largely a matter of tact, manners, and polite civility to know when that line's been crossed. There’s working the system, and there’s abusing the system...
As I move forward, I’m going to try and keep all this in mind as I work with our vendors. I’d like to think to a certain extent that I do already, but it never hurts to try harder, right?
So what do you think? Who got the better value? Does it matter who the client is and who the vendor is? Why?