M. Erik Matlock 2017-07-28 03:53:18
LAW OF COMPROMISE Navigating the world of customers “just looking for a deal.” Many moons ago, I was approached at church by a talented local musician with an all-too-common request: “Can you do a project for me? I don’t really have any money, but...” Just fill in that last part with whatever excuse, incentive or promise you feel like pulling from your own experiences. My little production company handled live sound, church sound system installation, and recording, placing me in a perfect position for a regular onslaught of situations like this. Since the requests arrived so frequently, I developed one of my core philosophies about business: My Law Of Compromise, which simply states, “If anyone compromises, everyone compromises.” When folks wanted cheap or discounted projects, I offered compromises. Discounted rates never got prime time spots, and they were scheduled around anything that paid more. When it involved a recording project, I owned their masters and they could just buy product from me. I even created a free album project package for live shows. I did all the work, mixed it down and mastered it, at no cost to them. However, I owned the project and provided duplication services. They could buy all the merchandise they wanted, from me. The very act of imposing my compromise on them often solved the problem. There were more creative solutions that we experimented with over the years for similar situations. For example, when quoting live shows, the promoters often wanted to haggle on price. “Sure. No problem,” was my reply. “What gear can you live without? Is the ‘B-rig’ OK for your show? How many monitor mixes are we eliminating? I hope you don’t mind if I allow one of my apprentices to run the show, since I have another gig paying full price the same day.” It was often worse when working up quotes for installations. These customers were usually armed with competing bids as well preconceived ideas of how I would respond. Our bids were invariably higher than the others, but with a certain finesse, I was often able to contrast our bid on a given project with the “cheaper” ones. With almost no exceptions, there were easy-to-spot discrepancies, such as the other vendors using generic terms like snake, speakers, microphones, cables, etc. Specific manufacturer names and model numbers were left off these bids, and these “typos” allowed them to substitute whatever they had on hand or could get the best deal on later. It certainly wasn’t about what was best-suited for the given project. In situations where the bids were legitimate apples-to-apples comparisons, we went to the land of compromise to search for ways to add value or reduce cost. For example, we offered trade-in credit for old gear that was functional or potentially valuable. Most of our original rental PA system came from deals like this. One time we picked up some older loudspeakers with obsolete internal crossovers that ended up being worth twice the discount we gave to the customer. Not a bad deal. We also found ways to cut labor costs, such as allowing the client’s techs to assist with things like pulling wire and clean-up, or working at odd hours between other projects. We even set up programs to purchase systems in stages, so customers could add more as they had more to spend. In the current era, we’re faced with a good many customers more concerned about price than quality. They just want a deal. Churches often call it stewardship, without really understanding the word. Other businesses push hard for a cheaper price, then go crazy when the cheaper stuff doesn’t hold up over time. Seriously. And when it comes to pro audio gear, you get what you pay for the vast majority of times. Most business deals come down to managing compromise. Keep a clear head and don’t jump at the bottom line to solve conflicts without knowing the details or asking more questions. There are usually creative compromises to most situations that don’t require sacrificing your profit or reputation. The final compromise, sometimes, is just walking away. Seriously consider the potential headache as compared to the reward. Some folks are better off being left to separate reality from fantasy on their own. If the demands are ridiculous during negotiations, they rarely get more logical after the work begins. Senior editor M. Erik Matlock has worked in professional audio for more than 20 years in live, install, and recording.
Published by Electronic House. View All Articles.
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