4.10.2012

Ah, Consulting...

In a former life (and once again), I consulted for various companies doing various web and digital things. I posted a little about that stuff on this blog back in the day, but for the most part, I kept business stuff in its little business world.

During these days, the RFPs (Requests for Proposals) used to pour into my inbox. And I used to pass off the more ridiculous ones. But occasionally, when something REALLY ridiculous showed up, I'd actually answer them. The hope was to get at least a conference call, but sometimes I'd actually go in and make a pitch.

This happened three times. The first one (a conference call with the former heads of digital at a major news network I consulted for) is documented in the post An Unordered List Of Thoughts I Had During A Conference Call With A Potential Client Today. The second was with the ex-founders of eTour.com, a site that, during it's day, was called ridiculous and frivolous, but today would probably do very well, if Google hadn't started including previews of every search return + the "I'm feeling lucky" button already. They came up with a genius idea that was quite novel at the time: A search engine that something something whatever come the fuck on, Google was (and is) impenetrable for search, and you're retarded if you think you can beat it.

The third was actually not me trying to take the piss out of a potential client for my own personal entertainment, until I got there. It was akin to another job I had just finished with a MASSIVE media company: an internal social network. It's a great idea, and I led my client to a very successful implementation of it. Very shortly thereafter, the word spread and I was given an invite to do the same thing at another extremely massive hardware company.

I had the conference call. It was very short -- they liked what they already heard, they wanted to get my take on setting one up, and within minutes they scheduled a meeting. I showed up and was met by 7 people -- two C-level folks, several Directors of This and That, and the "Social Media Manager" who -- I'm not kidding -- was 18 years old.

Now, I was 19 when I started working in the corporate world. But my situation was different. First, I knew what the hell I was doing technologically, and second... Well, no. There was only that one difference.

After all the glad-handing and offering of coffee (I always take a client up on their offer of coffee -- the quality of the coffee is an indicator of how well the company is doing. Good coffee = a Kuerig (or similar), or Starbucks in the percolator. Crappy coffee = scrimping on the food budget, the first sign that a company is in deep shit. Their coffee was FANTASTIC, for the record).

For simplicity, I'm going to save listing the various characters involved per-line, but the conversation went like this, almost verbatim:

Client: "What we want… Is a social network that appeals to the employees of [company]. Something like Facebook meets LinkedIn."

Me: "Right. I just implemented a system like this for [former client]."

Client: "Oh, we are definitely aware. One of our board members plays golf with one of the board members of [client] and they were very impressed."

Me: "I'm flattered."

Client: "Tell us, what features does their internal social network have?"

Me: "Well, obviously the details are under NDA, but generally, it's literally a Facebook, but on an intranet. It unifies multiple international offices in a way that allows the internal resources to share with one another--"

Client: "Share what, exactly?"

Me: "...Well, things like ideas and concepts, office-wide or regional events, personal statuses--"

Client: "Well, we can't have personal status sharing."
I wasn't surprised by this requirement at all -- with my former client, it took a LOT of convincing to get them to understand that by allowing employees to post things freely (so long as they followed the employee handbook), it would actually lead to greater camaraderie and a higher level of productivity overall, and it did -- and I explained this to them. 

Client: "Well, they could be allowed to post general information. But they shouldn't be able to post links to outside websites or personal photos. So we need it to block any links or photos that aren't company-sanctioned. And we don't want them to waste company time socializing; they should only be able to use the system periodically or once a day. They can only post a certain number of messages."

Me: "So what you want is a cork board."

Client: "…No, no, you must not understand."

They went on to re-explain the above, adding that they also want the ability to approve every single post. This is a company of over 100,000 employees. If -- IF -- any employee actually used it at all, it would take a month to sort through a week's worth of messages. And, it should be unique to each office -- no sharing between regional offices.

Me: "Alright, so you want a place to put notices -- all business-related, of course -- that employees can view during breaks, and can be monitored at all times by management?"

Client: "Exactly!"

I had absolutely no intention of building that. Not only would no one use it, it would be scrutinized to hell and back. I also had no real interest in working with this company. So I fired up the Self Entertainment Engine.

Me: "Understood. I can build it."

Client: "Fantastic! How much would something like this cost?"

Me: "Exactly Two hundred forty thousand, one hundred and twenty-four dollars ($240,124)."

[After some deliberation and looks shared] Client: "Seriously?"

Me: "Yes, seriously."

Client: "That's actually quite reasonable."

Me: "I agree. I'm a reasonable guy. May I ask, what is your budget?"

Client: "Well, we don't want to show all of our cards, you understand..."

Me: "I understand. I've already quoted a figure; exactly $240,124. So I'm not going to just change it out from under you."

Client: "Well, we expected something on the order of half a million."

Me: "Oh, no. That's highway robbery. I will do it for less than a quarter million, no problem. $240,124 to be precise."

[One of the C-level guys speaks up] Client: "$240,124?"

Me: "Right."

Client: "May I ask, what's with the $124?"

Me: "Supplies."

Client: "Supplies?"

Me: "Supplies."

[Strange looks appear on faces] Client: "...What kind of supplies?"

Me: "Cork."

Client: "...Cork?"

Me: "Yes, sheets of cork. And push-pins. Oh, and adhesive."

[Stranger looks appear on faces] Client: "...What is that for?"

Me: "Your social network."

Client: "I don't understand... How does that apply to building our internal social network?"

Me: "You asked for a 'social network' that exists per-office, with heavy moderation, constant monitoring and company-only business, that employees can only use during breaks. I'm going to cover the largest wall of each of your offices with cork."

Client: "...What?!?"

Me: "Well, you don't want pin holes in the drywall, do you?"

Client: "You can't be serious."

Me: "Of course I'm serious. That's why I am charging you the other two hundred and forty grand."

Client: "..."

Me: "I gotta fly to all your offices That's gonna get costly."

Client: "..."

Me: "Fortunately, with migrant labor, actually putting up the cork won't take much at all."

[angered] Client: "Are you having fun?"

Me: "No. I've wasted my time. Wasting my time isn't fun at all."

Client: "Wasted YOUR time? You think that cracking jokes about gluing cork to our office walls is a good use of our time?"

Me: "Not even slightly. Neither is building your version of this supposed 'social network' -- no one in your company will use it and you'll be throwing your money away."

Client: "Well, I think we've heard enough--"

Me: "Wait."

[A long, awkward pause] Client: "Yes?!?"

Me: "For an extra three thousand, I can upgrade you to Dry Erase paint and markers."

And that was the end of the meeting. And if you're wondering if this really happened... You haven't been reading me enough. I recommend starting at the beginning of this blog and working your way forward until you're convinced.