uh, there won’t be any money [How Internet Inquiries Are A Lot Like Carl Spackler’s Encounter With The Dalai Lama]

One of my favorite movie scenes is in Caddyshack.

It’s when landscaper Carl Spackler is talking to a caddy describing how he worked once for the Dalai Lama hauling golf bags through the Himalayas. After 18 holes of golf he finds suddenly that he’s not going to be paid – but the Dalai promises another form of “compensation”.

Carl’s oblivious to the reality that he’s been promised some future potential compensation for hard work delivered in the present.

Is the story of Carl and the Dalai all that different than the experiences you might have with consulting clients? Generally I find that most referrals turn into long term mutually beneficial relationships.

However one type of prospect has proven to be tougher to convince of the value of experienced  consulting services. Like the Dalai from the story told by Carl, these types of prospects want all your hard work for free — or for the promise of some future possible compensation.

I’m talking about Internet support leads – and  here are my experiences with trying to be fairly compensated.

“So I jump ship in Hong Kong and make my way over to Tibet, and I get on as a looper at a course over in the Himalayas. A looper, you know, a caddy, a looper, a jock. So, I tell them I’m a pro jock, and who do you think they give me but the Dalai Lama, himself. Twelfth son of the Lama. The flowing robes, the grace, bald… striking. So, I’m on the first tee with him. I give him the driver. He hauls off and whacks one – big hitter, the Lama – long, into a ten-thousand foot crevasse, right at the base of dis glacier. Do you know what the Lama says? Gunga galunga… gunga, gungalagunga. So we finish the 18th and he’s gonna stiff me. And I say, “Hey, Lama, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know.” And he says, “uh, there won’t be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness.” So I got that goin’ for me, which is nice.”

Carl doesn’t realize that he’s been ignored in his request for compensation – instead remarking how nice it is that he’ll be receiving some future “gift”.

As consultants – how many times do we do virtually the same thing. It’s often in different terms though as we rationalize the freebie we provide to a client as “worth it because we collect maintenance once per year” …

Yeah. Right …  Carl.

That always starts me to thinking how many times customers expect some great service and extraordinary effort in exchange for no money or the promise of a future big payoff. Just recently I had an Internet user contact me. This user is not a client of mine. If things occur as expected – there’s about a 1.5% chance that they will pay me anything at all.

Here’s the Initial Inquiry

This is a pretty typical inquiry. Some are lengthier. Some shorter. All tend to have the same overall theme:

  1. We don’t have a support plan
  2. We have an immediate problem requiring immediate expert attention
  3. The problem is more complicated than we can fix ourselves

Typical initial email:

Wayne,
Hello! [removed] our CPA from [removed] referred me to you to help us get my P.C. back on track after a crash in late November. I can not get into [application] & I am receiving an error message in MAS90 when trying to print from invoice data entry, check register, trans. journal etc.
MAS90 Problem: The message is “The directory in P/L Journal & Register Maintenance is invalid or is not accessible from this workstation.”
FRX is not recognizing the co info or my password to log on.
How to proceed to determine if you can help me & what our options are to correct these problems?
FYI I am out of the office on [days]  but do check e-mail as I can. I am in the office [schedule listed].
Thank you,

That prompted one of the members of my 90 Minds Consulting Group to ask:

How do most of these internet inquiries respond? Hopefully not as vulgar as that one guy did (I think it was via IM you posted a screenshot).

And my experience is that they respond in exactly this way:

Once you mention any fee you won’t hear back from 80%. Not even a “thanks for the info”.

Approximately 10% will —-

  • debate they never need support (except right now apparently),
  • explain they never call, therefore find no value in (paying for) timely support,
  • rant about the unfairness of having to pay for support/bugs/information,
  • reminisce about the old days of self-install and DOS,
  • ask if they can just pay for what time they use (which they won’t pay if they deem it a “quick” question nor will they expect you to “count” the hour they played 20 questions about fees and how not to pay them, the hour it takes to understand the issue or the two hour Sage Live Connect),
  • ask why the unsupported platform they’re using isn’t working,
  • explain how awful the last 3 VARs they’ve used over the prior year have all been,
  • tell you how the prior bookkeeper/CFO/CEO messed up their records,
  • debate your reasons for charging a fee,
  • promise a lot of work if you will just help them (for free),
  • explain that they’re new (and what is this thing called a debit?),
  • provide a 45 minute lecture on how fabulous Quickbooks that they used at their last job was,
  • explain they’re moving off the system and need just this one answer for free,
  • complain about how cheap their boss is,
  • complain that they were sold the wrong system that doesn’t work for their business,
  • insist their business is “just like everyone else” so it shouldn’t be hard,
  • fail to mention the recurring data corruption or mistaken file reinitialization.

5% are polite, thank you. Explain the the fee you quote them (anything over free – $50) is just way too much for their budget and their boss would never approve. They occasionally reappear to ask other free questions about three times a year.

The remaining 5% are prospective leads – of which all will quiz you more on costs and maybe 1/3 will buy.
Of those who you have no prior relationship (newsletter, referral) expect a third to not renew your phone support after year one.

This is just my experience. Individual results may vary.

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Comments

  1. I would use one of the two Don Draper (Mad Men) replies:
    1. If talking to a owner/president of a company say, “I don’t think you got the Presidential Suite (or corner office or built a successful business) by working for free.”
    2. To anyone else say, “This is my profession, what do you expect me to do?”

  2. Have had encounter many who ask to solve a problems on a very old version of Accpac for free with the promise that “ I am going to upgrade with you latter on.” Twenty Five Lan Paks, big carrot-Haha!

  3. Always great to read your commentary and this one was great as it summed up the daily lives of probably all our LinkedIn TrustCentral℠ consultant folks in a one-pager.

    Awesome thinking out loud Wayne as always.

    ~Clint
    @cazoomi

  4. Love the Caddyshack reference, Wayne.