As a follow up to David’s last post regarding the soul killing phrase “We have decided to move in a different direction,” I will provide alternative phrases that are more appropriate forms of rejection. Keeping in mind that David, and other consultants, spend considerable time and money speaking with prospective clients, preparing proposals outlining the scope of services to be provided, sending the proposal, then following up with the prospective client (an often Herculean task that requires hour after hour of unanswered phone calls and emails over a long period of time), it would seem that the polite and professional thing to do would be to explain the reason why our proposal is being rejected. In the world of trial consulting, there are some end clients (defined as the person or organization paying the bill) who require 3 bids for focus groups, mock trials, attitude surveys, jury selection, witness preparation, etc. Often, however, this requirement is bogus, in that the end clients and/or the attorney already have a relationship with one of Magnus’ competitors, such that the process of obtaining 3 bids is done merely for “show.” In other words, the decision to hire someone else has already been made, but someone, somewhere, is nonetheless requiring 3 bids. David and I have gotten better and better over the years in recognizing the signs of a fake request for a proposal, including, most prominently, the lead attorney’s refusal to speak with David prior to David preparing the proposal. In any event, it is preferable to be told the exact reason(s) why someone’s proposal is being rejected in favor of someone else’s proposal. Appropriate feedback in this regard consists of the following phrases: (1) Your proposal was great, but we don’t need that much information. One of your competitors can provide us with something on a much smaller scale; (2) You explained, at the outset, that your price would not be the least expensive, but it is still more than our budget allows; (3) Although I would like to work with you, my client, who is paying the bill, prefers to work with someone with whom the company has worked before; (4) We chose a consulting firm that is located closer to where we are located, minimizing the travel costs; (5) We decided to do the work ourselves instead of hiring a consultant, as a way to save money; etc. Although the rejection is still painful, and although David’s time and Magnus’ money have been wasted in preparing a rejected proposal, at least, in any of the above scenarios, we know why we are not being retained. If only people would learn to give meaningful feedback instead of relying on vapid euphemisms!
I like that-“vapid euphemisms.” In my most recent vapid encounter, vapid also seemed to apply to the paralegal who called me. Whether it was her fault or not, she not only had insufficient information to give me as to what the attorney purportedly wanted (which was an inappropriate research design, given what she did know), but about the case as well. She informed me she had never been involved with a mock trial, so I sent her some information we have prepared for “first time” clients and prospects. But, something was still “off” both in dealing with her and, most notable, by my failed attempts to connect with the lawyers by email and phone. Those things suggested to me that the deal was already somehow done – the “fix was in.” When I write proposals, there are often alternative approaches we can take. While I try not to oversell a “Cadillac” when a client wants a Ford, I also know that sometimes, the client wants a Mercedes at a Toyota price. Price seems to be the biggest issue (if the deal is not pre-ordained) and sometimes, if a client is honest, I can handle that and make adjustments. But, it is not always about price. There are other factors, especially when COVID-19 is in the mix. That is why I need to “talk to the boss.” (Eric Clapton, different context.) Another time, I clearly recall going through the motions to try to secure a case. I was on the road, and I stopped driving, spoke with the lead attorney, did the usual right things, and then called my office and dictated what needed to be done, stopped again down the road, proofed the proposal on my iPad, and had it sent. All of which cost me at least an hour of travel time, in addition to my staff’s time to get the proposal prepared and sent. Turns out, that was a “fix is in,” get 3 proposals deal. Selling services is difficult enough even if everyone is honest and transparent. And, frustratingly, the folks who do this are being paid by the hour by their firm and billing that time to their client, while leaving us with nothing. So, in the end, I’d add “disingenuous” to vapid euphemisms. And, don’t get me started on “We’ll consider you for the next one…”