Yet another entry lacking a decent title. Alternatives include: So you thought you had established a relationship, ha ha ha! or Why you should have sex on the first date. It is about inarticulated expectations between service providers and DE start ups and the disappointment that can ensue on both sides.
Two things before I start. This is not an invitation to a free-for-all bashing of service providers as has happened before; that being counter productive to your interests. I got an unprecedented number of emails last week from manufacturers who vowed to never make plus sizes after witnessing all the invective directed at manufacturers generally. Second, this is not directed against anyone I’m working with and while I’ve used these cases as examples, in no uncertain terms do I consider anyone to be at fault. There’s an issue to sort out, I don’t have any answers to it -that’s the point of this entry.
I can be blind to the obvious but late in the game, I’ve figured out a key difference between how start ups source and how established manufacturers do and how this can create miscommunication and subsequent problems accessing services.
- DEs source on a longer time horizon, they often are not ready to hire when they’re making phone calls.
- Established manufacturers can usually give a definite date by which the work materials will arrive so the job can be scheduled.
I understand that startups have to shop around in advance. However, the job details for a project with a longer time horizon need to be much briefer than DEs typically make them. The level of detail they ask for and provide is commensurate to what an established player would expect when they’re ready for the work to start. Meaning, after the typical conversation with a DE, the provider is going to expect your work shortly. If the provider then discovers your need-by date is foggy, they may write you off. You probably won’t know they have until later on when you feel they’ve left you in the lurch. The situation is not that you are wrong or that they are bad but a failure to articulate expectations up front.
We’re typically set up on tight deadlines and schedule accordingly on a shorter time horizon. DEs are looking at the big picture of all that needs to be lined up. When our schedules lighten up and we see a hole in our schedule, we’ll be more proactive about responding to inquiries, other times we are just too busy. We’re anticipating to fill that time slot soon. If not by you then by someone else. Therefore, if you contact us again a few months down the road, we may be too busy to respond. The inroads and rapport you felt you made months earlier have evaporated. You’ll have to be proactive at getting queued again. At least this is what I think. Some providers might recognize your email address or number from caller ID and pass altogether because the mis-match in expectations may have created the impression in their mind that you’re a time waster and coming back for more.
Here’s three specific examples I’ve had recently.
Party A: Sent an admirable amount of details specific to the products. The sort of notes you need if you had the work in hand and were actively working on the job step by step. To me this says the party is ready to place the contract and is only inquiring because they want to know when they should send it to fit into my scheduling block. So we passed a few emails back and forth, the work details were not in the format I’m accustomed to getting them so I sent several forms for them to use and fill out to define the specifications of the job. One form I had to re-create from scratch because it is so seldom needed. I told the client that the soonest (and best) window I had pending was between x dates and to get their packet here by then. It was then I discovered the client wasn’t ready to place an order. Fine, no problem (really) but I’m already ambivalent because the customer may come back later and expect for us to be able to pick up where we left off. I can’t say what I’ll be doing in a few weeks or months and will feel bad if I have to disappoint them. In terms as service providers define them, we don’t have a relationship yet but the DE will presume we do. They think they built that with conversation in advance of need. But for us, with so much talk talk talk talk talk, a relationship is developed by working together -namely a job. It’s akin to online dating. You really don’t have a relationship with a potential love interest until you meet and have spent time together, each investing reciprocity in real time.
Again I realize you have to shop around but most of us presume you already have. Just as you think you are great, we think we are great too and we think you know that already. We think you did your homework by checking up on us before you called so you know you want to go with us and only need a few clarifications. This is the sort of dynamic we have with established manufacturers. They’ve already checked us out (and maybe a few others) and will place the contract with the first party amenable to accepting it as soon as possible. Usually it is only a small job to test the waters, a first date because there is a presumption of risk for both parties. With DEs though, it seems to be equivalent to them trying to find the love of their lives before they’ve had the first date. It’s akin to not wanting to agree to meet someone unless they will agree to consider marrying you. I actually had a date like that once, what a disaster. The guy locked his keys in his car and lacking a metal shim, I used a pattern piece I happened to have in my car to unlock his door.
Party B offered a job that is not typical for me. It would require me to develop new skills and step tentatively into new territory. I was willing to consider it because the customer knew I didn’t know, that it was a risk. The benefit for me is that if it panned out, this sort of work could become a profitable revenue stream. It would benefit the client because there is only one other provider in that space but their fees are insane (supply and demand, eh?). I feel confident I could do the same or better job for half the price if I had a client who was willing to do as much hand holding as I typically provide. The other caveat on this job was that I would have to invest in another software product costing about $2,000 which I was willing to do (no strings attached). However, in the midst of discussing the job details again, I mentioned when the project needed to arrive to coincide with my open time slot to make sure it would leave me enough time to buy the product, install it and become familiar with its use before hand. This is when I discovered the customer had no set date of delivering the project materials.
One could presume I could buy the software and have it at the ready for when the customer came through but if I’d bought tools or machines any time an inquiry led me to believe I needed to, I would have gone broke long ago. A lot of jobs never come through. So as tempting as this job is, Party B will get stuck in the back of my queue behind Party A. Any ground work we did will have to be redone later. Since we didn’t do a job together and started the beginnings of a relationship, there is no standing for later on. It’s kind of a quirky situation. A DE needs to do all the talk to gain sufficient confidence in the supplier to place the job but if they do too much or too much of the wrong talk, the service provider is going to think they’re a tease.
Party C is an established player, having manufactured for 25 plus years. They came to me with a longer time horizon but they handled it differently. For one thing they told me their end date and what successful project completion entailed. Specifically, they wanted to be able to show x number of samples at a market in August. I really really like dealing with people like this, I hate it when people fudge on dates (I DO understand why they do it!) because it makes me more accountable. I couldn’t agree to accept the work if I couldn’t do it with enough time to spare. We went back and forth on the job parameters to discuss what needed to happen to have it done by that date. It was only after we could agree on project deliverables and the date of completion that we discussed any of the work details. In contrast to the first two parties, it was only at the point they delivered the work materials that we discussed anything specific to the product.
Maybe part of our answer is there. To discuss the deliverables and dates to meet them before we discuss minutia of the projects themselves. If we’re discussing project details, service providers assume the work is going in the mail that day or the next soonest opportunity. Perhaps this is where miscommunication starts?
Does any of this make sense? Your thoughts are welcome -and remember, this is not an opportunity to vent unless you want to scare off more contractors from taking work from DEs.
Oh – and I thought I had work coming in but have ended up with an empty time slot from between August 12-18th. After that my schedule won’t open up again until August 30th.