Several years ago, when I was in a sales/consulting role, I spent literally several years working with a mid-sized medical products distributor developing the concept of what ultimately became a very successful materials handling automation system.
My boss, the owner of the company, thought I was wasting my time. I wasn’t being paid for the effort. This “prospect” was a mid-sized, privately held company, though highly profitable. But decisions to automate and spend a sizable chunk of capital don’t come easy for these kinds of companies, as I have seen many times.
The point of this story: that company received a lot of literally free consulting advice from me on what the system design should be, what it would cost, and where the ROI would come from. I also served as a real catalyst to keep the project alive over more than two years, and I really believe without my efforts the concept would have died – and the company would never have implemented a system that in the end paid off very well for them.
Only materials handling manufacturers and system providers can “afford” to spend that kind of effort. For them, or some of them at least, that effort is simply considered as the cost of the sales process.
What do they get out of it? They keep a project alive. Build relationships. Gain insight into the real needs and internal dynamics of the company. And, they certainly hope, to get some preferential treatment for their efforts when the system vendor is finally chosen, or at least “win the ties.”
Consultants, who make money only from selling their time, obviously can’t afford to invest that kind of effort that a equipment vendor can, since they don’t have the potential of a large system order down the road.
The consultants would say “you get what you pay for,” and they are generally right. Still, especially in times like these, this vendor consulting option may be worth considering, especially if a budget for consulting help is not available.
Another key point to remember right now: new systems take a long time to get going and ultimately become funded. Right now may actually be an excellent time to begin concepting and exploring ideas, for potential systems that could become a reality in 2010, when we all hope the economy is in a much different place – especially if you can do so on the cheap.