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The Iron Triangle

Iron-Triangle-GraphicsYou can have it fast, cheap or good. Pick two.

It’s an old saw and can apply to almost any business, and marketing is no exception, but let’s look at how it might apply to your business.

Let’s say you offer a service like graphic design, house painting or IT consulting. A client asks for a proposal or meets with you to discuss their needs. Invariably, the client will want a quick turnaround time, a low price and great quality. But the law of the Iron Triangle dictates that they can only have two of the three.

  • If they want the service delivered fast and cheap, it will almost certainly suffer in quality.
  • If they want it fast and good (meaning high quality), then it won’t be cheap.
  • If they want it cheap and good (high quality) then it will take some time, so it won’t be fast.

Another variant, popular in the project management and engineering world looks basically like this, but quality sits in the middle and a change to any one of the sides of the triangle affects quality.

Project Management Triangle

So what is a service provider to do if they know that clients will always want all three? This is a personal choice of course, but my belief is that one should seldom compete on price, unless you are selling a commodity product and all that matters is selling the highest quantity possible. It seldom is worth your while to be the cheapest service provider in town, and in almost all cases, you will get better clients if you price yourself above the competition at least a little. But then you simply must deliver speed and top quality.

And of course, there should be some flexibility. Let’s say you work with a client, you charge a good price (not the cheapest) and you typically deliver quick results. But the client wants to try something different and does not want to risk too much money. Then you can charge less but let them know it will take longer or the quality might not be as good as usual.

In all cases, it is helpful to discuss the Iron Triangle with your clients as early on as possible. Business is a two way street and businesses on both sides of the equation, client and service or product provider are both subject to the rules of the triangle. It makes sense if both parties operate with this foreknowledge so that there will be no surprises down the road.

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