Tim Williams’ Landscaper Story

I hope you enjoy this video I recorded late last year recalling a story I was told by the great Tim Williams of  Ignition Group. Below the video is a slightly edited transcript if you prefer to read it.

The Video

The Story

About a year ago, I heard this great story from a fellow VeraSage Institute colleague, Tim Williams.

Tm is a brilliant strategic mind and he shared this story with myself and a group of VeraSage folks and I’ve been meaning to put this down on video now for quite some time but finally got around to it after a year. (So yes, I have stuff on my to-do list for a year.)

But here’s the story. Tim owns a rental property and one of the things that is always concerning about a rental property is the maintenance of the yard. It has got a small little yard in front of it – perhaps a goat could really take care of it – but what he wanted was a landscaper and he called up, of course, three people to come out and take a look and give them him an estimate or price on what it was going to take to take care of the property.

I need a landscaper

The first guy comes out and says, “Hey listen, I’m gonna be 50 bucks an hour and will probably take me somewhere between two and three hours a week, sometimes longer, if I’ve got to do something else that’s {not in scope]. That’s what I’m going to charge you. Tim was like, “Okay.”

The next guy came out and instead of giving an hourly price, he gave a list of things that he was going to do. He’s gonna mow the grass and he was going to take care of the bushes and edging and you know throw down some fertilizer and whatever was needed to take care of the property in yard.  He listed out the services he was going to do and he said, “That’s going to be a hundred and fifty dollars a week for me to do that.” Tim said, “Okay.”

The third guy came out and he actually asked Tim some questions. “So tell me a little bit about this property?” Tim replied, “Well it’s a rental property I’m not here very often just want to make sure that it’s nice for people who are coming and staying here.”

The guy said, “Here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to make sure that your property here has the best curb appeal in the neighborhood. I’m going to charge two hundred dollars and it includes absolutely everything. You’re gonna have the best curb appeal in the neighborhood. If I have to change out the bushes or the flowers. Bush dies, I’ll fix it. Change the flowers seasonally. Best curb appeal in the neighborhood. Two hundred bucks a week.”

Tim’s Decision

Which one do you think Tim went with? He had us all waiting with bated breath and most of the folks in the room clearly the third and he said, “Actually I went with the second.”

We’re like, “Well why is that”

He said, “Because the third one doesn’t exist. It was what I had hoped for, but nobody would give that to me, so I had to go with somebody who ended up giving me the second one.”

When you think about this, what Tim is describing here is three different ways of viewing delivery of stuff to a consumer – in this case someone who’s got a rental property. One is by charging for the inputs. The first guy was going to charge for the inputs at 50 bucks an hour. The second was going to charge for the outputs and there was a list of outputs. This is what you’re going to get. This is more menu-type pricing. He was charging for a series of outputs. This is the output that you’re going to get from whatever it is that I have to do.

The third guy, who of course only exists in Tim’s mind, was going to charge for an outcome – the best curb appeal in the neighborhood.

The point

I think that is precisely what professional organizations across the board: lawyers, accountants, engineers, architects, media, bookkeepers, all people who offer professional work should be looking to position themselves as selling and providing an outcome.

Not outputs, and not certainly not inputs, but an outcome. As a professional you are responsible for delivering an outcome, not outputs. but an outcome and that’s what your customers want from you.

My advice is charge for the outcome.

Without the Conversation, There is no Value Pricing

For over ten years I have been on a quest – along with Ron Baker and the Fellows at the VeraSage Institute – to assist professionals in implementing value pricing in their organizations. In working with firms of all shapes, sizes and sectors, one of the most common challenges I hear about is that of professionals’ ability to engage with a customer or prospect in what we call “The Value Conversation.”

The trouble is that without the ability to have this conversation, value pricing is dead on arrival. This may be obvious, but let me explain why.

We define value pricing as “a price wherein the primary, but not sole determining influence in the development of that price is the perceived value to the customer.” If one accepts this definition, then it is clear that without knowing what the perceived value is, there is no way to use it as the primary influence in the setting of that price. Without the value conversation, there can be NO value pricing.

So why do professionals not engage in the value conversation? The answer is simple – it is difficult to do. There is no question that the value conversation requires a high level of skill, the ability to focus deeply, and lots of practice.

Dan Morris, one of the co-founders of VeraSage – and someone I consider to be at a Jedi Master level in regard to the value conversation – says he does an adequate job only 30 percent to 40 percent of the time. It would seem then that, like a Major League Baseball hitter, a .300 lifetime batting average is grounds for inclusion in the Hall of Fame. Like the .300 hitter, the skill of the value conversation is within reach of all professionals.

To conduct an effective value conversation one has to hone one’s skills in the following three areas: inquiry, moving off the solution, and getting to value. The rest of this article will consider the first two.

Inquiry

First, let me define inquiry as the skill of balancing one’s ability to deeply listen and ask effective questions. It is beyond a mindset. Rather, it is a state of being. One must be relaxed and genuinely curious. One’s motivation must not be about getting the sale, but a true and intense curiosity about the prospect’s or customer’s situation. One’s intention must be to develop questions that will help the person make the best possible decision for them, even if that decision is notto continue the relationship with you.

Deep listening, or what psychoanalysts call active listening, requires an enormous amount of concentration. We must try to dial down our own thinking about what the customer is saying and instead be more attuned to understanding and clarifying what he or she is saying. As both Stephen Covey and St. Francis have said, we should, “seek first to understand before we seek to be understood.”

Value Pricing

The key skill in inquiry is the ability to think about, and process in one’s mind, the best next question to ask as the customer is speaking, instead of allowing ourselves to think about how we will go about solving the customer’s problems at this time.

If you can’t ask good questions, you have nothing to listen to. If you can’t truly listen, you can’t ask good questions.

Move Off the Solution

Second, one must be able to deftly “move off the solution,” as Mahan Khalsa says in his great book, Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play: Transforming the Buyer/Seller Relationship. In many cases, this requires professionals to fight their inner desire to talk about and even solve the customer’s problem during the initial conversation about the problem.

The idea of moving off the solution is to gain insight into the true nature, and eventually the perceived value, of the problem. Solutions have no inherent value – instead they derive their value from the problems that they solve. The trouble is, professionals really like to solve problems, even though the problems might have low or no value to the customer. Professionals tend to have the “disease” of solutionism.

Solutionism is very much akin to a substance abuse problem. In fact, the brain function is almost identical. Professionals get a “high” – a rush of the hormones oxytocin and dopamine – when they solve a customer’s problems. We become addicted to it. The trouble is this interferes with our ability to have the value conversation. Like any addiction it comes at a significant price.

Moving off the solution is the antidote to this disease.

Moving off the solution has three elements:

  1. Assuaging – the professional must make the customer feel good about the question that is being asked.
  2. Pivoting – the professional must pivot the conversation away from talking about the solution.
  3. Closing – the professional must ask the customer permission to have a conversation about the problem and not the solution.

This is often done in just a few sentences. For example, a customer emails saying, “We are interested in adding CRM capabilities to our system. How much will that cost?”

A successful move would sound something like this: “Thanks for your email. As you know we have a number of customers using CRM. However, what we have found is that CRM means something a little bit different in every organization. Would it be okay with you if I scheduled a call to talk a little bit about what CRM means to you?”

Notice that all three elements are addressed.

  1. Assuaging – “Thanks for your email. As you know, we do have a number of customers using CRM.”
  2. Pivoting – “However, what we have found is that CRM means something a little bit different in every organization.”
  3. Closing – “Would it be okay with you if I scheduled a call to talk a little bit about what CRM means to you?”

Of these three, I cannot over emphasize the importance of the third, and that it be formed as a closed probe question. A closed probe question is one designed to solicit a “Yes” or “No” answer. Too often, I have heard professionals immediately jump to asking an open probe question such as, “Why do you think you need CRM?”

More often than not the customer feels slighted, at best, or intruded upon at worst. This shuts down even the possibility of a value conversation. The closing is important because the professional is asking permission to not answer the prospect’s question, “How much does it cost?” Please note that we are not doing this to be manipulative, but rather because we truly seek to help the customer make the best possible decision.

What’s Next?

After the successful move off the solution, the professional must then gain an understanding of the perceived value to the customer. The methods needed to do this are beyond the scope of this article, so I will instead recommend again that you read Mahan Khalsa’s Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play.

Having the value conversation with a prospect or customer is a non-negotiable step in the path to value pricing. It is not easy to do because if requires us to change our way of thinking about how we listen and what we say in the earliest conversations we have with them.

That said, it is not beyond the ability of any professional to learn these skills. As demonstrated here, they are simple, but they are just not easy. It takes patience with oneself and practice, but once one gets comfortable with these skills, value pricing will be within your reach.

On Words I Would NOT Use

At a recent Firm of the Future Symposium with the THRIVEal Network in Greenville, SC, Ron Baker and I were asked about some of our word preferences. On the spur of the moment we developed this quick list of words we believe should be avoided by professional knowledge firms.

Staff – This makes us think of a type of infection. We prefer team member, colleague, associate, or people as alternatives.

Client – In ancient Rome, the lawyers of the day functioned as public servants and were not paid for their work. Instead, they were appointed to their duties in working with their clients. The relationship was not one of equal status and implied a sense of duty and obligation to serve the great unwashed. The word still has this connotation in the context of social workers and their clients. We prefer the term customer which is an Anglo-Saxon word derived from the fact that it was the custom of certain people to frequent a particular place of business.

Value billing – Nothing will set a VeraSagi (our made up and officially adopted name for someone from VeraSage) off into a tirade faster than calling the pricing practices we espouse value billing. A bill is produced in arrears whereas a price is agreed to upfront. This term is linked with professionals when the do write-ups to a time calculated bill. We believe this practice to be more akin to mail fraud. The preferred terms are value pricing, pricing on purpose, or pricing with purpose. When discussing price with a customer we suggest the term fixed price or open (meaning transparent) price.

Fee – This word has a negative connotation as it is associated with governmental and penalty type incursions. We suggest the use of the more neutral word price.

Hours – We believe the only place time spent should matter is in prison. We would ban all use of the word hour and suggest a $5 fine whenever it is used. There is no acceptable substitute.

Training – Horses and dogs are trained, humans are educated. Training implies a bullwhip lashing sounds in the background. Also, do you want your 16-year-old daughter to get sex training or sex education.

Service – We believe most professional firms do not provide services. They provide access to and/or transfer of knowledge, results, objectives, and occasionally goals.

Did we miss any of you favorites? If so, please leave a comment with the term to be avoided and your suggested alternatives.

ET HORA LIBELLUM DELENDA EST

Speaking at the Professional Pricing Society Conference

One month from today, my friend and pricing mentor, Ron Baker and I will be delivering a 2-Day Workshop entitled, Creating and Capturing Value in an Intellectual Capital Economy on Tuesday and Wednesday, October 25-26 at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas for the Professional Pricing Society.

If you are interested in attending, click the flyer below.

IMG

ET HORA LIBELLUM DELENDA EST

Firm of the Future Symposium

On August 9-10 in San Francisco, Ron Baker and I will once again be presenting our Firm of the Future Symposium sponsored by Sage North America.

This symposium will be dedicated to the possibility that a professional organization can be run more effectively when it becomes a knowledge firm rather than a service firm. Creating such an organization is hard work and not for everyone as it requires professionals to think differently than they have in the past about what it is that they do.

Objectives

  • From a focus on revenue to a focus on profit
  • From a focus on capacity to a focus on capital management
  • From a focus on efficiency to a focus on effectiveness
  • From a focus on cost-plus pricing to a focus on pricing on purpose

Sage (Ed’s employer) has agreed to open a limited number of spots for firms that are not partners of Sage. If you are interested in joining us, please send me an email and I can get you registered. The price is $2,500 per person and comes with a 100 percent money back guarantee!

View the Firm of the Future Trailer

 

One of the more interesting stories to emerge from our previous FotFS, was that of Peter Coburn of Commercial Logic. They are publishers of, you guessed it, time and billing software. Peter underwent a conversion of sorts and posted a terrific article on it.

Thinking Differently

At a recent conference one of the speakers presented the following syllogism:

  • What drives a company –> sales
  • What drives sales –> marketing
  • What drives marketing –> data

The implication is clear, ultimately data drives a company. Unfortunately, this thinking is all too prevalent in the business world (perhaps, just the world, leave business out of it).

It is also wrong. Actually, it is not just wrong, it is confusing cause with effect. Data is not the cause of company activity, it is the effect of it.

Instead, I would like to posit the following syllogism:

  • What drives a company –> profit
  • What drives profit –> creating value for customers
  • What drives value for customers –> innovation
  • What drives innovation –> knowledge
  • What drives knowledge –> relationships (conversations)

In my chain it is relationships that ultimately drive a company.

Thoughts?

On the Gold Standard

During my state senatorial campaign last year I had the privilege of meeting some really great people from all around the political spectrum.

imageOne of the most interesting is Wayne Richard who ran for the Texas House from Plano. While he did not get his party’s nomination he has parlayed his run into a successful radio show, Stand with Wayne, which is broadcast Saturday mornings at 10am on KVCE 1160 AM here in Dallas.

Earlier this week Wayne posted what he called an editorial on Fiat Currency. Wayne calls himself a conservative not a Libertarian, so it is interesting in that this is one issue where I part ways with most Libertarians and, in this case Wayne.

While I am all in favor of auditing the Fed, I do not think we need to a) end the Fed and b) go back to a gold standard. What we need is to reduce regulations that would allow more competition for the Fed, i.e., private money. Some of this can be based on gold, but not necessarily.

The problem is that the gold standard (or any other metal based currency) is based on some false premises.

First, that the metal itself has intrinsic value. It does not. Many astronomists believe that most gold on the planet resulted from impacts of meteors, either as a delivery system or a result of the violent impact. Ask yourself this, if a giant all-gold meteor where to impact the Earth, would we suddenly become wealthier? No, those of us that might survive would not care about gold anymore. Gold has value because we mutually agree it has value, in other words for the same reason fiat money has value. Milton Friedman spoke eloquently about this in his series Free to Choose.

 

Second, metal monetary standards promote the idea of wealth being a zero-sum game because there is only so much gold we have discovered. This is wrong, but it is also dangerous. Wealth is a human construct. Wealth and money, for that matter, are spiritual goods. Note, not religious, but spiritual, they are based on a belief system. For more on this idea, I highly recommend Rabbi Daniel Lapin’s book – Thou Shall Prosper.

In all, I agree with Wayne’s distrust and diagnosis of the poorly run government run monetary policy, but I disagree with his implied prescription of returning the United States to the gold standard.

Here We Go Again!

More drivel from WebCPA! In an article entitled In search of lost time: Five ways CPAs can increase their billable hours – and their profitability, Brett Owens (who I am sure is a very nice person) states:

The numbers tell the story and it all boils down to time management. If you bill for your time directly or on an hourly basis, diligent timekeeping is something you must do in order to get paid for all of the work you perform for clients. If you bill on a fixed-fee basis, accurate time records help determine how profitable specific clients and projects really are – and if they’re unprofitable, time records help us realize the viability of a client for the long term.

No, no, a thousand times no! Oh, when will this obsession with Marxism end!

Value (or cost) does not equal rate times hours. It never has and it never will.