When asked for several knives to sharpen, one couple would present broken blades so dull soft butter was a challenge. While giving me hearty nods of approval that they were in need of knives and enjoying the presentation of tricks performed with the sharp knives from my sales kit, they would politely say, “No. No, thanks. We don’t want what you’re selling.”
The couple in the next house would struggle to find any dull knives in the sets of fine cutlery displayed in their kitchen. As they apologized for not being able to play along, I would make a little conversation, reluctantly begin the show, and then quickly navigate my way through the script. Without even asking for the order, my focus was on an exit strategy. They would reach over, touch my arm and exclaim, “Yes! We want to buy the biggest set.”
Only years later, when studying one of the greatest salesmen, Zig Ziglar, did I learn, “You can get everything you want in life, if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”
This is my story.
The days of my childhood were spent horseback in a sea of cowhides with a Dad who knew the way to confidence was by doing what others said was impossible. The evenings were spent in epic tales of adventure with a Mom who knew the portal to opportunity was by learning from the stories of others.
After high school, I turned down scholarships to pursue my dream of being a cowboy. Fifteen months later, I knew I didn’t have the same love of horses and cows as my dad. Yet, all of those years living the notion, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way” came in handy for a poor kid with a new dream of going to college. In the course of managing my fledgling business as a twenty-something entrepreneur, the counsel of an older Client cut short my whining as he said, “Kim, your problem is not that you were born poor. Your problem is that you were born with ambition. Many are born poor and stay that way. You want something else.”
Another facet of the “something else” was eventually discovered twenty years later in a book written by Ronald J. Baker, Professional’s Guide to Value Pricing (with CD), Edition 3, published by Aspen Law & Business, 2001.
By starting with one client in a little Montana town of 2,500 population, appropriately named Roundup, the cowboy in me was enjoying the gathering of a small herd of loyal clients. They understood from the very beginning: I was in the business of selling dollars. I didn’t understand Value Pricing. I did understand the importance of finding 5 to 10 times my fee in benefit for them. In the early years, there was an Exit Conference with every single client to explain what had been done. That made quite an impression and they would say, “No one has ever cared enough to spend time with me, like this.” Spend time? Heck, no! I was investing time with them. I wanted a long-term relationship.
Then, one day, time had taken its toll on a ranch family and they were in the process of transitioning the next generation into the accounting function. I remember vividly the excitement of working with the new twenty-something CFO, as we set up QuickBooks® and enjoyed a day’s worth of coaching and visiting.
In the course of adding families, processes, and infrastructure to the ranch operation (right in the middle of a seven year drought), there was a Net Operating Loss to be carried-back: Many thousands of dollars of benefit for a thousand dollar fee. To my surprise, I received a call from the new CFO, who had questions about the bill.
Remember, this was before Value Pricing, Fixed Price Agreements, Retainers, and crystal-clear Communication at the beginning of every project.
Sure enough, he was right. There was a line on his bill, and every other client’s bill, that read:
Photocopies and Assembly — $75.00
Made perfect sense to a bean-counter. We have overhead. After a few years in business, we have a history of expense. We can project that cost into the next year and we can reasonably estimate the number of projects for a given year. So, we do the math. $75.00 was a good number. All clients paid the same on any project and it, definitely, was a Fixed Cost, to me. Not to the client. He wanted to negotiate that amount, downward.
In fact, he had counted the number of pages, and fasteners, applied the going Office Supply Store rate for those commodities, and arrived at his number of $7.50. In his mind, he had been overcharged by a factor of 10. Ah, that “Perfect 10.” Yet, this time it was viewed as being in my favor, not the client’s, and it was causing harm to our relationship.
He thought I was cheating him. I thought he was behaving stupidly. We were, both, on to something!
The value provided to the family for the last twenty years didn’t matter at that moment. In essence, he was a “new client” and deserved my respect. So, we began at the beginning.
Having read enough of “Professional’s Guide to Value Pricing” to think differently and having found the CD in the back of the book with templates, I approached this “new beginning” with fervor. I had nothing to lose and everything to gain — a relationship hung in the balance.
There must be a better way to build relationships than: Work Hard ~ Send Bill. For twenty years, I had done what I had been trained to do by my accounting mentors. It worked, most of the time: 95% of the clients understood the value and were willing to be surprised by the bill. For a competitive perfectionist, that other 5% was the challenge; and, at that moment, I had one very irate customer on my hands, and my mind.
Change nothing; Nothing changes.
Insanity is repeating the old and expecting something new.
Easy is hard; Hard is easy.
We get what we allow.
It was time for a change.
The insanity was tiring.
A new path was needed.
I had created this mess.
A single line on a bill was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.
One more witticism became the mantra of the day, “Fake it until you make it!” At the time, all I had was a page of script titled Questions You Should Ask The Customer During The Fixed Price Agreement Meeting and a burning desire to find a better way.
Through the years, those questions have been customized and internalized until they are at the center of every new beginning and potential client relationship.
The conversation is structured around:
- Why do you believe a great Partnership might be possible?
- Which attributes of Character are most important to you?
- How can we ensure dynamic Communication?
- What is the passion at the core of your Commitments?
- What growth plans do you have?
- How do you define quality service?
- Is a results focused Service Guarantee important to you?
- What do you consider as timely response to your requests of me?
- Why are you changing professionals?
- What specific objectives do you want to achieve?
- How will you measure our progress and accomplishment?
- Are you Able To Pay for guaranteed exceptional value?
- Are you Willing To Pay a retainer in advance and the balance upon completion?
Forget about Perfect 10s; these are the Lucky 13!
As accountants, we will eventually need, and want, to answer this question:
- Are we Relationship Builders, or Paper Shufflers?
Paper, as a commodity, is cheaper by the case.
Relationships are priceless.
For those who want to debate whether the glass is half-full, or half-empty, trading in commodities might be an excellent career choice. For those of us who wonder why so much attention is given to half of anything, “Creating and Capturing Value” is quite a noble profession.
Wholeness comes from tapping into the Universal Principle of abundance. Our real potential is unlimited. Yet, this isn’t about us.
Communication is what the listener does. Are we listening to our clients? Do we really hear and understand what our customers want?
Oh, sure, they will grudgingly accept bills for the compliance work they need to have done. When they understand how much we care about them, demonstrated by how we actively listen to their dreams, they are open to new ideas. As they consider all of the many menu choices available to them (with a clear pricing structure designed to express the value of each one) and ultimately commit to partnering with us, the want is palpable.
Yes, that new CFO in charge of the family ranching heritage understood the Value in the Price (when I covered up the detail of the bill) and wanted me to understand that he wanted more of that simplicity. Why did it take me so long to get the horse in front of the carriage? Answer: Good judgment comes from experience; Experience comes from bad judgment.
Disciples of Value Pricing never hear “The check’s in the mail.” In fact, because the checks are in the drawer, we manage risk, schedule our days, attract quality clients, stumble into opportunities, enjoy open communication, reap financial rewards, and tie Ribbons & Bows around each and every project on our way to building relationships.
I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:
Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.
In our world of technological advances, “www” has become the gateway to infinite possibilities. If we will decide “What We Want” and, then, offer that with passion to others, the result is guaranteed to be a “Win Win Win”: for Customers; for Us; and, for the Whole Wide World!