Determining Value-Based Fees for Software Projects, Part 2

Part two of my online discussions with David Winch:-

“While I understand the concept behind value-based fees, I’m still trying to wrap my head around how to apply them to what I consider highly commoditized services. That is not to say I devalue my own worth, but I do recognize that there is an upper bound to what someone is willing to pay for a service, regardless of ROI – price elasticity of demand.

“At what point am I delivering a valuable service, expertise, information, guidance, and coaching, and at what point am I simply laboring to produce a relatively undifferentiated good (i.e. a presentation website)? I tend to think I do much more of the latter, unfortunately. Certainly, I can rattle off a unique value proposition to a prospect, but many will have shopped around before they talk to me and already have an expectation of what they will pay.

“This brings me to my next hurdle. Assuming I have somehow navigated past the prospect’s early push to hear a price quoted, I find that I get nervous asking for more money than I think is “fair” (whatever that means). Is it a lack of self esteem, or a sense of ethics run amok?”

“what I consider highly commoditized services”

“It really doesn’t matter what you consider! The client’s perception is the only thing that counts!

“You are unique and provide a unique service, so it is only by your own lack of ‘Sales Conversation’ skill that a client could be allowed to retain that impression of “highly commoditized”. If they do retain it, this just means you haven’t done your selling job well enough!”

“not to say I devalue my own worth”

“It’s not yours to devalue (although you could blow it completely!), and it’s not your worth that matters! It’s the client’s perception of the worth of having their problem fixed that matters, coupled with your personal value to the client. This is where the ‘Value Conversation’ needs to be heading. As I said previously this can take quite a large chunk of your sales conversation, and mustn’t be truncated.”

“there is an upper bound to what someone is willing to pay for a service, regardless of ROI”

“There is an upper bound, but based almost exclusively on ROI! Having enabled the client to articulate for themselves the true value of having their problem fixed, your fee will be seen as an investment on which they expect that return.

“A ROI of 20 to 1 sounds mightily attractive! 10 to 1 is still pretty good. Many consultants say they’ll make a client at least three times their fee, but I think this is not desperately attractive. Less than 3 to 1 is certainly not a brilliant investment, even though it does make money. We are trying here to get a reaction of “That’s a bargain!”, so go for a high ROI.”

“price elasticity of demand”

“Re-read Alan Weiss’s Value-Based Fees – particularly the ‘Supply-and-demand illogic’ section of chapter 2 (in my edition) on ”The lunacy of time-and-materials models’. Alan explains brilliantly why the economists’ theories that apply to commodity markets don’t apply to non-commodity markets such as you providing your services. “

“At what point am I delivering a valuable service etc”

“Easy! When the client believes you are!”

or “laboring to produce a relatively undifferentiated good”

“Easy again. Only when you allow them to think this way!”

“I tend to think I do much more of the latter”

“At the risk of sounding repetitive, it’s not about what you think! It’s about what the client perceives and believes.”

“I can rattle off a unique value proposition to a prospect”

“Do I sound like Elvis Presley continually saying “one more time” to the band? The client is the one who determines value! You have to allow the client sufficient time to reach this conclusion (generally with your guidance via your questions, but certainly not putting words into their mouth) for themselves, so ‘rattling off’ is almost by definition not going to work. And your proposition comes almost at the end of the sales conversation – it’s where that entire conversation has been heading all along – it’s not even at the end of the value conversation. Re-read the rest of ‘Value-Based Fees’!”

“already have an expectation of what they will pay”

“This is natural, but will be based on their perceived remedy to their perceived pain, turned into a commodity, and put out for the world to bid the lowest price for! If you hear “that’s too expensive” this really translates as “I haven’t understood enough of the value of having my problem fixed in this way to see this as a bargain investment in order to achieve that return.”

_“You need to get them to understand for themselves what is their fundamental problem; their ‘underlying disease’ that is causing the ‘symptoms’ or pains that they are experiencing. Once they understand, they can articulate it to themselves, and then to you, and then you can understand also!

A useful question is “What keeps you awake at nights?” I doubt the answer is lack of a website! Lack of profitable sales, maybe! You have to ask other value seeking questions first though.”_

“somehow navigated past the prospect’s early push to hear a price quoted”

“Well done for identifying this one. Client questions about your daily rate are designed (even if subconsciously on the client’s behalf) to identify you as a supplier of commodities, and thus be suitable material for forcing into a price war.

“There is only one way to get rid of the daily rate question and that is to say “I don’t have one!” And mean it! If you’re not charging for your time, why do you even need one in your head?

“It would be wrong to leave your answer there however. You need to continue along the lines of “I’m quite prepared to quote my fee, at the appropriate time, later, but at the moment I don’t know enough about your issues to do so. Please can we start/return to talking about the problems that are bugging you right now?”

“I get nervous asking for more money than I think is “fair” (whatever that means)”

“Firstly you have to accept that backing winners at odds of 10 to 1, even 20 to 1, is more than ‘fair’! Secondly, everyone gets nervous when they see how they’ve been undercharging in the past. [They’ve also been under-delighting, which is why they’ve been under-charging!]

“I know I was no exception, particularly in moving from “I’ll invoice you at the end of the project” to “My standard terms are 50% before I start and 50% after four weeks”. Stating that my fee was five or ten thousand pounds instead of the two thousand I would have asked previously was less of an issue for me, but all of us have different types of nervousness.”

“Is it a lack of self esteem, or a sense of ethics run amok”

“Almost certainly it’s a lack of self confidence! The good news is there are simple techniques for gaining confidence at this.

“As we’ve implied already, the toughest sell is to yourself. One technique that works for many people is to think of the highest fee you’ve ever been able to charge, multiply it by five, and then look in the mirror and tell the face you see there “My fee is x thousand dollars”. Keep doing this until you can do it with a perfectly straight face and no hint of embarrassment.

“Confidence comes from practise, not further contemplation. If you can say it to yourself, you’ll be fine in front of clients. And it gets easier every time.

“Do the value-based thing properly and effectively you’re telling the client ‘I know a horse that is absolutely guaranteed to win, but you can still place your bet at odds of 20 to 1.’”

David concluded by asking me, “What is there to be embarrassed about in that?”

Read Part 3 here…


comments powered by Disqus