Knowing What You’re Worth: Part of Your New Business Allure

The issue is timeless
by Todd Knutson

SteinmetzKnowing what your services are worth and being able to articulate and sell the value to a prospect is a critical new business skill.

I was recently emailed the following story, which was delivered in a 1999 commencement address by Charles M. Vest, President of M.I.T.. I almost deleted it before realizing the power of the "value message" that it describes so poignantly and relevantly for all marketing services companies.

In the early years of this [the 20th] century, Charles Proteus Steinmetz was brought to General Electric's facilities in Schenectady, New York. GE had encountered a performance problem with one of their huge electrical generators and had been absolutely unable to correct it. Steinmetz, a genius in his understanding of electromagnetic phenomena, was brought in as a consultant -- not a very common occurrence in those days, as it would be now.

Steinmetz also found the problem difficult to diagnose, but for some days he closeted himself with the generator, its engineering drawings, paper and pencil. At the end of this period, he emerged, confident that he knew how to correct the problem.

After he departed, GE's engineers found a large "X" marked with chalk on the side of the generator casing. There also was a note instructing them to cut the casing open at that location and remove so many turns of wire from the stator. The generator would then function properly.

And indeed it did.

Steinmetz was asked what his fee would be. Having no idea in the world what was appropriate, he replied with the absolutely unheard of answer that his fee was $1,000 [about $200,000+ in today's dollars].

Stunned, the GE bureaucracy then required him to submit a formally itemized invoice. They soon received it. It included two items:

  1. Marking chalk "X" on side of generator: $1.00
  2. Knowing where to mark chalk "X": $999.00

Many clients think of value as #1 - how much time does it take to perform a task?

The challenge is being able to communicate #2. What I love about his approach is that it's hard to argue with: He had the knowledge and they didn't. End of discussion.

How might you communicate the value of a big idea in such a simple, hard-to-argue-with way?


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