The Debate Continues with Pat Lamb

Pat Lamb commented on my recent post on Lean Client Service.

Since I don’t want to repeat the entire post along with his comments, I will just respond to his comments, as shown below in all capital letters.

On the distinction between “value billing” and “value pricing” Pat writes:

[I APPRECIATE THE DISTINCTION AND APOLOGIZE FOR THE ERROR. BUT TO ME, THE CRITICAL ELEMENT IS THE PRICING AND SUBSEQUENT BILLING SHIFT TO THE LAWYER OR OTHER KNOWLEDGE WORKER THE NEED TO PRODUCE THE OUTPUT AT THE LOWEST COST IN ORDER TO MAXIMIZE PROFIT MARGINS].

This comment explains most of the differences between Pat and me.

Pat, you seem to have a “penetration” pricing strategy, which means any costs you drive out of the system are passed along to your customers, like Wal-Mart.

I think this is a strategic error for Valorem, especially if you offer “alternative” pricing and great customer service.

At worst, you should have a “neutral” pricing strategy, or better yet, a “skim” strategy. Little wonder you are still arguing for cost savings everywhere. You should re-read the story from Ben & Jerry’s from my book Pricing on Purpose (which you reviewed on Amazon and gave 5 stars), where they discuss their pricing epiphany. [In fact, I've reproduced it at the end of this post].

Your penetration strategy dictates your views, while most of the firms we work with are implementing a skim price strategy.

On the issue of “professional service” vs. “professional knowledge” firm, Pat writes:

[TO ME, A DISTINCTION WITHOUT A DIFFERENCE].

Really? Then Peter Drucker was wrong about knowledge workers, and the enormous differences between them and industrial/service workers? You can apply the same metrics to a KW as an industrial or service worker?

The difference is enormous, and I’m not just talking about the name. Knowledge workers own the means of production, and they are the system when it comes to many functions. I side with Drucker on this one.

If we can’t agree on this, then nothing else I say will matter to you.

Pat writes:

[IS YOUR POINT THAT WE WANT TO DO THE RIGHT THINGS INEFFICIENTLY? IF SO, I BEG TO DISAGREE].

No, not my point at all. My point is that in many cases, as I cite in my post, at the margin trading less efficiency for more effectiveness is a wise strategy.

Doing the right things efficiently, or to the best of our abilities, is just plain common sense. I don’t mow my lawn with my BB gun. I’m saying that your ruthless attention to efficiency is not a competitive advantage, because despite your penetration price strategy, most law firm clients are not price sensitive.

Pat writes:

[I THINK THIS IS WHERE THE PARSING OF WORDS GETS EXTREME, RON. FRED AND I LIVE I A WORLD WHERE PEOPLE KEEP SCORE AND NEITHER OF US IS MAKING CEMENT LIFE JACKETS. WE ADVOCATE, AND LIKE IT OR NOT, IT IS AN EVERYDAY PART OF THE BUSINESS WORLD].

Keeping score is one thing, but keeping score doesn’t make you more efficient. That’s like arguing measuring yourself more accurately will change your weight.

I’m not against keeping score (hell, I’m a CPA), I’m against keeping score of the wrong things.

Pat writes:

[FRED AND I, AMONG OTHERS, HAVE USED THE BUGGY WHIP MAKER ANALOGY TO DISCUSS BIGLAW. BUT THE PRODUCT BEING SOLD BY LAWYERS IS RESULTS—SOLVING CLIENTS PROBLEMS. I DON'T KNOW OF A CLIENT WITH A PROBLEM WHO WOULD ARGUE THAT HER LAWYER'S ABILITY TO ACHIEVE A RESULT AND MAKE THE PROBLEM GO AWAY IS AN ANTIQUATED BUSINESS].

I’m not arguing that lawyers will go the way of buggy whip makers, though other thoughtful people are. I’m saying a focus on efficiency at the expense of innovation and creativity will make you irrelevant, or less able to create services that customers value.

Pat writes:

[EFFICIENCY DOES NOT ALWAYS NEED TO BE MEASURED, BUT ARE YOU REALLY ARGUING AGAINST DOING QUALITY WORK FASTER AND CHEAPER?]

Please give me an example of an efficiency metric that is not measured?

When you attempt to do this you will make my point about the difference between a measurement and a judgment.

Even your definition contained in your comment further below is a measurement, where you write:

[EFFICIENCY, AT LEAST IN THE LAW, IS GREATER OUTPUT—RESULTS—PER UNIT OF TIME].

Looks like a measurement to me. You can measure the output, but the results must be judged.

Further, it’s greatly flawed, especially from a value/pricing standpoint.

Are you saying the Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine is worth the amount of time it took him to develop? Are you saying that if it took him decades to develop it would be less valuable?

Sure, we would have loved it if he came up with it sooner, but we are dealing with human beings, not machines. You seem to think lawyers can run at 100% efficiency all the time, or at least your measurements argue for that logic. I reject this as industrial thinking.

Pat writes:

[BUT A DOCTOR DOESN'T WASTE TIME NEEDLESSLY. IT IS BAD FOR THE PATIENT'S HEALTH].

Again, Pat, this depends. I want my doctor to spend as long with me as necessary for a complete exam, diagnosis, etc. Ever been to a Dr. who stands by the door ready to rush out to the next patient, probably because some Lean consultant imposed a patient per hour quota on them? Not very effective. The Mayo Clinic does not do this, for this very reason.

Now if you’re saying that a doctor shouldn’t waste time in surgery, I have no argument. But even if he does, that’s his judgment, and if I trust him and it leads to a more effective result, why do I care? Maybe he needed a consult, or to think about a procedure more carefully. Are you really arguing that there’s no room for inefficiency? Then we really need to stop this debate.

Pat writes:

[THIS IS A GREAT EXAMPLE THOUGH. TOY STORY AND OTHER COMPUTER GENERATED CARTOONS ARE JUST AS GOOD BUT PRODUCED AT A FRACTION OF THE COST, ALLOWING THE PRODUCERS TO INVEST MORE AT THE IDEA DEVELOPMENT STAGE AND STILL MAKE MORE MONEY].

I doubt Pixar movies are cheaper to make than Disney’s, given the price of human capital. Pixar wasn’t about lowering the cost, it is all about making a more awesome (effective?) animated movie.

Even if I accept your argument that they did it at a lower cost, did they pass that cost savings onto the moviegoer?

Ha! They skimmed it for themselves. This difference in pricing strategy, again, explains most of the differences in our worldviews.

Pat writes:

[LEAN IS ABOUT LOOKING AT PROCESSES TO SEE WHAT VALUE THEY PRODUCE FOR CLIENTS. ARE YOU SAYING THAT WE SHOULD BE INDIFFERENT TO THE USE OF TECHNOLOGY IN DOCUMENT REVIEW FOR EXAMPLE, EVEN THOUGH STUDY AFTER STUDY HAS SHOWN IT PRODUCES EQUIVALENT RESULTS AS HUMAN REVIEW FOR A FRACTION OF THE COST?]

No, I’m not saying that. I’m saying that you using technology for document review does not convey a competitive advantage, since your competitors are using it too. It’s like having restrooms.

I rather have you focus on how to create more value for your clients than worrying about how you can increase efficiency by 1%.

Pat writes:

[SO WE'D RATHER HAVE LARGE NUMBERS OF EXTRA COMPUTERS FOR EXAMPLE, RATHER THAN TRYING TO PURCHASE ONLY THAT WHICH IS NEEDED? WE LIKE TO HAVE EXTRA BODIES AROUND FOR THE RARE TIME THEY ARE NEEDED RATHER THAN LOOKING FOR ALTERNATIVE APPROACHES?]

This is not really addressing the point of the hammer example. That was made to prove that the efficiency measurement did not convey the underlying realities of the situation.

But to address your point, I do believe your firm should have spare capacity. Too many firms run at full tilt, they burn out their team members, don’t have time to effectively market for better customers, and are always playing catch up on hiring at the last minute.

Spare capacity is a good thing for knowledge workers, giving them time to invest in marketing, social media, education, thinking, creating, innovating, and just recharging their batteries.

Pat writes:

[NO, BUT YOU WOULD LOOK AT THE COST OF TRANSPORTING THE MUSICIANS FROM ONE ENGAGEMENT TO THE NEXT, OR THE COST OF PROCURING THE NECESSARY INSTRUMENTS FOR THESE PEOPLE TO PLAY THEIR EXCEPTIONAL LEVEL. YOU ARE LOOKING AT THINGS FAR TOO NARROWLY.]

Oh come now, Pat. Are you really going to transport these folks on Southwest because it’s cheap? Again, this is a mechanical view of knowledge workers. Most airplanes’ business and first-class are filled with business passengers. I wonder why?

Pat writes:

[RON, YOU WRITE AS IF PROCESS AND JUDGMENT ARE MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE. THAT MAY TRUE IN THEORY OR IN YOUR WORLD. I CAN ASSURE YOU, HOWEVER, THAT IN THE WORLD MY CLIENTS OPERATE IN, THEY ARE INTEGRATED. YOU HAVE TO PROVIDE GREAT JUDGMENT AT A LOW PRICE.]

I work in the real world, Pat. I’ve transformed thousands of practices around the world. I’m able to do that because the theories I use are sound and predictive. Accusing me of not being in the real world lends zero credence to your arguments.

You also seem to think that customers only care about lowest cost. Do you buy the cheapest toilet paper? Customers aren’t price sensitive, they are value sensitive. But given your penetration pricing strategy, maybe you are dealing with the most price sensitive segment of the market.

In any case, it does not alter the fact that a judgment is far different than a measurement. Enron was not theoretical, it was a perfect illustration of the difference between a measure and a judgment.

Pat writes:

[RON, I JUST THINK THE MAJORITY OF PEOPLE ARE GOING TO REJECT YOUR ARGUMENT THAT WE SHOULD BE INDIFFERENT TO COST. NO ONE CAN AFFORD THAT THESE DAYS].

I’m not arguing to be indifferent to cost. Your costs should be driven by your price (not the other way around!), and your price should be driven by the value you create.

Again, if we can’t get past this basic economic fact, this debate is futile.

In the price-led costing world, your costs are determined up-front. You can only recover the costs you incur if you can command a price that covers those costs, plus profit. The only way to do that is to create value above the price, so your customer makes a profit on the transaction as well.

That, by the way, is how the real world works. It doesn’t work on a cost-plus basis, otherwise GM wouldn’t be in bankruptcy.

Pat writes:

["TOTALLY FOCUSED" MY POINT EXACTLY, IF YOU FOCUS ON ONE OR THE OTHER TO THE EXCLUSION OF THE OTHER, YOU LOSE. BOTH NEED TO BE PURSUED].

It depends on your pricing strategy. BMW of course cares about costs, but not to the point that it reduces the value of its cars. If customers value your product enough, they will pay for high costs, and even inefficiency (again, see the Ben & Jerry’s pricing epiphany below).

Pat writes:

[BUT EVEN THE BEST AIRLINES PAY ATTENTION TO COST, BUYING OIL WHEN IT IS CHEAPER, FOR EXAMPLE, OR HEDGING INCREASED OIL PRICES].

Sure, so what? Look at how they price. They change their airfares 11 million times in one day in the USA. They don’t do this because costs are changing that often, but because the value of the flight is changing the closer you move to take off.

Pat writes:

["IN AND OF ITSELF." AGAIN, YOUR OWN WORDS SHOW YOU ARE CASTING THIS AS EITHER/OR WHEN I CERTAINLY DID NOT AND NO BUSINESS PERSON I KNOW OR HAVE HEARD OF DOES EITHER].

I stand by the statement, and you haven’t successfully refuted it. Efficiency, in and of itself, will not convey a competitive advantage.

Pat writes:

[BUT THEY DO HAVE PIANISTS ONLY DURING PEAK HOURS, NOT EVERY HOUR THE STORE IS OPENED].

It’s not that the dog dances poorly, it’s that he dances at all. No Lean/Sig-Sigma consultant would dream of putting pianos in a Nordstrom, even during peak hours. It’s not efficient.

Pat writes:

On doing the Right Thing, not Doing Things Right [IT SEEMS WISER TO ME TO DO THE RIGHT THINGS THE BEST WAY, OR AT LEAST A BETTER WAY].
Forget about efficiency. Worry about effectiveness. [IN MY WORLD, RON, I HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT BOTH. IF I DIDN'T, I WOULDN'T HAVE CLIENTS].

But which drives success? Effectiveness does. You have to worry about both to a point, but when your efficiency interferes with your effectiveness, which has to go?

Pat writes:

[BUT SOUTHWEST MORE THAN MOST ANY OTHER BUSINESS I KNOW LOOKS TO STRIP OUT "STUFF" THAT DOES NOT IMPROVE THE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE, WHICH IS THE VERY DEFINITION OF LEAN].

Yes it does, but they don’t use Lean, or any other management fad. They’ve rejected those since they were founded. My point is that Lean isn’t the only way to eliminate waste.

Pat writes, in response to our replacements for Lean/Six-Sigma:

[I AGREE WITH ALL THESE CONCEPTS, NONE OF WHICH ARE FUNDAMENTALLY AT ODDS WITH THE CORE CONCEPTS OF LEAN. AGAIN, THEY ARE NOT MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE].

Well, in the real world, I can tell you that companies I’ve seen use Lean/Six-Sigma have focused on the one while driving out the other.

Leadership attention is a fixed resource, and you can only have so many iniatitives. Lean and Six-Sigma is a low-value undertaking, compared to focusing on creating and capturing value.

Every study undertaken proves that a 1% increase in price adds far more to the bottom line that a 1% improvement in reducing costs, or even rainmaking.

Pricers have an axiom: Innovate for growth, price for profit. This is why Google gives 20% Google Time, which I notice you didn’t comment on? That’s not very efficient, so why do they do it?

To give a real world example: I know a PKF that uses Lean/Six-Sigma, it even has Black Belts in Six-Sigma on their team (yes, it’s a real designation). After one year of implementing Lean/Six-Sigma here are the results:

  • Historical Metrics:
  • Increase in Realization: 6.0%
  • Decrease in Write-offs: 51.6%
  • Increase in Revenue: 1.9%
  • Increase in Cash Receipts: 10.0%
  • Decrease in Charge Hours*: 7.50%
  • Increase in Hourly Rate: $17/Hour

Now, I’ve been working with a similar sized firm on implementing Value Pricing, and over the same past year they report a 25% increase in revenue, and an even greater increase in profit.

Which result would you rather have? You may answer both. Ok, but I think you will find that low-value ideas crowd out high-value ideas, since they are easier to implement.

Your own comments tell me that you find value pricing very hard. It is, damn hard. It’s also a high-leverage activity, so is creating more value.

It’s much easier to sit around and gaze at our navels and discuss how to increase output per hour by 1%. It’s just nowhere near as profitable.

Pat writes:

[RON, WHEN WE FIRST MET, I ASKED YOU HOW YOU WOULD APPLY YOUR VALUE PRICING MODEL IN THE CONTEXT OF A CLIENT WHO HAD JUST RECEIVED A COMPLAINT AND WAS LOOKING AT 3 LAW FIRMS WHO WOULD HANDLE IT, TWO OF WHICH WERE PROPOSING SPECIFIC BUDGETS. IN MY WORLD, THAT PROPOSED PRICE WOULD BE WHAT THE CLIENT LOOKED TO AS THE BOGEY YOU WOULD HAVE TO MEET OR BEAT. INSTEAD OF RECOGNIZING THAT REALITY, YOU SHIFTED THE DISCUSSION TO THE THEORETICAL BENEFITS OF VALUE PRICING, MUCH AS YOU HAVE DONE IN THIS DISCUSSION BY FOCUSING ON ONLY CERTAIN ASPECTS OF WHAT LAWYERS DO. REALITY IS TOUGH THING TO DEAL WITH, BUT IN POSTING ABOUT THE POSSIBLE VALUE OF LEAN TO CLIENT SERVICE, I WAS SUGGESTING THAT LAWYERS WOULD BENEFIT FROM A CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF THE MANNER AND PROCESS BY WHICH THEY HANDLE ALL ASPECTS OF MATTERS FOR CLIENTS. THIS DISCUSSION HAS ONLY REINFORCED MY VIEW OF THE VALUE TO THAT CRITICAL ANALYSIS].

Again, Pat, if you don’t understand the value that you create then how will your customers? Taking a budget as a price is a serious mistake, unless of course you really do have a penetration pricing strategy.

You seem to think that all customers care about is low price. This is nonsense on stilts. I’ve talked to hundreds of General Counsel who confirm this view, and elasticity studies by economists back it up.

They want to understand value, and if firms can’t do this, then the only thing left to discuss is price and/or hours.

Even Fred Bartlit doesn’t have a “penetration” pricing strategy, as I’ve read he’s turned away a case at $5,000 per hour. What customer in their right mind would be willing to pay that?

A customer looking for value. That’s not theoretical, that’s the real world.

Focus on your value and your customer service, and stop thinking you can price for 100% efficiency in a knowledge firm (and don’t make them fly on Southwest for crying out loud).

Your people aren’t machines, and I’ll let Ben & Jerry make my point:

The history of business is the history of epiphanies. Sometimes the fog clears up, and the right path is seen. This certainly happened—with respect to pricing—for Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, founders of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Before they sold the business in 2000, to Unilever, the British-Dutch food company, they wrote an essay in 1997, titled “Bagels, Ice Cream, or…Pizza?” in which they explain their “famous pricing epiphany”:

Each year we would break even and say we needed only to do a little more business to make a profit. Then the next year we’d do a lot more business and still only break even. One day we were talking to Ben’s dad, who was an accountant. He said, “Since you’re gonna make such a high-quality product instead of pumping it full of air, why don’t you raise your prices?”

At the time we were charging 52 cents a cone. Coming out of the ’60s, our reason for going into business was that ours was going to be “ice cream for the people.”

Ben said, “But Dad, the reason we’re not making money is because we’re not doing the job right. We’re overscooping. We’re wasting ice cream. Our labor costs are too high—we’re not doing a good job of scheduling our employees. We’re not running our business efficiently. Why should the customer have to pay for our mistakes? That’s why everything costs twice as much as it should.”

And Mr. Cohen said, “You guys have to understand—that’s human. That’s as good as people do. You can’t price for doing everything exactly right. Raise your prices.”

Eventually we said, either we’re going to raise our prices or we’re going to go out of business. And then where will the people’s ice cream be? They’ll have to get their ice cream from somebody else. So we raised the prices.

(Quoted in The Book of Entrepreneurs’ Wisdom, edited by Peter Krass, John Wiley & Sons Inc., 1999, pp. 462-463.)

I don’t expect to alter your view on any of this Pat, and that’s not why I’m debating you.

I’m actually using this debate to illustrate how obsolete the industrial/service model thinking is in a knowledge economy.

Our metrics come from Frederick Winslow Taylor in the late 19th century, and they are obsolete with respect to knowledge workers.

That said, I truly appreciate your debating skills. I, of course, believe the empirical evidence supports my view.

The market, ultimately, will decide, and I have faith it will make the right decision.

Comments

  1. Pamela,

    I never said price was irrelevant. For Heaven’s sake, I’m a pricer.

    I am saying that the price you’re willing to pay is determined by the value your legal firms are creating. We argue for certainty in price, scoping matters up-front, and offering clients a money-back guarantee.

    I am saying that firms need to focus more on value. Their costs are relatively fixed, so any efficiency gains are going to be small compared to increases in value.

    When they create more value, they can capture more through pricing.

    I work with GCs too, and corporate customers. Value matters. And value matters more than price.

    Value makes the world go round.

    The only reason procurement discusses efficiency is because law firms do a lousy job communicating and understanding value, because–I believe–they are way too focused on cost and efficiency and not creating value.

    Fred understands this, as reflected in Bartlit Beck’s pricing; I’m not sure Pat does understand this.

    Coca-Cola has revamped how it pays its advertising agencies, no longer looking at hours, efficiency, etc. They pay based on value created, and have a risk-sharing model. This is not just theory. This is theory that explains real-world consequences.

    In your example, no company would ever purchase IBM, because it’s premium priced. But the slogan “No one ever got fired for buying IBM” was developed by customers, who obviously understand the value/price trade-off.

  2. It is people like Pat who resist change the most that will come around at one point or another in understanding value and how is relates to customers. Al least he is debating and resisting mightily.

  3. In a professional knowledge firm focusing on effectiveness always and everywhere trumps (creates more customer value than) focusing on efficiency.

    QED

  4. Ron,

    All this discussion about “lean”:

    L – Ligthens
    E – Everything
    A – Adds
    N – Nothing

    Pamela makes some points relating to the growth of firms like Valorem and Shepherd and concedes they’re “outstanding lawyers”. It might just be that they’re also outstanding communicators who have moved their thinking in to the territory where they focus on the client needs rather that “how long it will take”.

    As you have said (so many times) the customer determines the value. GC and their ilk (including the purchasing department) will not want to make a mistake. As a legal friend of mine states: “I’m not rich enough to buy second best” – similar to the IBM example.

    People need to stop focussing on cost – it really has little to do with it. If the pice and value spread is not right for a particular customer, they can go elsewhere. If it’s not right for the firm, they can reject the engagement. It all comes down to choice.

    Just don’t do “lean” – doesn’t do much unless you’re manufacturing widgets.

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