Tag Archives: Value


Has Knowledge become Commoditized?

It was perhaps one of the more interesting tweets that I’ve seen all year. It was simple in it’s focus and deep in it’s meaning.

It was from a friend of mine, Kari O’Brien (@KariOBrien):

that’s it i’m in love with #quora. i use it almost as much as google/bing, and it’s not a hassle like blekko.

I knew immediately that I had to speak with Kari. We did. I then spoke to a few others, and the pattern began to emerge. Sure, each person, from Kari on down, had a different “use case” for Google, Bing & Q&A sites. But what was common between them all was that Q&A sites like Quora and Focus were, in fact, taking mind-share away from the traditional search engines. Not much, but enough to indicate a fundamental shift in the way that people were using the internet for research and information.

[side thought: take a moment to consider what you see as the differences between information and knowledge…]

Go back a year ago – if you wanted information, or knowledge, you went to search engines, typed in a few keywords, or the general subject you were looking for, and 324,541 websites would appear. Best of all, it cost you nothing. That was the age of information as a commodity, and the tools you used to find that information were search engines (like Google and Yahoo-Bing). Yes, the knowledge was there, but you had to dig (often deep) to get it.

But the new use of Quora, Focus and similar sites has changed the way the game can be played. These are Question and Answer sites. You ask a question, and anybody can answer it. In turn, you can answer anybody else’s question. If others like your answer, they can, in a crowd-sourced manner, vote up your answer. Answering a question, and having it voted to the top of the ranks, implies Knowledge of the subject matter of the question.


Before I dig any deeper, let’s take a quick look at what Knowledge and Commoditization really represent. According to Wikipedia (which references the Oxford English Dictionary):

Knowledge is “(i) expertise, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject; (ii) what is known in a particular field or in total; facts AND [my emphasis] information; or (iii) to be absolutely certain or sure about something.”

Wikipedia’s definition for a Commoditization is much simpler, but equally telling:

“Commoditization occurs as a goods or services market loses differentiation across its supply base, often by the diffusion of the intellectual capital necessary to acquire or produce it efficiently. As such, goods that formerly carried premium margins for market participants have become commodities.”

Let’s put these two together in light of Kari’s statement (and my subsequent conversation with her and a few others): When they are looking for information or knowledge, they may still use Google or Bing. But when they are looking for Knowledge, they increasingly go to Q&A sites. Not only do they get to see the top rated answers, but they also get to see differing, alternative answers and viewpoints (and thus can make their own decisions about the value of the answer). And it costs them nothing. Knowledge, like information, has become commoditized.


Ask.com has been around for years. The same is true for Yahoo Answers. Even LinkedIn Answers and Facebook Questions are jumping onto the Q&A bandwagon (many people already use the social media site Twitter as a Q&A tool). But what has changed is the type of “content” that people are searching for, and the search tools they use to find it. While Google & Bing are great free tools for finding massive amounts of raw information, sites like Quora and Focus have become the free search engines for Knowledge – and the popularity of these Q&A sites is indicating both a shift in the relative value of information vs knowledge, and the commoditzation of both.


I’m not arguing that there still isn’t “content of value” that will always carry a premium price (especially in the upper-end of the analytical and investigative analysis/research), but for the mass market, this is a profound change that certainly has implications for those who previously provided “Knowledge” as part of their business or value proposition. For those in the Professional Services industry, here are some questions to consider:

  • How does the commoditization of knowledge impact your Professional Services business?
  • What if your client already has a pre-conceived notion of the “right” answer that just isn’t “right” for their particular situation?
  • How do you add value – and improve upon – the knowledge that a client may have gathered from a Q&A site?
  • How does commoditized knowledge help you improve your “value-add” services? Can you leverage this same information to improve your own offerings?

For a continuation of this discussion, and a slightly different business perspective, check out “Professional Services: What is your Product?” by my friend Marcio Saito (@Marcio_Saito). He’s got some interesting insights, and questions, from his unique business perspective that are well worth the read.

To keep up with all my posts, you can subscribe to my Email feed or RSS feed.

Thanks for reading – Fred.


Value Pricing is more than just a Happy Meal

I was talking recently with my #ProfServ co-moderators Alan Berkson and Kelly Craft about Value Pricing and all I could think about was McDonald’s. No, I’m not a fan of their food and haven’t eaten there in ages – it was their product & pricing strategy that kept coming to mind, what they call their Meal Bundles: the Dollar Menu, the Extra Value Meals, the Mighty Kids Meal and the every-kid-must-have-one Happy Meal.

McDonald’s became a leader in the fast-food services industry in part by bundling groups of items, offering certain loss-leader products and building a multi-faceted “loyalty” approach that kept people coming back for more (games like Monopoly and indoor play-houses are good examples here). Forget about the actual “cost” of their product, they created a fun “experience” that people are amazingly willing to pay for.  Even my son admits that their burgers aren’t as tasty as the ones that we grill in the back yard, but every time we pass a McDonald’s his 8yr old brain shouts “Can we play at McDonald’s? Can I get a Happy Meal with a toy?”

McDonald’s has Value Meals, not Value Pricing.

Thinking back, that is not that dissimilar from what we did at my first consulting firm. We offered bundled packages of services, we gave away a certain amount of loss-leader content (writing, white papers, telephone calls) and almost always included some type of longer-term retainer to monitor the progress after we had completed the initial effort (and build that long-term, come back for more, relationship).  But unlike McDonald’s, we had the ability to create a flexible pricing structure and we leveraged that as much as we possibly could.

In the beginning, our pricing structure was designed to cover our expenses and make a certain level of profit on each engagement. Across the board, our pricing was fairly uniform client-to-client. But over time, as our “brand” grew and our client base expanded, we gradually adopted a different approach that took advantage of the demand, or value, that we were providing to our clients. Rather than trying to maintain a certain level of profitability, we started to look at how much certain clients were willing to pay for our services. Gone were the fixed hourly rates, replaced by a flexible pricing approach that was different for each client. It was, for us, the beginning of Value Pricing.

Value Pricing is about finding a client’s pain and fixing it. More cure = more value.

In Value Pricing, the goal is to match your price to the level of value that the client receives from your services. Forget about what your competitors are charging, or what your costs/expenses are, focus on the value that you bring to the client. To be more precise, think about the value the client believes you are providing. If they believe the value you are bringing to the table is high, price accordingly. Conversely, if they believe the value you are bringing to the table is low, you probably shouldn’t be there in the first place.

Here are some guiding principles to Value Pricing that help define the concept as it applies to professional services:

  • Value Pricing is NOT the same as “Compensating for Value” in the financial market.
  • Value Pricing is determined and agreed to by the customer ‘up front” in advance of the actual engagement.
  • Deferred “bonus” payments – typically based on operational or sales improvements – can be considered part of Value Pricing if you really intend/expect to meet or exceed the clients goals.

For Value Pricing to work in the professional services sector, my experience has shown that there are several key items that need to be in place:


Your “brand” and reputation must equate to quality. If you aren’t bringing extraordinary quality to the table, you will never be able to convince a client of your true value. The interesting part about quality is that it goes well beyond just the service that you deliver, it’s something that must come through in all of your dealings with a potential client, before, during and after the engagement is over.


If a client doesn’t completely, totally, without reservation trust you, Value Pricing is simply not going to work. Trust is most often conveyed through experience and references, but it is also something that you must proactively promote. How? Ask your past clients for that reference, the letter of recommendation, the endorsement. And when you get it, don’t hide it, put it out there. Especially in the era of social media, get that word out there. Or better yet, get others to promote it for you.


In order for Value Pricing to work effectively, you have to really understand the needs (and urgency) of the client. Taking this further, you need to think like the client – put yourself in their position and figure out where their real pain point is and how quickly it really needs to be solved. Often, what they really need and what they say they need are two totally different items. Many times I’ve gone into a potential client meeting to discuss a particular subject only to find that there is a different, perhaps more urgent, issue that needs to be addressed. In some cases, these needs are totally unrelated to the original need, in others, they are the root cause of problem they need fixed. The only way to figure this out is to listen to the client, analyze their business model and start asking questions. Sometimes you’ll be surprised at the opportunities the answers lead to.


Here it is in a single word. Guts. You have to have (as my grandfather used to say) the “gumption” to take the risk and Value Price your services. I have yet to see a client offer to pay me more than I’ve asked for. If you aren’t willing to ask your client to pay based on the client’s perceived value, you are better off sticking with your standard hourly rate.

There are other factors that go into making Value Pricing work for your business, and being able to not only sell the value of your services but understand the perceived value that a client is receiving is not always an easy task. But when it is done right, it is a win/win for both you and your client.

What are your thoughts? Do you use Value Pricing as part of your business strategy? Has it worked, failed? Leave me a comment below and let me know. The more we share about our own experiences, the more successful we all become, and the level of client satisfaction that we deliver improves.

To keep up with all my posts, you can subscribe to my Email feed or RSS feed.

Thanks for reading – Fred.

UPDATE: Note that his post was updated after our last #ProfServ Twitter chat. @Provserv is held on alternate Thursdays at 10pm ET. Hosts are Alan Berkson (@berkson0), Kelly Craft (@KRCraft) and Fred McClimans (@fredmcclimans).

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