My 14 year old son was asking me about inflation last night. His questions around what causes inflation were logical, from the perspective of seeking a simple answer. Part of my responsibility as his parent is to help him see that most things are not super simple, but a complex web of interacting elements. Inflation isn’t caused by one thing. It’s the result of competing forces of supply and demand with numerous inputs. I am not doing him a favor by allowing him to think things are easy.

You’re also not helping your clients by allowing them to think that what you do, done well, is easy. Might be an exception for those of you who sell a pure commodity, but most sales people face some sort of version of clients trying to commoditize what they do. That disregards your expertise and the work it took to attain it. That work often includes pricey failures that you will be helping your client’s avoid. Your expertise is valuable!

I spent some time working in the commercial landscape management business. One of my colleagues in Ops (I’ll call him Paul) was very skilled in helping clients see the complexity and expertise of the services we provided. On one occasion, we were reviewing a $500K proposal line by line, and when we got to the mulch line item, the client balked at our price/sq yd.

       “I can get that amount of mulch delivered from the landscaping store at half your price, so why don’t you guys back this line item out and I’ll buy it from them instead?”

Paul, being very intelligent, didn’t engage in a price war, but instead, agreed in principle before inserting the complexity element back into the equation.

“No problem, we can back out the mulch. Can I make a few suggestions to you about that?” 

Of course, the client agreed to hearing Paul’s suggestions. 

       “When they deliver the mulch, make sure they tarp underneath, because that mulch will stain your nice new parking lot out there. Also, you’ll want to make sure whoever installs it ties the bushes back and pours the mulch in from the building towards the outside of the bed, so you don’t stain the siding. You’ll also want to make sure you clear the sprinkler heads or block them off before pouring in the mulch into the beds.”

It took less than 3 minutes of this kind of “suggesting” before the client looked at us, and asked,

“Well, maybe you guys should just do it for us?”

       “Sure, whatever works for you,” replied Paul.

It came down to this. The client was NOT willing to pay twice as much for what he thought was just mulch. Once Paul got him to see the real work and expertise involved in the proper delivery and placement of mulch, the price difference became justifiable. Installing mulch isn’t simple. 

Neither is inflation.

Let your clients see enough of your expertise and the work you do.