Hoop Dreams

I don’t want to disappoint you, but I guess I’m not really much of a sports fan.

Out of the “Big Four,” I have just a passing interest in football, zero interest in baseball and, despite having attended college in wonderful Montreal, a negative interest in hockey (that is to say, my level of interest would have to increase for me to have no interest).

But basketball? That I like. And so while I don’t follow it closely during the season, when the NBA playoffs come around as they always do this time of year, I find myself tuning in nearly every night.

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One of the things I’m always most intrigued by and impressed with is the depth of knowledge of the TV commentators.

Most are either former all-star players or coaches and I’m amazed by how much they know – that I don’t – about what’s happening.

They see things that I don’t see: “That’s the third time in a row Miami has run that play and Indiana finally figured it out.”

They know what’s going to happen next: “With 23 seconds to go in the game, Memphis needs to go for a quick foul here, so they can regain possession and get the last shot.”

They’re able to evaluate performance and suggest improvements: “That was Wade’s fault for not switching fast enough on the pick and roll. That’s why West was wide open underneath.”

All of this is done on the fly and, based on the joking and mindless banter that goes on alongside it, seems to happen without any heavy lifting on the part of the commentators.

They know the game so well that it’s easy for them to see, evaluate, criticize and recommend along the way.

Not that you asked, but in my opinion, this kind of work is the best there is: You’re so knowledgeable and so accomplished in your field that you’re getting paid well to simply weigh in.

You’ll be pleased to learn that this kind of arrangement is not the exclusive domain of retired professional athletes.

You’re also extremely knowledgeable and accomplished in your field.

You see things other people can’t see. You know what’s going to happen next. You’re able to evaluate performance and suggest improvements on the fly.

But I bet that’s not what you’re selling.

Instead, like most solo professionals, you probably believe that people only want to pay us for “doing the work.”

And so we offer to…

… “write the report,” instead of offering guidance regarding which report should be written.

… “interview the candidates,” instead of offering advice on whether or not a particular job needs filling.

… “train the sales team,” instead of helping a client think through other ways to grow the business.

You get the picture. We tend to sell work, not advice.

And while some of our insight may leak out in the process of doing the work, to the extent we notice that it’s happening at all, we simply think of it as “providing a little extra value.”

Not me.

What I’ve begun to realize is that the commentary itself – not the “work” per se – is the high value stuff. It’s what has the biggest impact on a client’s business and it’s what they have the most trouble figuring out on their own.

Like me watching a professional basketball game, they understand the rules (in their case, they are actually playing the game).

But they don’t have the same depth of understanding that you and I do, in our respective specialties.

And so try as they might, they are unable to untangle what’s happening, why it happened, what might happen next and what could or should happen from here.

You, on the other hand, see everything – and without a lot of heavy lifting.

Here’s the bottom line. There’s nothing wrong with selling hands-on work; I do plenty of that too.

But the real high-value stuff – the stuff your clients are most in need of, most eager to buy, and most (happily) willing to pay more for – is what you know about the game.

To you it may be obvious. But to them, it’s magic.

Stop getting paid for the hands-on stuff while you give the advice away for free. Instead, see if you can sell the advice all by itself, whenever you can.

Like I said, this kind of work is the best there is.


12 thoughts on “Hoop Dreams

  1. Jeremy Bromberg

    Interesting post, Michael. I like it, and appreciate your pointing it out.

    What do you think about the following?

    Many service providers will describe how they want to be trusted advisors (TA). TA is a great expression, and how most of us want to think of ourselves (believing our clients see us that way), but the use of that phrase is so widespread that further use feels jargon-y.

    From the buyer’s point of view: they really do want counsel / advice, but I’m guessing a coach is the only service provider whose success is measured qualitatively. Don’t you think pretty much any other provider needs to deliver more specific, tangible value with an at least vaguely associated ROI – at least in clients’ minds?

    Go ahead – take the weekend off to think about this.


    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Hello Jeremy (you and I are the only ones still working today, so I thought a prompt answer was in order)!

      I don’t find that tangible, quantifiable value is necessarily tied to “doing the work.” So, for example, I could do a newsletter for you, uploading lists, getting it designed, editing the copy, etc. (that’s the “work” part) and along the way, offer advice on where it fits with your marketing, what the appropriate voice and target audience are, and even whether or not you should be doing a newsletter in the first place (that’s the advice part, that in this case I’m giving away for free).

      Or, I could jsut sell you the advice part. “Doing a newsletter” is a commodity. Helping you figure out the other parts is higher value and harder to accomplish by the client. And yet (and this is the best part), it’s easier for me to provide since I’m just tapping my experience. So the client benefits more and I benefit more. And there’s less competition, since it involves more than just knowing the mechanics.

      Same with a garden center owner who gives away advice in order to sell plants. That’s fine, but what if he also offered a service where he just came to your house and charged for the consult? I can buy plants anywhere; having the LeBron James of gardening tell me what to do, on the other hand, that’s high value.

      What do you think?

      1. Jeremy Bromberg

        Hmm. (I mean, Michael.)

        My first reaction is that this starts to feel like the classic line that a consultant writes a report and leaves you to do the work.

        Where I struggle with this is in (foolishly and egotistically) believing that my advice is really the best thing I have to offer (and may even be good, too). And I do know, yes, know, (don’t go there) that my clients value my advice. But I also think if that were all I offered – even though good advice can lead the client to mo’ money – clients would struggle with the buy.

        “But what am I getting? What do I have to show for it? Aren’t you just taking up my time talking to me and then leaving me with the work?”

        This is a great – but difficult – topic.


        1. Michael Katz Post author

          Maybe think of it this way. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Like I said in the newsletter, I do plenty of hands-on stuff too. But many solos never realize how much insight and perspective they have, so they only sell “the work.”

          Another example: A recruiter who’s hired to do the work in finding a candidate, from start to finish. No problem, that’s fine as a service. But, in addition to that, she could also advise clients on all kinds of things relative to hiring, negotiating, compensation, etc. She could do webinars, create products, offer workshops too.

          I think the overall point (and I’m seeing it more clearly thanks to our back and forth here) is that we’re all sitting on a lot of knowledge and experience that can be offered and packaged and priced in all kinds of ways. In my experience, the further removed from time and effort it is, the more everyone involved benefits.

          I think we need to have lunch soon to continue this…

          1. Jeremy Bromberg

            OK, last post and then I’m going to take a breath and give someone else a chance to speak.

            I’m good with all you wrote (especially the lunch part). But I think until you’ve worked with a client for a bit – how long depends on … everything – many / most clients will correlate value with delivery. If you are providing great advice during that time, clients will (hopefully) be then be quicker to award follow-on work, higher dollar retainers or fees, etc.

            Likewise, I appreciate and like your thoughts on this, and your engaging in this conversation.

            Just don’t make me go to Chuckie Cheese again. (For the rest of you, that never actually happened.)

            Happy Mem Day


    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Now you’re drawing me out, Don. Have lived in Boston for 30 years but have never been able to warm to the Celtics. I’m all in on the Heat with you!

      1. Don

        I lived in So FL in late 80s when Heat was born so have been a fan every since — I’m not just a bandwagon jumper who jumped on after LeBron!

  2. Bill Sell

    Another insightful column, Michael. We do need to think of ourselves as doctors of our profession. We go to medical doctors for both the check up or surgery AND the consult. We are solo professionals need to be confident in our commentary (ever see a doc who wasn’t confident?) and value our time as they do. We need to even think ahead and schedule the follow up to see if the client has taken our advice.

    Doc Michael, baseball in Boston is good for your soul. And this week so might hockey as lo g as you aren’t a Rangers can.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      I agree, Bill, an afternoon at Fenway on a beautiful day is nice. Although I confess to not really caring who wins! That hockey thing, though, I just don’t get it!

  3. Albert

    I very much appreciate your line of reasoning.

    Regarding professional sports: once we get a handle on climate change I’ll look forward to watching them again.


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