The curious case of the professional knife remover

Imagine you are walking down the street on a dark night, the street lamps casting hazy shadows as you go. Then, ahead of you, you notice a strange looking figure.

At first you are a little afraid and your stride shortens as you move more cautiously and try to work out what is going on. But, closer now, you see the figure is in some difficulty.

Fear quickly turns to concern as you approach a man who is clearly in distress, and to your trained eye it's not hard to see why. There is a hunting knife, jutting from between his shoulder blades, right where he can't reach it, and the back of his shirt is thick with oozing blood.

Without help this man may not be long for this world.

As you support him you whisper "I came across you by chance and it is good that I did so for I am in the 'knife removal' business."

What do you think this man says in reply?

  • "Oh, how interesting, perhaps you could give me a call next month"

  • "Thank god! Please get the damn knife out of me!"

In the first case you leave a business card and keep walking down the street, not expecting to ever hear from that gentleman again.

But in the second case, being a qualified professional knife remover rather than a vulgar amateur, you introduce the topic of money. "My fee to remove this kind of knife, less callout charge of course, is £100. Is that acceptable?"

Again, what do you think the man's reply will be?

Is it likely that he says "Thank you, but I will hang on in case a cheaper knife remover comes by"?

What if you charged £1,000? Or £10,000? Is this man price likely to be very price conscious about not bleeding to death in the street?

Now let's think about a couple of alternative ways the plot could have developed:

  1. The knife is a pen-knife, and not in his back but in his side, and the cut not so deep, and the bleeding has already stopped.

  2. You ran into him outside the annual convention of knife removers and a boisterous crowd of discount removers is spilling out into the street.

  3. The man has a precious tattoo on his back and it would mean everything to him if, after the knife is gone, the wound could be mended invisibly.

Okay... I think we can all agree that I am going nowhere as a storyteller.

But I've written this as I meet a lot of people who do not have a clear value proposition to the customer like:

"I will remove the knife from your back so you don't bleed to death."

and then cannot work out why customers don't appear in the numbers they are looking for, or don't immediately see the value they bring (to justify the financial value they would like in exchange for their product or service).

If that's you, I commiserate, as I have made this mistake myself. It's sometimes incredibly hard to see through what we do (especially what we are good at) to the perspective of customers & potential customers. But, as business owners, developing clear customer value propositions is a core element of our job.

When you roadtest your customer value proposition, how do people respond?

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