Annually, Pragmatic Marketing surveys the market and this year, I was allowed to study the data.
The data I used was from the 842 respondents who completed the survey. Since Pragmatic Marketing targets product teams, you can consider that’s the population from which this data is drawn.
In the analysis below, the dependent variable I used was the answer to the question: “Which of the following business activities are your responsibility? Check all that apply.” I specifically analyzed the results to one of the possible responses: “Setting and maintaining pricing.” In essence, we are about to look at what characteristics of product people are different between those who price and those who don’t.
Experience – Product people with more experience are more likely to have pricing responsibility. Specifically, the dramatic cutoff was at about 6 years of experience. 31% of respondents with 5 or less years of product experience set or maintained prices, while 43% of those with 6 years or more had that responsibility.
Age is correlated with experience, but not perfectly. The age group with the most pricing responsibility, 37%, was 35-54. Over 54 and the number dropped to 25%. Under 35 and the number was only 19%.
Technical ability is a good predictor of pricing role. Respondents self reported as either highly technical, somewhat technical or not technical. In order, these groups had pricing responsibilities of 42%, 37% and 32%. The more technical, the more likely someone prices.
Profitability – 67% of those who said they are responsible for the profitability of their product also claimed to set or maintain prices. This contrasts with only 24% of those who aren’t responsible for profitability. Although this feels right, I feel sorry for the 33% of people who have responsibility for profits without any pricing authority.
Type of product – 57% of hardware product people have pricing responsibility. Followed by 41% of professional services product people, then 38% of software and 37% of cloud services product people. Although there is no additional evidence supporting this claim, it appears the higher the variable costs, the more likely the product people manage prices.
Hours worked per week is also an indicator of pricing role. 49% of people who work more than 50 hours per week have pricing responsibility while 29% of those who work 40-49 hours per week set or maintain prices.
Time spent in strategic roles is another predictor. 49% of those who spend more than 50% of their time in a strategic role do pricing while only 39% of the rest do.
Department – Turns out that 48-49% of people who report being in Product Marketing or report directly to the president/CEO/Managing Director have pricing responsibility. While all other departments (product management, marketing, sales, engineering, support, services or training) are well under 40%. I’m very surprised that product management is on the low list. Aren’t they the ones who best understand the value of the product? According to the data, it is more likely that product marketers are involved in pricing than product managers.
Salary – The one you really want to know. 44% of product people who make more than $140,000 per year have pricing responsibility. Only 36% of those who make less than $140K set or maintain prices.
The data are all interesting on their own (at least to us geeks), but still, here is my interpretation.
It is impossible to know causation. For example, do people work long hours because they have to do pricing or do they get the responsibility and trust of doing pricing because they are hard workers? Although I can’t prove it, my interpretation is the latter. Variables like experience, profitability, and salary indicate to me that pricing authority is bestowed upon the best performers, probably not as a reward, but as an indicator that leadership trusts these people with these most important decisions.
After all, pricing is the most powerful marketing variable, it only makes sense that companies only give that authority to people in positions of trust.
Late in 2015, Pragmatic Marketing will do another survey. What would you like to know when it comes to pricing? Maybe we can add a few additional questions to test some interesting hypotheses. Let me know.
Isn’t it great being in a relationship? I’ve been married over 25 years and still love spending time with my wife. We entertain each other. We help each other. We console each other. We advise each other. We stretch each other. We root for each other. We trust each other. We have common goals.
Buyers and sellers are in a similar relationship (but maybe not as fun). They both want a successful implementation. They both want the most value possible out of the product. They both want the buyer to look good. They have common goals … except for pricing. Pricing is the one time in the relationship between buyers and sellers where their goals are not aligned. The more one side wins, the more the other loses. Each wants to win at the expense of the other.
Just like pricing, there are some things in our relationships where we “negotiate” who does what. Who does the dishes? Who cleans up after the dog? Who fixes the computers? Neither person enjoys doing them, but someone has to. The more one person does, the less the other has to. It’s a zero-sum game. (Unless we both agree to live in a dirty house.)
OK, this is interesting, but what pricing lesson can we learn? Answer: Let’s talk about price with our buyers at the right time. Not too early. We need to build a relationship with our buyers. Create an attitude of trust. Demonstrate our true desire that our buyer succeeds. Then we can talk about price.
Think about your first date with someone with which you’ve had a relationship. If you wanted a second date, you didn’t talk about your negatives, or anything that might be deemed controversial. In fact, I’ll bet that if you do talk about these items on the first date, you’ve probably been wondering why you don’t get many second dates.
By the way, wouldn’t you love it if, on your first date, your date would confess to all of his or her bad habits? That way you can quickly weed out the bad ones in search for ones that better meet your needs.
Similarly, your buyers often want to know your price on the first meeting. They are looking for reasons to disqualify you early. When they ask the price question directly, you have to give some reasonable answer. Here are some bad answers:
“I’ll tell you that after our third meeting.”
“I can’t answer until I know more about your requirements.”
“We don’t give that out this early in the sales process.”
Each of these answers looks non-responsive and makes it look like you’re playing games. They make it less likely you will get the second meeting.
Here’s an answer I like:
“Most of our customers spend between $xxx and $xxxx, depending on their requirements. As I learn your needs and you discover our capabilities, we will be able to narrow that range down for your situation.”
This answer looks as responsive as possible given the amount of information each side has.
What other answers have you seen work?
Pricing is a taboo topic early on. It’s the 800 pound gorilla in the room. Everybody is thinking about it, but we have to manage the conversation carefully. Bring it up too early and we may never get to the second date, (i.e. have a chance to build the relationship).
Speaking of relationships, Happy Valentines Day (belated). Oh, and if you didn’t get your significant other anything on Valentine’s day, do something nice for him or her now. It will come as a big surprise and you won’t have to spend as much.
The 60-Second Mind podcast put out by Scientific American on January 31 brought us fascinating proof that price is an indicator of quality, proof that we believe this deep down in our bodies.
They described a study from the journal Neurology. [Alberto J. Espay et al, Placebo effect of medication cost in Parkinson disease: A randomized double-blind study]
The placebo effect is well known, where people who believe they are taking real medicine, even when it’s just a sugar pill, somehow heal themselves. In this study though, the researchers studied the effect of one placebo vs. another. The patients were told they were testing two treatments where one treatment costs $100 a dose while the other one costs $1,500 per dose. The patients were not told that both treatments were placebos.
Amazingly, the subjects who believed they were taking the $1,500 treatment showed 28% more improvement than those taking the other treatment. The more expensive the placebo, the more powerful the effect.
This is proof that even subconsciously we deeply believe that price is an indicator of quality.
One implication of these findings: the drug companies might be doing us a favor by keeping their prices so high. (Sarcasm)
A student wrote in to ask the following question. It was fascinating enough I want to share it with you. All identities and industries are modified to protect the privacy of the actual situation. Here’s the question:
Hi Mark, I’m wondering if you can assist me with something I’m struggling with. I’m working on a deal right now and trying to price it based on value but the customer is pushing back very strongly saying that it’s not worth the fee we’re trying to charge.
We’re a private B2B company. With our magic, the use of our product will allow this particular client to increase revenue in an area of their business from about $90k to $260k, without having to charge their customers any more money or to fundamentally change the way they do business; they do what they’re doing, charge their customers the same amount of money, yet they almost triple their revenue. We have built a compelling economic model, which they worked with us on, and which they agree will have a significant impact on their bottom line.
Our product is a license based service that will help them realize $180k in new annual revenue. Using what I learned in the pragmatic marketing pricing course, I applied the 10% principal so our license fee should be $18,000 / year = $1500/month. Despite showing them a strong economic model, which they have said they agree with, they have only offered to pay us $2500 annually for a license.
I’m not really sure what to do now. They love the product, and want it. We know the value that we add to them, but they are simply refusing to move off that number. We don’t want to walk away from the deal, but we’re also conscious that the value that we’re delivering them is substantial and they should pay a reasonable amount for it. No way we’re going to accept a $2.5k license, so we’re not really sure what to do.
Any thoughts/ideas/suggestions? Thanks, Jason
From what you describe it seems you are spot on. Here are a few thoughts on what may be happening.
First, make sure this is a Will I? type product, meaning you have no competition. Assume for a second that your buyer decides to not purchase from you. What will he do instead? If the answer is nothing, then your thinking is correct. If the answer is purchase a competitor’s product or build something similar himself, then you’re probably not going to be able to capture 10% of the economic value you deliver.
Second, we have to make sure the customer believes the economic value we promise. You said your customer agrees with your numbers so that’s probably not the issue. But we will only get 10% of the economic value our customers believe they will get.
Third, although our costs don’t drive our pricing, often our customers think they do, or at least should. Your customer may be looking at what they think this costs you and don’t feel your price is fair. Alternatively, they may be looking at prices of similar (not competitive) products that are priced much lower. In these cases the buyer has a price he expects to pay and you are asking a much higher price. This is often very difficult to overcome. It may take a little time for the buyer to get used to your price.
Fourth, maybe your buyer is simply a tough negotiator.
Here are my suggestions.
1. Change the structure of your offer. In conversations, offer to give him the product for free and share the upside 50-50. This looks fair and is essentially free money to your customer. However, your customer will never go for it. The purpose is to get the customer focusing on how much of the upside he wants instead of how much he’s paying. (By the way, these incremental profit sharing plans are extremely difficult to enforce. You really don’t want them to accept it so don’t push too hard. Instead, you are using it as a tool to make the 10% number look inexpensive.)
2. Be patient and walk away. In negotiations, patience pays. If you show you are anxious to close quickly, the buyer will not budge. If you look like you’re willing to walk away the buyer will likely move his price up. It would be foolish of the buyer to walk away from the additional profit you can deliver to him just to spite you because he doesn’t like your price. If it appears the buyer walks away (which looks like a couple of weeks of silence) then you can always go back and accept a price closer to his offer if you want.
Oh, and you probably don’t want to just hold your price. Find a reason to give a little to show you’re not unreasonable, but don’t give much. Maybe a 3% discount. It looks like you’re trying, but you don’t have room to go.
3. Offer a free trial period. If the implementation isn’t too onerous, the customer may be willing to try it out and then find out if the additional profits do appear. Then, when you go to take it away the decision becomes much easier for him to make. However, if the implementation is challenging, then the company may not want to invest that much of their own resources for the test.
And to close the story, here was Jason’s reply:
Hi Mark, Thanks for writing back so quickly… I really enjoyed my 3 days with you, and I appreciate you taking the time to help me out; I owe you a steak and a beer the next time you’re in my town
I think he’s on the right track. Hopefully he will write back and let us know how it ends.
Photo by Leo Reynolds
The Pragmatic Marketing framework activity of the month is Market Problems. If you know about Pragmatic Marketing you know that the foundation of all that we teach is understanding and then solving market problems.
At first glance, it appears that pricing is directly related to the size of the problem solved. Some life or death medicines sell for thousands of dollars a dose. It’s a no brainer that we would pay that much if it would save the life of a loved one. On the other hand, most of us would never pay thousands of dollars for something with much less impact. Think about a medicine that heals cuts quicker.
This is even easier to understand when thinking about B2B opportunities. If you build a product that will save a customer $10M, companies would pay a lot for it. Compare that to a product that will save them $100K. Obviously the customer would pay a lot more for the product that will save them more.
So far so good. The bigger the problem solved, the more a customer is willing to pay. However, it’s not really that simple.
This situation changes when competition enters the picture. The most a buyer would pay to solve a problem doesn’t really change, but what does change is how much they HAVE to pay.
As an example, assume a buyer would pay $1,000 to a monopolist to solve a problem. Obviously both the buyer and the seller are happy, otherwise they wouldn’t have entered into the agreement. Then, one day a new competitor enters the market and solves the same problem for only $200. Now, the customer would no longer pay $1,000. Assuming the competitor really does the solve the problem, the most the buyer would now pay is $200.
In high technology we see this frequently, where a company creates a new solution, is successful in the market, and then competition enters and drives down industry prices. Another example is in the pharmaceutical industry. Drugs are often protected by patents, making the manufacturer a monopolist, but the moment the patent expires competitors enter the market and prices decrease.
To summarize the point of the blog, the most a buyer would pay is the smallest of these two prices:
The amount they would pay to make the pain of the problem go away.
The price of a competitive product that solves the problem equally well.
So yes, the more severe the problem, the more buyers would pay to solve it. But the price we can get away with charging is often tempered by competitive offerings.
Photo by Tomasz Stasiuk
It is a great feeling when readers tell me they’ve implemented good, better, best because of what they’ve read. (Actually it’s a great feeling that people read the blog, let alone take action.) Then, when they went on to describe what they had done, it became obvious I left out an important detail.
Several times in the past couple months I’ve heard from people who implement good, better, best by creating low, medium, and high priced offerings. The low priced product had the least number of features, the medium had more and the high even more. So far so good.
Then they went on to describe what features made up each package. It almost seemed random as to how the features were assigned to which offering. As an example, the low end product had some features that were not in medium or high. This is not best practice in good, better, best.
The problem with this implementation is we force buyers to make a difficult choice. They must choose between a lower end package that has a feature they want and higher end packages that also have other features they want. They are trading off features between packages, trying to decide which package has the features that are most important.
The power of good, better, best comes in its simplicity. Buyers who have a hard time deciding, buy the one in the middle because it’s better than the good product and less expensive than the best. However, this only works if the product offerings build on each other.
In other words, your better product should be everything that is in good plus more. Your best product should be everything that’s in better, plus more. Don’t make your buyers think too much.
Let’s take a look at iPhones. Apple always offers 3 versions of each model of iPhone based only on the amount of memory. This is a wonderful implementation of good, better, best. When someone buys the one with the most memory, they get everything that’s in the lower offering plus more. It’s simply a price for feature decision.
However, Apple also gives you the choice of the iPhone 5s, the 6 or the 6+. This is NOT good, better, best. Even though they are low, medium and high priced, they do not build on each other. If you want a phone that is not “too big” you will purchase the 5s or the 6, but not the 6+. Even “rich” people may prefer the 6 to the 6 plus.
Good, better, best is a powerful technique to structure your products and prices, but you want to be sure to do it right. One goal is to simplify the decisions your customers need to make. The only trade-off they should be making in their minds is price for features, not choosing between features. We do this by making sure the best product has everything the better has plus more and the better has everything the good has plus more. Good luck.
I can’t believe how tight airplane seats are. They keep on reducing our legroom. It’s ridiculous how small these things are now. And I’m not the only one. Everyone complains about the lack of legroom.
However, believe it or not, we ask for less legroom. Not directly, but with our choices. When people choose which ticket to purchase, they typically find all of the flights that will get them to their destination at a reasonable date and time. And then they buy the cheapest one. Notice legroom didn’t make the list of what they consider.
Admittedly some people do care more about legroom. Many airlines now have 3 classes of fares in domestic travel: First class, front of coach and back of coach. It costs more to sit in the front of coach than in the rear of coach and the only real difference is a few inches of legroom. For example, USAir charges an additional $49 for the extra legroom.
Yes, some people purchase the legroom, but if you watch the way plane seats sell out, the back of the plane sells out before the front of the plane. (Yes, I spend too much time looking at seating charts for airlines.)
Put yourself in the airlines shoes. Their customers constantly complain about the legroom, but most often choose less legroom (lower price) when making a purchase. What do you do? Airlines are simply giving us what we want, lower priced seats at the expense of legroom.
Here is an interesting article by YouGov summarizing a survey done about how we make airline purchase decisions. This is my favorite paragraph:
“42% of Americans who have flown said that they would be likely to purchase an “Economy Minus” ticket offering lower prices for reduced legroom. 15% said that they were very likely to purchase smaller cheaper seats. Women are more likely than men to consider downgrading to a smaller seat (47% compared to 37%) and Millennials (51%) are more likely than those aged 50+ (32%).”
42% would take even less legroom that they get today for a better price. If this is true, why wouldn’t airlines continue to shrink their legroom? We are asking for it.
What pricing lesson can we learn from this? Sometimes our customers complain with their mouth, but they don’t “complain” with their wallet. It’s important for pricing people to be real clear on how customers make their purchase decisions and what role price plays in that decision. We can listen to what people say, but we have to study what they do.
Seth’s blog is the only one I read every day. He talks about a variety of topics, always with insight. His short blog this morning, although not directly about pricing, is almost identical to the concept of Will I? and Which one? Here is the entirety of Seth’s short blog:
This or that vs. yes or no
It’s much easier to persuade a philanthropist to fund your project than it is to persuade a rich person to become a philanthropist.
Encouraging someone to shift slightly, to pick this instead of that, is a totally different endeavor than working to turn a no into a yes, to change an entire pattern of behavior.
When looking to grow, start with people who already believe that they have a problem you can help them solve.
Turning a no into a yes, also known as convincing someone to answer yes to “Will I?” takes a lot of work. If you’re going to use price to turn no to yes, it will take a large price decrease. However, getting someone to pick your product instead of your competitors, also known as the “Which one?” decision, is much easier and can often be accomplished with smaller price discounts. What decision are you trying to convince your market to make?
In class the other day, a student asked why we see companies offering big discounts at trade shows.
It happens not only at trade shows. We often see great deals if we’re willing to make an immediate decision. Go see a professional speaker and at the end of the talk he or she will likely have product to sell in the back of the room … deeply discounted if you purchase today.
Of course, the discount is intended to get you to purchase immediately, but it’s more than that. These companies believe, probably correctly, that if you don’t purchase now you will likely never purchase. Hence, any incentive to get you to act now increases their sales.
However, you rarely see this at retailers. Imagine walking into McDonald’s and they say, if you buy today you can have a Big Mac for 50 cents. Almost never happens. Because once you’re inside, you’re going to buy something from them. By selling you a deeply discounted product they take money away from themselves.
These deeply discounted “act now” deals work best when the potential customer is in a unique place for them, a place they are not likely to be in again for a while. That way, if they want this great deal they have to act now.
If you are contemplating deep discounts to get buyers to act quickly, ask yourself, are you credible? If you say to a potential customer, I’ll give you 50% off if you act this week, what does the buyer think? If the buyer waits more than a week and then offers to buy from you at the previous price, will you reject it? Probably not and your buyers know it. Hence, it’s not credible. In most situations, deep discounts to act now is just giving away money.
Also ask yourself, would I win this business anyway, a little later but at a higher price? If so, it may be in your best interest to wait out the customer. (Of course you’re always at risk of losing the deal to a competitor.)
Deep discounts can motivate buyers to act quickly, and it is sometimes in your best interest to do so. Just be clear about your expectations if you choose to try this tactic.
Photo by supa_pedro
Pragmatic Marketing’s December activity/box of the month is Referrals and References. What does this have to do with pricing? Plenty.
If you are systematically executing the activity of creating and collecting referrals and references, then you probably have a formalized program on turning customers into valuable marketing tools. If you don’t then you are hopefully collecting and organizing data about customers who like you, at least when they fall in your lap.
We gather referrals and references to help us sell more product. Referrals help us find new customers while references help us close deals. But here’s where pricing comes in:
Referrals and References increase new customers’ willingness to pay.
Since pricing is all about creating and capturing value (i.e. customers’ willingness to pay) then anything we can do to create value helps us win at higher prices.
Think about your own decisions. You are thinking about buying a new kitchen appliance, say a panini press. You haven’t shopped yet, but in a conversation with a friend he tells you about the one he has, brand X, and how it makes great sandwiches. He is extremely happy with it. Now once you decide to buy a panini press, wouldn’t you pay a few dollars more for brand X over brand Y just because your friend has it and loves it?
Just like you would pay a little more because one brand comes highly recommended from a friend, so will your customers. Think of a referral as one more “feature” your product has that your competition does not. Your customers value that feature and would pay a little more to have it, all else being equal.
When we put together a program to systematically collect and use referrals and references, we increase both the volume of sales and the price at which we can win. Sure seems like a win-win for us.