Why Pricing Matters
by Mike Myatt
Are you shooting yourself in the foot with your pricing strategy? How much is your time worth? What does your pricing say about your personal or corporate brand? Do you have a pricing strategy, or do you set your prices by some ethereal or arbitrary method? Even though I believe issues surrounding pricing decisions are root level drivers to a successful business strategy, I never cease to be amazed at how many corporations and professionals seem to pull their pricing out of thin air. Moreover, of those that actually go through some form of disciplined process, many of them seem to believe that once they have set the initial pricing their job is finished – nothing could be further from the truth. In today’s post I share my thoughts on how to develop a sound pricing strategy…
While the topic of pricing is certainly not rocket science, it has indeed been a thorn in the side of business people since the dawn of commerce. It has definitely caused its fair share of angst, frustration, and vigorous debate among executives and professional advisors simply for the reason that it is one of the few metrics that touches virtually every aspect of a business. Pricing impacts everything from strategy and tactics, to finance, to branding, to marketing and sales, to vendor selection and supply chain management, to recruiting and compensation, and to customer satisfaction and loyalty. As mission critical as pricing is, it is also one of the most often undervalued and overlooked business disciplines.
A recent trend which demonstrates that corporations have recognized the need for specific domain expertise in pricing is the emergence of a bevy of C-level positions charged with direct leadership over strategic pricing. It is no longer uncommon for me to see a chief revenue officer or chief pricing officer joining the ranks of executive teams. Moreover, in absence of a specific headcount assignment tied to pricing, other C-suite officers are starting to take ownership over pricing as a key business driver.
Think about this – why is it that some attorneys have difficulty justifying $70 dollars an hour, and others can command $900 dollars and hour? Why do some products have a large backlog of orders at premium prices, while others struggle to get any traction at discounted price points? Why will someone pay $30,000 dollars for a Rolex, but feel a Timex isn’t worth more than $50 dollars? Why do some consultants get $50,000 a day for their time, while others have to give their time away? While I could continue by citing other examples of pricing discrepancies my guess is that it is not necessary…not only will the following points provide some insight into answering the aforementioned questions, but they are also the main items that should be considered when evaluating your pricing strategy:
- Cost: Any evaluation of pricing should begin by having a firm understanding of what it costs to provide your product or service. If you don’t have a handle on all direct and indirect costs then how can you possibly even begin to understand whether or not your pricing will be profitable? By the way…if you forget to factor in cash flow in your considerations you’ll be very sorry.
- Methodology: You do have a choice…Moreover most successful pricing models offer a variety of options. Flat rate pricing, subscription based pricing, cost plus pricing, ala carte or menu based pricing, retainer based pricing, volume pricing, incentive pricing, discount pricing, percentage pricing, performance pricing, value pricing, risk transfer pricing, venture pricing, relationship pricing, bundled pricing, hybrid pricing structures, and any number of other options abound. The use of solid research, segmentation, and sound business logic in the engineering of your pricing model will pay long-term dividends. Avoid arbitrary or static percentage increases in pricing that do not take into account current market dynamics and trends. Where possible all pricing should be subject to nuanced considerations.
- Brand: Pricing most certainly plays into brand perception, and the strength of your brand (or lack thereof) will most definitely impact your pricing. Does your brand command a pricing premium, or force you into being a low cost provider? By the way, one strategy isn’t necessarily better than the other. However it is never a good thing to be forced into a low cost position.
- Competition: Does your pricing place you at a competitive advantage, or disadvantage in the market? While I always recommend understanding competitive pricing models, it is rarely a good idea to drive your pricing model using this as a sole point of consideration. What is more important than the actual price point in relationship to your competition is whether or not you can justify whatever position you adopt.
- Market Demand: Put simply, the market is what the market is. Do you know how big your market is or isn’t? The reality is that there is no limit on the upper-end of pricing until the market places a cap on it. That said, at some point the market will eventually determine the top-end of the pricing scale for any product or service. Supply and demand will perhaps impact pricing as much as any other given market force outside of value creation.
- Consumer Emotions: The emotional impact surrounding the delivery of your product or service will have a powerful impact on pricing. The law of scarcity, the principle of exclusivity, the perception of value, or creating a sense of urgency can all create pricing premiums. Catering to the emotions of fear, greed, ego, pride, lust, envy, loneliness, safety and any number of other emotions will impact what can ultimately be charged.
- Value Creation: In my opinion this is the most important consideration of all. It doesn’t matter how low your price is if there is not just perceived value creation, but real value creation. Creating real value is not only incumbent on the corporation or service provider, but it is value creation that creates brand loyalty and determines the sustainability of the product or service offering. Pricing only becomes an issue when you cannot justify it. Better yet, pricing is a non-issue when it justifies itself.
Now that I’ve shared my thoughts on pricing, I’m literally going to put my money where my mouth is by slaughtering a sacred cow – I’m going to share what I charge my clients. I’m making this disclosure for no other purpose than to demonstrate there is no reason to fear pricing transparency as a professional. I don’t really care what others charge for their time, and also don’t fear that discussing my rate somehow works against me. I’ve always wondered why so many professionals hesitate to publish their pricing. Do they have something to hide? Are they fearful of providing their competition with a pricing advantage? As I was thinking about why pricing is such a sacred cow, the more questions I asked myself in regard to pricing, the more I began to realize how large an issue pricing is for many professionals.
Before I get to the specifics of the numbers, I want to share a bit of background as well as some perspective on my thinking. Firstly, we have a number of different practice areas at N2growth and our pricing varies based on the products and services being offered. Therefore the pricing that I’ll be sharing today reflects what I charge for my personal coaching/consulting time. In determining what I charge I tend to take a more subjective approach that considers a broader range of evaluation points. I look at the complexity of the issue I’m addressing within a framework that prices for value creation, and then I adjust my pricing accordingly. That said, I rarely let price be the sole determining factor in whether or not I engage with a company. At this stage of my career I tend to look at the nature of the engagement more than I do my rate schedule. If I find a situation to be of personal interest, or consider the circumstance an intriguing challenge, I’ll normally find a way for a client to afford my services.
I don’t typically charge on a hourly basis but prefer to work on a contract basis. In most cases I work on a retained basis with monthly retainers ranging from $7,500 to well in excess of six figures based upon the scope of work and complexity of the assignment. That said, in some cases I’ve chosen to work for a substantially discounted rate where I found an interesting challenge and the opportunity to grow with a client. I also give a decent amount of my time away in our pro-bono practice. The reality is that I don’t really sell my time as much as I decide where and with whom I want to invest it.
While some people simply cannot wrap their minds around my pricing, others consider it to be a bargain. Could I charge more? Sure. Could I invest my time for less? Absolutely. Am I worth what my clients pay me? Clearly, or they wouldn’t pay it. Here’s the thing – for those that don’t understand what I do, or the value I create, I could cut my price by 2/3 and they still wouldn’t engage. The important thing is my price works for me, and it works for my clients. I don’t tend to spend too much time thinking about things outside those two measurement points.
Bottom line… pricing is not a taboo subject to be avoided, but rather a key metric that needs to be well understood as well as proactively measured and managed. Pricing needs to be dealt with in the most embryonic stages of strategic planning and needs to constantly be evaluated based upon changes in market dynamics.
Now it’s your turn – If you’re a professional services provider I invite you to share your rates, pricing philosophy, and the type of clients you serve below. It will not only be a good experience and a freeing endeavor, but who knows, you might end-up with a new client…
Mike Myatt, is a Top CEO Coach, author of “Leadership Matters…The CEO Survival Manual“, and Managing Director of N2Growth.