Price strategy is emerging as the most important resource for companies to increase their competitive advantage. The vast majority of companies have spent years achieving gains through cost cutting, outsourcing, process re-engineering and the adoption of innovative technologies. However, the incremental benefits from these important activities are diminishing, and companies need to look at other areas to improve their business results.
Today, companies are looking to serve well-defined market segments with specialized products, messages, product variants and services, and to earn superior profit margins while doing so. Savvy companies are implementing price optimization schemes and focusing on building their organization to serve their most profitable customers. Many are even "firing" customers who are unprofitable. All too many companies, however, use simplistic pricing processes and cannot even identify their most profitable customers or customer segments. This lack of information means that all too many management teams have their sales staff focusing the bulk of their time servicing the least profitable of their customers. Some companies even embrace policies and pricing strategies that drive away their best customers, and then they wonder why their profits are not growing.
In the course of our engagements, we have seen examples of good and bad pricing policies. The following is a list of ten of the most common mistakes companies make when pricing their products and services.
Mistake #1: Companies base their prices on their costs, not their customers' perceptions of value.
Prices based on costs invariably lead to one of the following two scenarios: (1) if the price is higher than the customers' perceived value the cost of sales goes up, discounting increases, sales cycles are prolonged and profits suffer; (2) if the price is lower than the customers' perceived value, sales are brisk, but companies are leaving money on the table, and therefore are not maximizing their profit.
Costs are only relevant in the pricing process because they establish a lower boundary for the price. In certain circumstances, there are strategic reasons a company might decide to sell a product below its cost for a period of time, or to a certain market segment as a "loss leader." However, when a price is set according to the perceived value of the product or service, sales are brisk, and profits are maximized.
Mistake #2: Companies base their prices on "the marketplace."
The marketplace is often cited as the "wisdom of the crowds," the collective judgment of the value of a product. But by resorting to "marketplace pricing," companies accept the commoditization of their product or service. Marketplace pricing is a resting place for companies that have given up, where profits end up being thin. Instead of giving up, these management teams must find ways to differentiate their products or services so as to create additional value for specific market segments. The marketplace is full of companies that have managed to drag themselves out of commoditization and establish a unique value proposition. They have then gone on to capture that unique value at prices higher than those of "the marketplace."
Mistake #3: Companies attempt to achieve the same profit margin across different product lines.
Some financial strategies support a drive for uniformity, and companies try to achieve identical profit margins for disparate product lines. The iron law of pricing is that different customers will assign different values to identical products. For any single product, profit is optimized when the price reflects the customer's willingness to pay. This willingness to pay is a reflection of his or her perception of value of that product, and the profit margin in another product line is completely irrelevant.
Mistake #4: Companies fail to segment their customers.