10 Tips to Better Pricing

If companies increased prices by just 1%, and demand remained constant, on average operating profits would increase by 11%.

Pricing is one of the most powerful -- yet underutilized -- strategies available to businesses. A McKinsey & Company study of the Global 1200 found that if companies increased prices by just 1%, and demand remained constant, on average operating profits would increase by 11%. Using a 1% increase in price, some companies would see even more growth in percentage of profit: Sears, 155%; McKesson, 100%, Tyson, 81%, Land O'Lakes, 58%, Whirlpool, 35%. Just as important, price is a key attribute that consumers consider before making a purchase.

The following 10 pricing tips can reap higher profits, generate growth, and better serve customers by providing options.

Stop Marking Up Costs

The most common mistake in pricing involves setting prices by marking up costs ("I need a 30% margin.") Since many SKUs are often produced, cost-plus pricing is prevalent in manufacturing -- it is straightforward and relatively easy to set prices. The problem is that these "cost-plus" prices bear absolutely no relation to the amount that consumers are willing to pay. As a result, profits are left on the table daily.

Set Prices that Capture Value

Manhattan street vendors understand the principle of value-based pricing. The moment that it looks like it will rain, they raise their umbrella prices. This hike has nothing to do with costs; instead it's all about capturing the increased value that customers place on a safe haven from rain. The right way to set prices involves capturing the value that customers place on a product by "thinking like a customer." Customers evaluate a product and its next best alternative(s) and then ask themselves, "Are the extra bells and whistles worth the price premium (organic vs. regular) or does the discount stripped down model make sense (private label vs. brand name). They choose the product that provides the best deal (price vs. attributes.)

This straightforward pricing mindset change can reap significant new profits. Cleveland-based manufacturer Parker Hannifin claims that the upside of focusing on capturing value -- instead of marking up costs -- helped to lift net income from $130 million (2002) to $673 million (2006). As a result, Parker Hannifin's shares rose 88% in that time period (compared to a 25% increase in the S&P index).

Create a Value Statement

Every company should have a value statement that clearly articulates why customers should purchase their product over competitors' offerings. Be specific in listing reasons...this is not a time to be modest. This statement will boost the confidence of your frontline so they can look customers squarely in the eye and say, "I know that you have options, but here are the reasons why you should buy our product."

Reinforce to Employees That it is Okay to Earn High Profits

I've found that many employees are uncomfortable setting prices above what they consider to be "fair" and are quick to offer unnecessary discounts. It is fair to charge "what the market will bear" prices to compensate for the hard work and financial risk necessary to bring products to market. It is also important to reinforce the truism that most customers are not loyal -- if a new product offers a better value (more attributes and/or cheaper price), many will defect. Since manufacturing sales are often individually negotiated, this is key point to emphasize to a sales force.

Realize that a Discount Today Doesn't Guarantee a Premium Tomorrow

Many people believe that offering a discount as an incentive to trial a product will lead to future full price purchases. In my experience, this rarely works out. Offering periodic discounts serves price sensitive customers (which is a great strategy) but often devalues a product in customers' minds. This devaluation can impede future full price purchases. Again, this is an important point to emphasize to manufacturing sales forces since prices are often negotiated.

Understand that Customers have Different Pricing Needs

In virtually every facet of business (product development, marketing, distribution), companies develop strategies based on the truism that customers differ from each other. However, when it comes to pricing, many companies behave as though their customers are identical by setting just one price for each product. The key to developing a comprehensive pricing strategy involves embracing (and profiting from) the fact that customers' pricing needs differ in three primary ways: pricing plans, product preferences, and product valuations. Pick-a-plan, versioning, and differential pricing tactics serve these diverse needs.

Provide Pick-a-plan Options

Customers are often interested in a product but refrain from purchasing simply because the pricing plan does not work for them. While some want to purchase outright, others may prefer a selling strategy such as rent, lease, prepay, or all-you-can-eat. A pick-a-plan strategy activates these dormant customers. New pricing plans attract customers by providing ownership options, mitigating uncertain value, offering price assurance, and overcoming financial constraints. In B2B situations, pick-a-plan options such as financing and return policies can provide a manufacturer with a pricing competitive advantage.

Offer Product Versions

One of the easiest ways to enhance profits and better serve customers is to offer good, better, and best versions. These options allow customers to choose how much to pay for a product. Many gourmet restaurants offer early-bird, regular, and chef's-table options. Price sensitive gourmands come for the early-bird specials while well-heeled diners willingly pay an extra $50 to sit at the chef's table. Product versions can be used to serve a spectrum of retailers. Discount products can be targeted towards discounters while the top-of-the-line can be sold through premium retailers.

Implement Differential Pricing

For any product, some customers are willing to pay more than others. Differential pricing involves offering tactics that identify and offer discounts to price sensitive customers by using hurdles, customer characteristics, selling characteristics, and selling strategy tactics. For example, customers who look out for, cut out, organize, carry, and then redeem coupons are demonstrating (jumping a hurdle) that low prices are important to them. The willingness to pay differs. Negotiation and targeted promotions offer the pricing flexibility necessary to sell through as many retailers as possible.

Use Pricing Tactics to Complete your Customer Puzzle

Companies should think of their potential customer base as a giant jigsaw puzzle. Each new pricing tactic adds another customer segment piece to the puzzle. Normal Normans buy at full price (value-based price), Noncommittal Nancys come for leases (pricing plans), High-end Harrys buy the top-of-the-line (versions), and Discount Davids are added by offering 10% off on Tuesday promotions (differential pricing). Starting with a value-based price, employing pick-a-plan, versioning, and differential pricing tactics adds the pricing related segments necessary to complete a company's potential customer puzzle. Offering pricing choices to consumers as well as retailers generates growth and increases profits.

Since pricing is an underutilized strategy, it is fertile ground for new profits. The beauty of focusing on pricing is that many concepts are straightforward to implement and can start producing profits almost immediately.

What better pricing windfall can your company start reaping tomorrow morning?

Rafi Mohammed, Ph.D, is the author of The 1% Windfall: How Successful Companies Use Price to Profit and Grow (HarperBusiness).

Hide comments

Comments

  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
Publish