Competing on price is never a great strategy! Cheap Kills, Value Wins! As long you as you have a clearly differentiated offering, you should calculate the value your solution provides your users, and base your pricing on that! And stick to it! Competing on price creates a spiral of death for all competitors, no matter what the industry, no matter what the offerings are!
Some eons ago, in one of the services start-ups I was with, prospects always brought up a competitor that offered better prices. Why just one? I usually volunteer to provide them an even larger list of competitors that can give them better raw pricing than me. Then I bring up the value of our higher priced offerings and how, over the course of the project, our total costs will be lower for them, given the superiority of our hiring, training processes, and the higher productivity of our resources.
In another software product startup, we knew that many of our customers tried developing a solution in-house to solve the same problem and failed. We knew that in-house applications will not scale up as well as a carefully designed software product. Our product had the benefit of addressing a larger variety of problems with all of our customers. And so every customer gets to benefit from better features, rapid customizability and scalability. We priced our offering at high US product prices; they were based on value provided rather than something that is worked from costs up! We knew we had defensible intellectual property that cannot be easily replicated by any other competitor!
Perils of Competing on Price
Competing on price does not mean that you don’t provide strategically offered discounts on the total price to close a sale quickly. It means that the only thing that differentiates you from your closest competitor is price and price alone. This is a terrible situation, not just for you, but all of your competitors also. Here are the perils of competing on price:
- Inflexibility in the Contract – Competing on price does not allow for acquisition of other technologies, products, or people to make the overall effort more efficient and effective. Especially in product companies, a smaller competitor may have developed a product that fits in well with your offering when integrated properly.
- Tight Margins – Murphy’s Law happens! Key people may leave, unforeseen things may happen at a company. Competing on price and tight margins can turn a marginally profitable opportunity into a loss-making effort.
- Compromises future people and product development – The margins you make are not just for profits. A large portion of the margins are the monies you have left to be used for continued development of the people you have, or continued product research and development. Competing on price may force you to cut down on these strategic investments.
- Sets up the wrong dynamic with the customer – The best time to set up a proper dynamic on Pricing with customers is right at the beginning. If you get the contract because you competed on price you have already set up a terrible dynamic. You may never be able to recover from this later on.
Steps towards Competing on Value
Competing on Value is a careful, long journey and requires faith, patience and a lot more hard work. But when set up correctly, and if the value is proven with a handful of customers, scaling up to a larger customer base is easier. Here are some absolutely essential steps towards Value-Based Pricing:
- Calculate and Have Ready, Demonstrable Value – First principle of Value Based pricing is to understand, calculate and have ready at your fingertips, your Value. Return on Investment (ROI) calculations, Pay Back Periods, Projected Total Cost of Ownership of alternative solutions are all necessary for you to demonstrate Value. You need to have them ready even in your initial presentations. Tell them how you may appear more expensive than their other alternatives, but demonstrate how your solution will save them money, effort and time in the long run.
- Differentiate your offering and Value – Make sure you have defensible intellectual property either in the form of patentable technology or at least a large body of complex code that will take a competitor a long time to figure out and develop. Companies underestimate the value of time in these comparisons. That’s why large software product companies routinely make the buy decision to acquire a smaller, nimbler competitor that provides a part of their overall solution rather than develop it all from scratch themselves.
- Highlight your plans to add even more Value – Share some of your future people or product development directions with your prospects and customers. Demonstrate how your plans will enable their investment in you will benefit them in the longer run even more. This will also have the added benefit of getting you feedback on what’s critical for them and what’s not. You will be able to fine tune your own future directions before you spend money on them, a kind of Lean Fine-Tuning!
- Demonstrate Thought Leadership, don’t be in reactive mode – Whether you are providing software services or software products, thought leadership is a terrific way to demonstrate and provide added value. If you are doing Big Data Analytics products, share with prospects and customers, the thought leadership kinds of activities you are doing in that area. They need to look up to you as an informed, thought leading business expert; not a service or a product supplier. Those are the tools with which you add value.
Competing on Price is a losing proposition. Nobody wins and all competitors including you will be in a downward spiral with that strategy. On the other hand Value-based Pricing when done correctly can facilitate a longer term, mutually beneficial partnership with your customers. When done correctly, it enables you to defend and build your business with your customers and help grow your company in the process!
Price is what you pay. Value is what you get – Warren Buffett