Price Matters, but Not in the Way You Think
By Peter Lyle DeHaan
A common complaint I’ve heard over the years from my sales teams is that the prices for our products or services is too high. Yet in lowering rates to match the competition, it becomes a race to the bottom.
I’ve seen this taken to an extreme in the book publishing industry where some authors give their books away for free to increase their “sales” numbers or attract readers to buy their other books. Yet it’s hard to make a profit when you give away your merchandise.
My response to staff when they complain about prices is to point out that they’re focused on the wrong thing. “Never sell by price,” I say. “When you gain a client by price, you’re going to lose them for the same reason.” They’ll bail when a lower-cost option comes their way—and it will.
Instead of price, focus on value, benefits, and outcomes. This is hard to do, however, when the first words out of most prospects’ mouths are “How much does it cost?”
Yes, sometimes an up-front discussion of cost is needed because it weeds out those with a significant misalignment between what you’re selling and what they can afford. There’s no use extolling the features of a $10,000 solution when the inquiring buyer has a $250 budget.
Regardless, it’s essential to train sales staff to move away from selling by price and instead promote your product or service’s virtues.
Though some will surely disagree, as far as I’m concerned, lowering price is not a workable tactic for long-term success or ongoing viability.
Price your product or service appropriately and promote it accordingly.
Throughout my career I’ve seldom run sales. From a philosophical standpoint, it’s unfair to charge some buyers full price and give others a break.
From a practical standpoint, if you run too many sales too often, you train your customers to never buy at list price and to always wait for a sale. And once you program them to think of you in those terms, it’s hard to reprogram them to embrace a full-price mentality.
One office supply company so successfully tempted me to buy with their frequent sales that I stockpiled enough office supplies to cover me for the rest of my life with most items. Yet, their frequent sales promotions so irritated me that I eventually unsubscribed from their email list. Losing my connection with them, I seldom thought of them anymore. In effect, their overzealous sales turned me from a card-carrying member of their loyalty program to someone who hasn’t bought from them in a decade.
In expressing my dislike of running sales, I must acknowledge that most of my marketing experience comes from selling products or services with a recurring element. Telephone answering service is billed monthly and periodical advertising reoccurs each issue. For consulting, my strategy was ongoing work from each client. Even with book sales, my goal isn’t for a one-off sale but to attract readers who will buy multiple books from me over the years.
When it comes to a business model based on recurring revenue, gaining business through a sale means you perpetuate that special price month after month, year after year. Notably, I don’t have experience in selling a manufactured product or in retail sales.
If I did, perhaps I wouldn’t have such an aversion to running sales, but I do.
A discount is similar to a sale. I’ve run discounts on occasion. But it’s always for a strategic purpose.
For example, when rebranding and changing the operational model of one of my publications, I needed to quickly achieve a buy-in from enough advertisers to create a financial base from which the publication could function. I needed this to cover my overhead costs, and I needed it quickly.
To achieve this goal, I identified my top five prospects and offered them a 50 percent lifetime discount if they would commit prior to the relaunch. I sold all five, and four are still with me years later. Based on their early commitment to my vision, I was able to relaunch the publication and form a stable, workable promotional resource that has produced a profit ever since.
Yes, there are times when I wish I could charge these four charter advertisers full price, but it’s worked for them and for me. And I’m content with that.
Marketing Tactics Success Tip
Carefully consider how pricing fits into your marketing strategy. Decide the role running sales will play, if any. Also determine if you will ever offer any discounts and under what conditions.
Approach each consideration from a long-term perspective and not a short-term gain.
Read more in Peter’s Sticky series, including Sticky Sales and Marketing and Sticky Customer Service featuring his compelling story-driven insights and tips.
Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his career. Recurring themes included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management.
He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insights through his books and posts.