Thursday, November 03, 2005

Moving to new site..

Hi there,

Thanks for stopping by. I've moved my blog to my own website, where you can read all the articles published before. New articles will be published only on my website. This site will still have older articles, for your convenience.

There were two reasons for this.
a) I try to use my blog to market my ideas to people, with a view of getting a consulting contract at some time. Hence it makes sense if it's linked and held along with my website. In the future, I intend to make my blog the centrepiece of my website.
b) There's no way of categorising items and searching for information in blogspot. I will now be using Wordpress, which has such features. I also like the new template.. :-))

So do drop by, and read up on my ideas at my new site.

I welcome you all there.


Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Pricing the 'new' premium segment

Since the goal of the premium segment is to get your highest value customers to interact with you more and use your service or product more, the principles behind the pricing should also be

Price according to the value you deliver

In a previous article we’ve discussed how to value the tangible and intangible attributes of a product or service, link that to cost models and economic models and determine the value and optimum price of your service. Please perform this exercise.

The more (or longer) customers use your service the more they pay

You need to now spread the revenue among different customers. Typically your premium customers will be the ones who see value that your service brings them. You need to encourage them to use your service more, which means that you market more to them, which increases the cost of serving them. Naturally they should pay more.

Most companies do exactly the opposite – by giving various forms of volume discounts, or implementing loyalty programs, they ensure that their premium (loyal) subscribers pay less than non-premium (less loyal) subscribers. This way they hope that customers remain loyal since they have greater cost savings. But at what cost? Most loyalty programs are loss leaders, and encourage customers to think in terms of price. The few loyalty programs that do make money depend on partners who use the loyalty program to cross-sell their services.

In the case of products, the customer pays only once when she buys the product, and if she keeps the product beyond the “return by if unsatisfied date”, the company can book revenue on the sale of the product.

But in the case of product support services or pure services, use a staged approach to pricing –
1. Always offer a free trial (if you can afford it) for a limited amount of time.
2. In case the customer has a predictable consumption pattern, charge a reasonable subscription fee to access your service.
3. In case the customer has a non-predictable consumption pattern – for e.g., she uses the service a lot at certain times of the year, and not at all at other times, then charge a per transaction fee that is partly fixed setup fee and partly variable fee depending on the amount of effort put by you to satisfy her.

The more customers interact with your company the more they pay

The goal of this is that you manage your demand according to your resources and get customers to pay a fair amount for the support they receive, and not to drive off customers who like to work with you.

In the post on the product management bit, I suggested that the product should have the bare minimum functionality necessary to help the user complete his or her work and then get out of his or her way. This requires a balancing act between keeping the functionality minimal, and adding high value functionality.

The goal of designing the product should be that most of your customers could use this with little or no training. But if there are a set of customers who need a helping hand or training to get up to speed with your services, set up training sessions, or e-learning systems (flash presentations and dummy product simulations online are a pretty good way of teaching customers) If the training is self paced and does not involve personal interaction by your employees, it should be free. Otherwise, charge a reasonable daily/hourly/milestone based rate for training.

At the other end of the spectrum you’ll find customers who want “customized versions of your product” or “extra features”. I believe that all such requests to “improve the product” should be disregarded, except when the request has come from 3 or 4 separate customers (whose opinions you tend to value). Some other customers may want to embed your product into their process, and need expert help. Do set up a consulting division that helps them in this regard, and charge separately for it. This prevents customers from taking your services for granted, and at the same time increases their responsiveness to you. They also tend to respect the value you provide.

Examples of such premium services: Apples .mac service & the Basecamp project management application by 37 signals

Both these products are premium products. They both have competitors that offer more functionality at a much much lower price. Still, these services thrive. Take a look at their sites. The overriding theme of both is excellent design, insanely easy to use, and the use of buzz marketing to build an army of fans.
Apple's DOTMAC website
The Basecamp website

Monday, September 12, 2005

September newsletter: Creating the 'new' premium segment

Pricing is all about perception - money spent on influencing perception properly is money spent well, since it can be often recovered in a "justifiable price increase". The most common way of influencing perception is creating segments.

In the case of products, the most common way of doing this is creating 2 or 3 separate versions of your product or service, with increasing number of features. Say that a company has a low cost or entry version, a middle version, and a premium version of a product. Usually the middle version is a filler for people who need more features than the entry version, but will not pay the price for the premium version.

There are two things that happen with this scenario..

  • Customers who go for the lowest price entry level product are encouraged to pay a little bit more to get the mid level version.
  • Customers who go for the mid level version are encouraged to pay a little bit more to get the premium version.

  • But over time, companies sell the middle version at the same price as the entry level version and keep the premium version separate. The number of features in all three versions keeps increasing, with the newest feature in the premium version, and over time, it is passed on to the basic and intermediate version.

    But there's a new trend in town - products with low number of features, easy to use intuitively and yet priced at a premium. Let's take a look at this phenomenon.

    Creating the segment - the product management bit

    There is a change in mindset involved: moving away from the 'product or service' as the focus to the 'customer interaction' as the focus. Previously, a product or service was a premium, if it "enabled" the customer to do more. Now the product or service is a premium, if it's "used" more and if it requires "greater interaction between the customer and the seller".

    Designing the new premium segment requires understanding three things about the customer:
  • How does the customer use the product or service (the workflow). Focus only on mainstream users and not early adopters. If the context allows it, solicit feedback from women customers
  • Benchmark against competing services, and work to improve the service
  • What is the absolute minimum that the product or service should do, and how can I make it the easiest to use? (less is more)
  • What intangible attributes does a customer like and dislike? (branding issues, customer references)
  • Design an authentic story – that helps the customer identify your company and understand why your service or product is the right one for her. Make her feel special

  • While building a product or service
  • (Re)design the interface to be extremely simple, showing only details that the customer must see, and thinks are the most important. Hide everything else.
  • Build the product around this interface.
  • Set up a companion blog for this product and allow users to interact with each other, and learn how to use this product better.
  • Set up a website to personalize the customers experience. Include a lot of articles, references etc, to build up an image of trustworthiness, efficiency, and knowledge leadership. Sell your design and research capabilities.

  • In the special case of services
  • Design the service to be transparent. This means that the client should know exactly what she is getting and when.
  • Design the touchpoints of the service to be of extremely high quality - as measured by the tangible and intangible attributes that the customer finds so important. These are the points where the customer experiences the service.

  • There are a few resources that you could look at:
    The Signal versus Noise Usability blog developed by the company 37 Signals
    Seth Godin's blog is always a good read

    Monday, September 05, 2005

    A really good pricing case study.. Monarch Batteries

    I came across this case study on the McKinsey website. It highlights the work done by Monarch Batteries on improving pricing.
    They focused on three issues -

  • Stop "leaking" of price in transactions

  • Evaluate the value of new innovative products and price near the value of the product. Always accompany this kind of move by proper communication

  • Stick to a course when increasing prices. You need competitors to support your prices. About turns on pricing initiatives creates ill-will with other competitors.

  • All this shows - the more things change, the more things stay the same in the area of pricing. But it's a nice how-to example on increasing pricing.

    Wednesday, August 24, 2005

    How would a small company prevent a larger company from squeezing it out..??

    I had a chat with a guy working in the biometrics field yesterday in Belgium. He had a problem that I'll illustrate below..

    He was contracted by an American sensor company to develop business in biometrics.

    He worked hard to understand how the sensor would fit in this market and then developed a few relationships with some large IT companies. Once these IT companies had validated these sensors, and were ready to talk of supplies, he set up a sourcing relationship with the sensor company at a certain rate and sold it to the IT company at a slightly higher rate. The IT company on its own sold it to end user customers at an even higher rate.

    Once this was established the IT company went online to see if it could get the sensor cheaper, and found that this sensor was being sold by a large electronics retailer online for half the price. They switched suppliers.

    Does this story sound familiar? It should. It's all too common - Parallel stories are told by small supermarkets and grocers when Walmart came to their neighbourhood. Special stores go out of business when category killers go after their customers.

    How would you solve this issue of disintermediation (a fancy word for getting squeezed out)?

    The answer - unbundle your solutions into distinct services and the product.

    When you are getting into a relationship with a customer, sell the customer the service where you will help the customer figure out how to use the product and provide more value/features/... to their customers. You also provide a service where you will source the product at the lowest cost, and simply add a tiny markup to the product and sell it on to the customer. Effectively you are saying that you will take care of the supply chain of the product to the customer. If the product can be sourced cheaper, the savings will be passed on to the customer.

    At one point the services will end, and the customer only needs the product. He then continues to buy from you, since you do all the work of finding cheaper sources for the product, and the customer gets all the credit/most of the cost savings.

    As you go forward with this relationship with the customer, you will find new products to help the customer, and the cycle continues

    paid 'development' services + new product ->
    paid 'maintenance' services + old product ->
    old product ->

    paid 'development' services + new product
    paid 'maintenance' services + old product ->
    old product ->


    The pricing you should do based on the value that your services bring to the customer, and cover your costs of finding new cheaper sources for existing products and new high value products.

    Should you invade a new market in search of growth?

    I chanced upon an article on the Fast Company blog, and happen to have strong feelings on how companies should get into business development opportunities in new markets.. Here's a copy of the rant that I posted on that website.. :-)

    You in your company need to FOCUS, FOCUS, FOCUS

    But on what?

    To answer that, ask yourself
    Is there a basic problem that you can solve for your current customers?
    Would your customers expect "YOU" to solve that problem?

    To do that, you have to figure out what your brand is all about! Once you have that done, you'll know how to extend your brand.

    If you are selling a product, you could sell services around that product and solve customer problems. If you're selling services, you could package some of them together to productise your services. Perhaps there is an activity pretty near your activity - in the client's mind. You could try and explore that activity, start with services and then products.

    Chasing new industries in the hope of growth is usually unsuccessful, if your brand does not travel to that industry. I doubt Boeing would try to make cars, or even car components. The brand doesn't travel to automobiles. But it may travel to a select niche - high performance racing cars.

    Let brand extension and customer value & perception analysis principles guide your decisions on expansion into new industries.

    Hope this helps

    Friday, July 29, 2005

    Profit Parabolas - A Boston Consulting Group article

    I was trawling around looking for good information on pricing, and I chanced upon this article. It echoes work I did ages back, but it takes it a little further. It's a nice read, and might give you ideas. Here it is: Profit Parabolas: Bringing Science to the Art of Pricing

    I think that a crucial bottleneck in their approach is that you need to have a hell of a lot of data about your competitor's pricing and cost structures. As we see, often enough the net price paid by a customer is 30 - 50% lower than the published list prices at any company.

    Monday, July 18, 2005

    Should you publish the prices of your product or service on a website

    I came across a post on the ecademy website, from a practitioner of NLP on whether she should post the prices of her services online. But this is a general and important question, and needs to be answered on a case by case basis. The more commoditized your product or service is, the more reasonable it seems to publish prices. My opinion is that publishing prices is not right, and pricing need to be based on the value that your product or service provides them. To give you a quick and dirty look at how you could go about such a decision:

    The steps to effective pricing are
    • to quantify the value of your service - as seen by the customer
    • to set up a process whereby you can demonstrate this value to your clients
    • to motivate your sales channels to recognise this price in final achieved price.
    The crucial issue you have to tackle first is - what is the value of your service as seen in euros? (or whatever form of currency you use) To answer this question,
    • Ask yourself if you have a homogeneous customer base?. If there are differences in the customer base as regards how they buy, and how important your service is to them - you need to set up different prices for each of those groups.
    • Look at your track record of previous sales to see if some customers are willing to pay more for your product than others.
    If any of the answers to the above questions are yes, please don't publish prices! Your customers are obviously motivated to buy, not just by price but also by other significant issues.

    If of course both answers are no; you could go out and publish prices. The moment you publish your price, that price becomes a list price, and customers will start negotiating for price discounts from that price. More importantly, you need to start innovating in your service to see if you can find other reasons to increase the price you have set.

    Once you have found these reasons and add-on capabilities to your service, create a split level price, where you drop your original price of the basic service package a little bit, and publish a new price as well, which is slightly above the original price.

    I hope this helped a little bit. I have a more comprehensive document on Optimal pricing on my website that you could look at.

    Who Links Here