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The Sales Initiative With the Highest ROI

There are so many initiatives to choose from in sales performance area — it can be hard to prioritize, but limiting discounting is a no-brainer.

Which one has the highest ROI?  For most businesses, the highest yield comes from building a systematic approach to pricing and discounting.

Here’s the math.  For the average company making 10% pretax profit:

  • One dollar in new sales yields 10 cents of profit.
  • One dollar in avoided discounting – on all the deals you’re already winning — increases your company’s profits by that entire dollar.

Certainly, every business has different issues and challenges, so exceptions exist.  However, controlling “discounting spend” carries a built-in 10:1 advantage in ROI. In all of my years of experience consulting sales organizations, and leading others, 10:1 boils down to “a worthwhile issue to explore” (being married to a Brit has developed my skill at understatement).

Your pricing and discount approval system might be invisibly killing your company.  If you are a CEO, CFO, CRO, CSO, in Sales Leadership, or Sales Enablement, you are probably suffering a profit leakage. Worse still, many companies aren’t even measuring or tracking the problem.

What’s Your Discount Spend Per Year?

At this past week’s Sales3.0 Conference, I conducted an unscientific “man in the lobby” poll on company processes around pricing and discounting. I had conversations around this question:

How many dollars in discounts did you give out last year? I don’t just mean discounts based upon invoice terms. Include any reduction in price below list, standard, or typical (for semi-custom and custom products).

Nobody I talked to could answer.  Think about that: a significant number of sales enablement and sales leaders I talked to didn’t even track discounts given.  Gut check time:  do you? Given the profit impact of discounting, this begs the question “why?”.

Pricing and discounting is my specialty, of course.  If you would like to address the issue, I’m happy to give you my best thinking about your situation.  Contact meIf you don’t have a crystal-clear analysis of your discount spend, call me anyway.  As you can see from my informal poll, you are in good company.

How Do You Distribute Discounts?

To make you feel even less alone, let me share a few more common situations. Many companies give discount dollars out reactively. Discounts often go disproportionately to:

  • The salesperson is best able to game the system, possibly the squeakiest wheel.
  • Reps reporting to the regional manager who used to be the salesperson above.
  • Whiniest customer.
  • Most politically connected channel partner.
  • ..I could go on.No need to, though, is there?

These schemes not only kill profits, but they also demoralize your salesforce.  Everyone in your whole company knows who gets the discounts.  If the distribution doesn’t make good sense, word gets around.  Especially if you are paying your salespeople on revenue instead of profit, you are steadily stirring a pot of resentment.  Some of your salespeople think that “favors” (a perversion that only sales-compensated teams believe in) are being doled out to select “golden children”.  This can have an effect on morale and retention, in addition to the direct “profit surrender” effect above.

When you discount vs. when you can build value

It’s no mystery that sellers combat discounting by building value in the customer’s mind. I don’t favor the term “selling value” because value is only in the customer’s mind, and “selling” sounds too much like “telling” to the untrained ear. Here’s the thing, though.  As the graph below shows, your ability to build value has pretty much faded by the time the customer wants to discuss price and discounts.

Ability to sell value vs discounting

Here’s the good news: Most sellers need only a few simple tweaks to their regular selling process and methodology, and coaching those tweaks is straightforward for sales leaders.  I don’t want to sugarcoat it, though:  these tweaks require coaching sellers through a behavior change.

Here’s the better news: when your sellers build value,  prospective customers have clearer expectations of their outcomes — financially and personally. Very often, they have a higher preference at a premium price.  It often happens that the premium price is more resistant to competitive price discounts than the lower price you might have agreed to without using good value discipline.

Who Can Build Value?

Here’s the best news of all: it all works even better when everyone who touches your customers is on board.  Your product can trigger value in many unexpected corners of a customer’s company, and the more of these you find, the more value there is to be built.

What does Great Look Like?

A robust, disciplined price exception system can work a lot of ways.  In fact, it may have the same process steps and participants you have now.  The process steps are less important than changing what gets discussed during those steps.

Price exception decisions need to use much more objective information than most do today.  When they do, they are harder to game, and can be deaf to whining.

Coaching salespeople to build value becomes part of the sales culture.  Luckily, this doesn’t have to complicate coaching.  When a seller can articulate value built, coaches know they’ve done a great job with the entire sales process and methodology. It’s only when sellers can’t articulate value that coaches need to diagnose problems with detailed methodology and skills coaching.

Finally, sales shouldn’t be the only department who cares about revenue instead of profit.  That value system keeps sales leaders from making the transition to general management.  It creates culture problems in organizations.  To that end, your compensation plan may need to change.  If your people aren’t paid on profits, they’ll settle for profitless revenue.  Even if you can’t measure profits precisely, pay them precisely based upon a consistent profit estimate

Pricing is Profit.

Every dollar of additional price on a won deal is a dollar of profit for your company. Discounting discipline is a great way to stop profits from leaving your firm.  An investment in shaping up your discounting discipline is one of the highest return on investment places you can apply your company’s scarce resources.  If you know how many dollars in discounts you gave out last year, what would happen if you could only prevent 10% of those lost profit dollars?  20%?  5%? Now compare that number to the cost of other sales performance initiatives you’ve implemented. Does this shape your upcoming priorities?

Contact me if you’d like to explore your situation together.  If you found this post valuable, please share with your networks, like, and/or comment below.

To your success!

Economics Marketing Personal Development Sales

Five Myths About Price and Discounting

I can’t think of any concepts more misunderstood than price, pricing, and discounting.  An alarming number of businesses price poorly.  We even teach falsehoods about price at the college level.  Let’s discuss five myths about pricing, and its Mr. Hyde alter-ego, discounting.

I usually start breathing fire on this topic, so buckle up.  If this starts feeling a little too close to home, don’t get mad.  Get better.

Myth #1:  Price should be related to your costs.

Price should relate to customer value, period. Cost-plus pricing (your costs, plus some margin should equal price) is only useful to set a minimum, or a walkaway, not your actual price.

Take this one question quiz: Your customer wants a price that is below your costs.  You tell him so.  Question: is the average customer more likely to:

A: Erupt with a sympathetic “Oh, in that case, tell me what you want me to pay!”

B: Let you know, politely or otherwise, that your costs are not his/her problem, and (gently but?) firmly give you some version of “take it or leave it”.

So, if your costs are none of the customer’s business at the low end– and you know it – why should your costs be any of your customer’s business at the high end?

Customers will only pay any price (high or low) voluntarily – at least in the long run.  The reason they pay the price they do is that they find sufficient value in the outcomes your offer delivers.  Figure out your value, quantify it, and then set your price accordingly.

Myth #2:  Dropping your price will increase demand.

This myth is taught in economics classes the world over, up through the college level.  Economists build mathematical models using the law of demand.  Here’s the catch:  The law of demand assumes a few things in order to get the math to work:

  • All consumers and all producers have all information about all alternatives at all times – for free, and without effort.
  • All buying decisions are made without emotion…buyers are all Dr. Spock-like in a world that still uses money.
  • Related to “emotionlessness”, price is merely a number. Offered price does not communicate value to any buyer at any time.
  • All products and services are perfect substitutes for each other. They are absolute commodities, with no differences. There is no such thing as differentiation.
  • It costs nothing to switch vendors. There are no costs to qualify a vendor, and the human bias toward the status quo does not exist.
  • …there are a bunch more, but isn’t any one of these good enough to make my point?

Real life example: If your offer’s ROI is often north of 500% at similar clients, a hesitant customer isn’t going to be motivated by price. Price isn’t the problem with the deal.  Discounting is only going to convince your prospect to doubt the numbers.  Well, OK…not “only”.  There are the financial consequences, too.

Myth #3:  Price is just another feature…no more or less important than any other.

My jaw drops every time (yes it’s happened) a sales “professional” says “It’s the company’s job to make money at the price I sold”.  Then they wonder why nobody in the company invites them to the grownups’ table.

Psychologically, price is the final comparison against value – (value=desirability of your offer’s differentiation). Therefore, it’s the counterbalance against the value of all the differentiated features.  Companies with pricing savvy have proved this for decades, and in many industries – even “commodities” like steel and money.

This is so deeply embedded in the human psyche that price actually communicates value.  Buyers look more favorably at high-priced alternatives – assuming there must be a reason for the price. Dropping price perceptually diminishes every other feature in your offer.  No other feature can do that kind of damage.

If you’re unable to build value in the customer’s mind for the other features, then, sure…go with myth #3.

Myth #4:  You can “make it up on volume”.

The mathematical argument here is that by increasing unit volume at a lower contribution margin, you’ll not only get back to break-even, but get further above it.  (if it isn’t going to end up as more profitable, why work harder for the same – or fewer — profit dollars?).

The mathematical argument assumes your fixed costs won’t rise too.  Let’s think that through.  Say you’re a manufacturing leader and need to double capacity because your company decided  to “make it up on volume”.  The math assumes that you accomplish twice as much using the same plant, equipment, staff, utility bills, G&A, etc.  How many seconds of business school does it take to sniff out the fallacy?  Sure, in an infinite universe with infinite possible realities, it must be possible to “make it up on volume” somewhere, but I haven’t seen it anywhere in this dimension.

Here’s some independent research:

  • McKinsey & Company analyzed the entire Fortune 1000, and on average, a 1% drop in average pricewould cause an 8% drop in profit.
  • Mara and Roriello,in Harvard Business Review, studied an even larger sample, and found1% drop in average pricewould cause an 1 % drop in profit.

So…”make it up on volume” disciples:  how much do you discount before down becomes up?

Myth #5:  You can discount for “one time”, or for a “limited time”.

This is the myth of the “limited time offer”.  Your pricing policy is one of the easiest things to train customers on. No reputable company will really give a discount just once, and everyone knows it.  Nowadays, every customer just assumes it .  In fact, it’s actually harder to convince a prospect that an offer really isa one-time thing than it is to simply sell the value in the first place. Plus, the easy option is more profitable.

It gets even worse: customers are very hard to “un-train” on a new pricing policy. Once you go into the discounting tar pit, you might only get out as a fossil.

Worst of all: People change employers.  When one of your customers gets a job elsewhere, they carry knowledge of your discounting behavior with them.  See why it’s a tar pit?

Extra Value Bonus:  

Myth #6: If a customer says “Your price is too high”, it must be true.

Whenever somebody took the time to tell me what they think of my price, they  signaled that talking about my offer and its price was worth their time.  What they are really saying is usually “your value is too low”, or “I don’t understand your value well enough”. The other popular option: “I want your product, but am just checking to make sure I’m not paying any more than I have to.”  This is simply a due diligence step, not an actual price issue.

The customers who really think your price is too high don’t even return your calls.

Bottom Line

As I said, if this article started feeling a little too close to home, don’t get mad.  Get better. If you want to get better, contact me.

To your success!

Best Practices Investing Personal Development Sales

Your 2019 Resolution: Control the Suck of Discounting Expense

There is almost nothing you can do for your business with a higher financial payback than getting your arms around your discounting practices. I want you to make a New Year’s resolution to put rigor and discipline around your discounting (some call it “pricing exceptions”) policy and processes.

Why is this so important for your business?  Simple math.  When you sell your product or service to a customer, your costs to fulfill your part of the deal are the same—regardless of whether you discounted or not.

Discounting changes only two lines on your P&L statement: the top line and the bottom line.

When you grant a discount, every dollar you surrendered comes off of your bottom line, and goes to the customer’s.

For an operating business, your profits are made at the top line.  A pricing and/or discounting decision is what drives profits.  Once you see a number on the bottom line, it’s too late to do anything about it.  Discount expense sucks the life out of companies.

Resolution Part #1. Take Stock of Your Current Discounting Practices.

I am thrilled to help my readers analyze where their discount dollars go and their system for allocating those dollars. Let’s examine how you make discounting decisions together.  If you’d like to prepare, or go through the exercise on your own.  Some of the questions we’ll go through:

How many discount dollars do you spend per year?

  • Formal, through an exception process?
  • Invisible, through salesperson autonomy?
  • Does everyone in your company know that discount dollars=profit dollars? Do they act like it?

What is your price exception/discount process now?

  • What are the steps?
  • Who are the players?
  • What information/documentation is used?
  • How is the discount justified?
    • Is customer value measured/characterized? How?
  • Do you always know what the customer thinks of yours andthe competitor’s value (or just their price)?
  • How consistently do your people follow your process?
  • Have you (or can we) analyze how discount dollars are distributed? Are there concentrations by territory/salesperson, region, customer, industry, time of year?  Can we explain any apparent anomalies?
  • What do we get in exchange for price concessions?Are there any salesperson/regional/market trends in that data?

What These Questions Uncover.

The first thing we’ll discover is how well you track discount dollars. Since every one of these dollars is also a profit dollar, you need to know where every one goes. If you don’t know where your discount dollars go, your business is leaking profits.

The questions above help both of us understand how you make pricing and discounting decisions, where the discount dollars go, and if there are any suspicious trends.

Are my discount dollars being over-allocated toward:

  • The whiniest salespeople?
  • The favorite salespeople?
  • The whiniest customers?
  • A certain market?
  • At a certain time of the month/quarter/year?

That last one frustrates the heck out of me: I’ve held P&L responsibility, and have never felt that an unprofitable booking this month beats a profitable booking next month.  I’d feel that way even without the perversion of what month-end discounting teaches my customers.

I also want to explore the basis of discounting (whether/how much) decisions.  Squeaky wheel?  Best at gaming the system?  Price-based? Or…value based?

The Gold Standard of Discount Systems:  Customer Value Based.

99% of the time you hear “your price is too high”, what the person is really saying is either “your value is too low”, or “I’m inviting you to help me understand your value”.  I specialize in helping my clients have those discussions effectively. I can point you to a methodology which will steer those conversations toward value and away from price…and certainly away from unnecessary discounts.

If you have a solid methodology for understanding customer value, some great things happen to your discounting practices:

  • Discounting is purposeful. It no longer feels as random or arbitrary.
    • Your people will understand the system and feel more fairly treated
    • You might quiet the squeaky wheels; the people who scream the loudest for discounts.
  • You will be confident in your discounting decisions.
    • You’ll make better decisions about product enhancements, market entries, even market exits.
  • You will discount less and profit more.
  • You will produce more accurate forecasts. Knowing customer value is the same as knowing customer motivation. When you truly know value, you are intimately engaged with the customer’s innermost buying decision dynamics.

Resolution Part #2. Build A Value Based Pricing/Discounting System.

I can help you if you want.  Here are some options:

1. I’m feeling pretty good about the latest draft of my book on the subject.  If you’ll give me merciless feedback on it, I’ll send you a .pdf copy to review.  The book will guide you toward developing a better pricing/discounting system.

2. Let’s talk. Reach out at mark@boundyconsulting.com.  If you want to work toward a system together, prepare for our call by looking through the “take stock” questions above, and  prepare any questions for me.

Whatever you do, and however you choose to get help, please do it. The road to failure is paved with poorly justified discounting decisions.  I want you on a better path.

To your success!

Leadership Marketing Personal Development Sales

How Economics Betrays Business Leaders Every Day

I hear even highly-respected consultants and business leaders express dangerous misconceptions about price and discounting. I suspect it’s because so many people took basic economics to heart without digging deeper into the underlying assumptions or learning the true role of pricing. No thanks to economics, we often mis-

apply the supply/demand relationship we learned in our introductory Econ courses. You could not make a bigger mistake.

The demand curve is a foundational concept in economics. The law of demand states that lower prices incentivize higher demand (in units). The principle is correct, but only under artificial conditions. Rather, my decades of work in pricing and value have driven a conclusion that most businesses grossly mis-apply supply/demand analysis in the real world.

I’ve met multiple sales people, sales leaders and CEOs who rationalize indiscriminate discounting. Presumably, they are relying on a misunderstanding of the demand curve. This is far more than mere misinterpretation of the law of demand; it kills businesses.

Let’s review: the demand curve represents aggregated behavior of for a commodity: as price falls, additional customers appear, willing to pay the lower price.

Does dropping your price really help win that deal?

The demand curve correctly states assumes that value for your offer is different for each individual. Prospective customers compare any given price against perceived value. As price drops, demand increases when a customer who formerly perceived inadequate value now perceives a positive value from purchasing. Unfortunately, when you capture a sale from that marginal user who perceives borderline value, you simultaneously just trained all of your higher-value users to expect discounts.

While the perceived value of a product or service can – and is – often individual, it isn’t fixed. Value is a perception, and perceptions change. Perceptions of desirability of an outcome, adequacy of substitutes, and environmental/extraneous considerations change constantly. In fact, this is why the sales profession exists.

Drop your price without knowing your value? Stop it!

The demand curve assumes that your product or services is a “fungible” commodity: all units of the same product or service are identical replacements for each other.. That is, it assumes that you have no differentiation. This is ridiculous. For instance compare the price of a one ounce pure gold bar from a no-name mint vs. a one ounce Krugerrand. The demand function you learned in school ignores differentiating features, branding, distribution, availability, support/service, durability, etc. This was done so that the math works more easily. While there is some great advanced economics work that incorporates differentiation, you probably never learned about it. Pity.

Another way that the real world differs from economic models: Customers don’t have perfect information. When your customers don’t know about all alternatives, don’t fully understand value-in-use, or all the ways that your offer provides value to them and their company, they don’t make “economically efficient” decisions. Imagine a prospect who hasn’t figured out that ROI for a contemplated purchase is over 500%. Discounting isn’t the missing selling behavior…it just creates a discount-accustomed buyer. Or worse, makes them question any value which they had placed in the service. Worst of all, there was no reason to discount, and that every dollar of price drop came out of the seller’s profit line.

For these reasons, you should shift a marginal customer who perceives inadequate value to tip in your favor. This avoids the collateral damage to your existing customers willing to pay your existing price.

Your price isn’t just the effect, it’s the cause.

Your price isn’t just a cost figure a customer weighs against your offer’s value. Because of the confusing plethora of differentiation in the real world, consumers use price as an indicator of value. Your price declares your value — or your lack of it. Imagine: you are the incoming CEO of a company that outgrew its peers for decades at a price premium and without discounting before you entered the job. When you encourage sellers to start discounting to “win” deals, what do you think you’re doing to the brand?

My work on value and price

Bottom line: discounting to gain sales is only a smart choice if you, your marketing group, your customer service people, your product group, and your sellers are all powerless to grow customer perceptions of value. I help under-powered clients.

When I work with clients, we usually find that their offers are priced well below the customer’s true value. This doesn’t necessarily mean we raise prices, but almost always helps them see that discounting is merely shipping profit dollars out the door to their customers.

Don’t be “that guy”. Or “that woman”.

The only kind of value there is: customer-perceived value. It’s impossible to have value that the customer hasn’t validated yet…you don’t have value; just a value proposition. Customer-focused conversations and interactions which get your prospects to validate value is the difference.

I’m happy to help you on your journey to understand how you can capture the value your company earns in the form of pricing power. Comment below or reach out to me directly to discuss in more detail.

To your success!

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