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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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