Pricing strategies can have unintended consequences

BY GLEN J. KATLEIN June 01, 2009

Is pricing strategy an art or science? It is some of both. The business owner / CEO know the art of appealing to the company’s customers. The CFO must ensure the science of pricing provides the critical foundation to execute the strategy profitably.

A strategy of ‘simple pricing’ may capture the attention of customers who shy away from confusing pricing options. However, as I learned from a peer company, unintended consequences can be a loss of profitable sales in excess of profits from new sales. Tiered pricing usually evolves to provide consistent profit margins for varying product/service options with varying costs. Converting to ‘simple pricing’ may be effective if the mix of sales of the varying options can be maintained, or profits from new sales exceed lost sales. In order to maintain overall profit margins, ‘simple pricing’ usually requires some customers accepting a higher price while others enjoy a lower price than previously available.

The peer company I observed discovered that many customers realized the ‘simple price’ was higher for them and they were willing and able to pursue competitor products. The tough question is how many customers are truly in a captive sales channel and will accept the higher price to avoid the effort to change? At the other end of the spectrum, will new customers reflect a mix of the previous tier options in order to provide a similar overall profit margin? Or, will new customers consist primarily of those who will realize the simple price is lower for their respective service/product option, and therefore provide lower profit margins from new sales? Again, the peer company I observed saw a predominance of new sales with customers who realized the ‘simple price’ was now more favorable for them and they changed from existing relationships.

A strategy of a ‘loss leader’ may also gain customer interest. However, as I observed happened to a company before being introduced to me, unintended consequences can be significant cash losses. This company experienced sales shifting from 15 percent to 85 percent for the ‘loss leader’ product. And the company was locked in to the price for a period of time as a supplier. An acceptable overall profit margin may be achieved if product / service sales mix can be controlled, or if additional profitable product /service sales are generated in conjunction with selling the ‘loss leader’.

Whether considering a ‘simple pricing’ strategy or ‘loss leader’ pricing strategy, the CFO must effectively communicate with the business owner or CEO to assess potential consequences. Then, the CFO must develop effective scenario analyses to identify acceptable versus unacceptable combinations of the change in product / service sales mix and overall sales volume. Scenario assessment and analysis modeling can also be applied to compare ‘value pricing’ and ‘low cost pricing’ strategy options.

Coppell resident Glen J. Katlein is a partner in B2B CFO, a chief financial officer firm that provides service to emerging and mid-market companies. Katlein is currently serving as part-time CFO for five Dallas-Fort Worth companies. He previously spent 30 years in financial management positions with firms such as Bank of America, Citigroup and Premier Trailer Leasing. Contact Katlein at gkatlein@b2bcfo.com

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