The most successful pricing strategies are rooted in the pursuit of understanding people.
This is the starting principle I always emphasize to companies, founders, and executives. If you treat pricing like a discovery process of people, not only will it open opportunities on how to design your prices, but how, when and to what groups of customers you should sell.
This isn’t easy. As anyone who’s built a successful relationship with another human being –personal or professional – can attest, this takes time, dedication and focus. Many leaders are hesitant and often not excited to invest time and resources to customer discovery. But the results, when done right, can be material and high-impact.
Know The Unknowns Of Your Customer
I met with a fast-growing social analytic platform with millions of users globally who wanted guidance on their pricing strategy for their newest product. Early in the assessment one of the first questions I had for the CEO/co-founder is to tell me who is their customer and why.
This question seemed to surprise the CEO, especially as his focus was about pricing. We continued along this line of questioning to discover that his customer was loosely enterprise customers, but what was still unknown is why these customers were right for his product, what value these customers would gain, and what pricing, sales and marketing is needed to win these customers. It was a difficult discussion, but necessary to identify the known unknowns and how much of the surface has been scratched.
Lack of specificity, like this social analytics company faced, is problematic for several reasons. Let’s look at three.
- Pricing: Without a clear idea of who the customer is, any pricing decision becomes increasing generalized. The best pricing is designed for willingness to pay, which varies from customer-to-customer or at least at sub-segment levels. The closer you move to generalized pricing, the more generalized the offering will become; losing opportunities to capture and defend your value.
- Product development: It is unclear what customer problem the company is looking to solve. Lack of understanding of the customer makes prioritizing certain development difficult; requiring the company to guess what features or functions their customers value most.
- Use of resources: Because this company didn’t know who they are making their product for—at least initially, building a sales process and the marketing assets needed to sell to the customer is challenging. Consequently the company will expend time and resources building untargeted assets and campaigns for vaguely defined customers.
Pricing is a supercharged force that drives revenue, profitability and customer acquisition when it resonates with the values of the right customers. With this in mind, before asking “should the price be lower or higher”, the question entrepreneurs and business leaders should start by asking “who is my customer?” and “what do they value most in my product or service and why?”
Industry-defining companies like Apple and Amazon are able to thrive because they are focused on building a customer-centric pricing process. To get to this level, you have to value understanding your customer with as much precision as you value getting to a price point.
So what steps can you and your company take to kick off the customer discovery process? Here’s some things to get started today:
1. Build: Compile key hypotheses around your customer
Go beyond demographics and dig deep. If you walked past a group of people on the street (or companies at a trade show), can you identify your customers?
Customer discovery is BOTH an internal and external activity for your team. At this stage, your team is compiling hypotheses about the customer and identifying which hypotheses your team must test and validate. Leave nothing on the table.
Make this stage an inclusive exercise. Collect input from any team or individual that must engage with customers – customer success to finance, sales to marketing. Each will have a unique perspective on what makes a customer, your customer.
What type of information should you collect from your team? To start, you want to understand the descriptives – who are they? Where are they located? What do they use?
You then what to compile assumptions your team is making on behavior, specifically around how customers assess and decide on what products and features to try, use and recommend. So this can include questions like: What parts of your product will customers value most? Why? What is the benefit derived? How do they assess the benefit? Is there a monetary value to that benefit?
The goal at this stage is to build a list of ‘operating knowns’ teams and individuals have been using to make decisions about and for customers. This means the answers to the questions your team builds is actionable.
One side result of this exercise is the identifying where misalignment within the company exists and to what extent. This is not the time to make corrections (yet) or to make judgments on any team. The goal is the bring the company into alignment to make pricing, sales and marketing decisions based on proof points, not assumptions, to defend those things matter most for your company.
Here are 10 questions your team can use to kick off the discovery process. You’ll not only create an initial description of who your customers are, but you’ll also find different perceptions – subtle and direct – within your own team.
- What brands do your customer most associate with?
- How would your customer use your product or service?
- How would your customer assess and decide on whether or not to use your product (or something similar)?
- What problem(s) would your product solve for your customer? What are the benefits?
- Would your customer pay $1 to have the problem solved with your product? Why?
- What would prevent your customers from adopting your product?
- If they didn’t use your product, what else would they use?
- How do your customers connect and communicate with new brands and companies?
- What are your customers top three favorite existing companies? Why do they love them?
- What companies do they not support? Why not?
2. Test: Validate what you believe is true about your customer
After your team begins to fill in the blanks of what describes and drives your customer, now comes the fun part – test! It’s time for you and your team to validate which elements of the customer profile are true, what is missing, and what doesn’t align with your company’s objectives.
Here are 3 low-burn ways to start testing your hypotheses about your customer:
Go wide: Online surveys
Online surveys generally attract a broader audience than a focus group would, but is extremely useful in understanding a broader group of respondents
Online surveys are easier to design and launch, but because respondents will have a shorter attention span the questions asked must be precise and relevant to your test. Asking nice-to-know questions or launching surveys or 30+ questions will not only affect response rates, but also the quality of answer you receive.
Go deep: Focus groups
Focus groups provide a great opportunity to actualize who you imagine your customers are while collecting feedback. You’ll have an opportunity to not only ask pointed and detailed questions, but also observe reactions to questions and collect nuanced feedback.
The key to success with focus groups, is inviting the right cohort of participants through the screening process. Because the focus group will include a small number of participants – usually between 5- 10 people – you need to be talking to the right people, otherwise the results will not be actionable; wasting precious time and resources. Rely on the customer definition that you and your team decided on in the “define who your customers are” exercise.
Get out there: In-field testing
In-field testing provides the opportunity to learn about your customer based on location driven research such as in front of certain retail store, events or neighborhoods..
It’s important to note that the consumer data collected from this research strategy is time intensive and actionable insight is dependent on the quality of questions asked. This research strategy is advised when you’re looking for immediate results and directional insight that informs what to test next.
3. Assess and Actionable Decision making
Now that your team has tested core hypotheses about your customer, it is now time to translate the insight into action.
There is, unfortunately, no set formula on what items to prioritize first, but a good place to start is to focus on high impact items that move the needle on your company’s objectives.
Remember, the purpose of this customer research is not only to better understand who is your customer, but to better serve them by building products they value, design pricing – structure and level – that align to their willingness to pay, and go to market with sales and marketing activities that defend and excite the right customers about your product.
The steps outlined here allow for identifying and testing one of your single most important hypothesis: Does your product have the market fit with the customers you believe it does? And if so, what is driving value for your customer?
It is never too early to start this process, whether your company is just starting out or your company has reached a level of maturity. Customer discovery and the insights that come from the process, are critical inputs to make better decisions on how you’re going to market with your pricing, sales and marketing, but also how you’re allocating and using resources for product development.
Treat the process of learning and understanding your customer as an evolutionary process, because it will continually change. Your competitive advantage will come from the systematic process you build to proactively identify shifts and make high-impact decisions for your product and company.
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