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This Week's Dilemma
Standing out from the crowd in an overcrowded field
I write and edit for businesses to help their marketing and sales efforts. It's frustrating, because everywhere I go I see others who are doing the same thing. Since many businesses provide a unique selling proposition along with their list of accomplishments, I thought it would help me to do the same. I've been struggling to do this. How does a writer stand out from the competition?
—Jane, Freelance Writer
The competition undercuts our small firm
I am the marketing director of a consulting firm. We're not one of the big consulting houses. Before we approach potential clients, awareness of us is low. But we have a track record of getting very good results for our clients. The single biggest issue we face is pressure to cut our charges because clients "know a guy who'd do it at half that price."
The reality is that going with someone simply based on price is much riskier for the client; but many people can't seem to get their heads around paying our rates when they've never heard of us before, despite the case studies and references. With a small marketing budget, how can I help ensure our firm gets paid what we are worth?
Summary of Advice Received
If money were no concern, which would you rather have: A BMW or a Ford?
Bet most of you say "BMW," or at least cars in BMW's league. If money is a concern, and a Ford is all you can get, would you go to a Lexus dealer and ask him to sell you a Lexus for the price of a Chevy? Again, bet most of you say "no" because of the difference in value between a Lexus and a Chevy.
Apply that analogy to any business and its prices based on value. Most readers have declared value as the reason not to give in to the "I can get it for half the price" claim.
Here are all four categories of suggestions from readers:
- Consider the "BMW versus Ford" value.
- Have pricing strategies in place.
- Emphasize the firm's experience.
- Cut tasks to reduce price.
1. Consider the "BMW versus Ford" value
When you think of BMW, Mercedes and Jaguar, what comes to mind? High quality and high price. No one is going to go to those dealers and say, "I can get it for half price somewhere else." Maybe you can negotiate a lower price, but not that much lower. If a person wants a car for half the price of these luxury cars, then she needs to check out the Fords, Chevys and Dodges. It's all about perceived value and quality.
Dan Purdy, president of A&J Trading Co. and a student at Western Washington University, uses the same analogy:
Let's put it into the proper context. Would BMW, Mercedes or Lexus reduce their products' prices just because you can go down the street and get a Hyundai for less than half the cost? If customers don't want to pay the freight, then they probably don't really value your services as highly as you do, and they probably aren't the right customers for you.
However, I suspect that many of your potential clients would be willing to pay the full price if you pursue a two-fold marketing strategy. First: Qualify your clients. If they argue with you over whether they really need you or dispute your ideas, then they are probably going to have problems with the proposal's price tag. You want clients who value your firm as much as you value them. You want to be viewed as an asset and a profit center, not a cost center. This is where the 80/20 rule applies. Oh, how profitable we could be if we could just focus on the 20 percent of our clients who generate 80 percent of our profits. Quality clients who understand the intrinsic value of your service are key to your long-term success.
Second: Make it clear they are paying for a high-quality service, and with that kind work comes a steep bill. The quality of your firm should be evident in everything you do—office decor, advertising and promo materials and presentations. If you want to use prestige pricing, then you have to have to show prestige. So, position yourself as an incredibly talented and select niche consulting house. Your message is, "Yes, we are small, but we are small because we like it that way, not because we can't be bigger." You want your clients to know that while you could do more business if you were willing to sacrifice quality, it is more important that you are able to treat each client as if he is your only client.
Use your size to your advantage. Aston Martin only makes a few hundred cars a year, but sells them for an enormous profit because they are hard to come by. If you pay attention to your clients before they become clients, you can weed out those who are looking for a blue light special. If you position yourself as a small firm that does gold-plated work but has only a limited number of client openings, your client roster will be full in short order. Then, you can get on to the next challenge: keeping your clients. As always, take what you want and leave the rest.
Randy Ramirez, owner of Randy Ramirez Design, says customers will pay your price if they believe the value they gain from your work justifies it:
Your track record of satisfied, paying customers proves you can offer value at your price. Third-party perspectives can be powerful when trying to show value to prospects unfamiliar with your firm. They may argue your claims are the same sales propaganda they hear from every other firm, but they can't argue with your satisfied customers (who are willing to pay your rates).
Set up a three-way meeting with you, one of your happy customers and the prospect. If your current customer is in the same industry as the prospect, you can identify direct parallels that would indicate similar success for them. Even if your customer isn't in the same industry as your prospect, you'll effectively dispel any reservations the prospect has about your firm's ability to provide value for your price.
Adrian Woodliffe, managing director of GENESIS, says not to compete on price:
Do NOT become a "bargain basement" company to get business. It's happened too often, and you will suffer financially in the long term. Why undervalue your offering? You wouldn't ask it of them [your potential clients] or anyone else—so don't do it to yourself. In the past, when I have encountered this sort of bargaining, I was insulted. I personally believe it is unethical and unprofessional for potential clients to do this to you.
Hold firm. Hold the line. Think of your industry and your peers. If you, and others like you, continue to allow yourself to cut rates, where will it stop? Your company is made up of professionals—they have the relative experience and credentials to work for your company. Your clients can attest to their competency. Compete on what your brand is about...your differential. And, if you haven't got one—develop one.
Continuing with the sell-value theme, Jamie Gosweiler, director and owner of JG Consulting, says to never cut price and to refocus instead:
There are three ways to grow any business. By increasing the number of customers, by increasing the repeat nature or frequency of purchase and by increasing the dollar amount or sales amount of your individual product and service offerings. Ensuring your firm gets paid what it's worth should not be your focus.
As a marketing director of a company with a strong track record of good results, you have an incredible opportunity. However, there is an obvious value gap between your proposed solutions and their application with certain clients. If clients aren't buying in at the level you want to sell them, what do you do? Two ideas to consider: First, take a step back and look at your consulting solutions. Figure out a way to break them down into smaller solutions to get prospects working with you. This could take the form of focused consultations, training sessions or Web-based seminars. This differentiates you from the competition (a different level of service), it reduces the risk to the customer (lower investment to get started) and it allows them to receive an opportunity to work with your firm (allowing you to shine, build trust and perpetuate that good track record).
Second, the fact you are approaching clients with low awareness of your firm tells me you may need to reconsider the way you are marketing and selling to them. Do you truly understand your customers' problems? Are your solutions designed to solve these problems? If so, what are the implications or results that your solutions will deliver to their businesses? It's not about having a big marketing budget, it's not about ensuring your firm gets paid what it's worth and it really isn't about the clients who can find someone else to do it at half the rate. It's about educating the right prospects on the value you bring and the implications of what happens if they don't buy from you today.
In summary—Refocus and identify ways to break your consulting services into smaller packages that address initial client concerns and build value. This will increase the number of customers you work with and will lead to additional sales (repeat business) as clients discover the quality they get by working with your firm. Finally, examine your current marketing and sales efforts. Are your consulting solutions truly focused on solving their specific problems/challenges/needs? Change the way you find and approach prospects and clearly identify who your prospects are, their specific problems, your solutions and the resulting implications. In the end, if you do it right, you will be able to charge even more for your services.
Eran Mallochm, owner of TechWest Systems, advises focusing on what makes you different:
The number-one reason people want a cheaper price is lack of awareness of how you are different and better than the alternatives. In other words, they see you (and your price) as a risk. Regardless of the reality of it, low price is seen as less risky, and that's why so many companies suffer at the hands of the price-shopper mentality. You need to prove to prospective clients that you will guarantee what you can do for them. In other words, remove the risk of the unknown. Can you guarantee a certain result? Can you guarantee to help them achieve specific goals and objectives? Can you offer them a breakdown of what is different about you, and how that directly benefits them? Preferably in writing, with a rock solid guarantee of performance included?
While a money-back guarantee is an obvious thing to consider, it may not be appropriate for your product or service. Instead, perhaps you can guarantee that your people will keep working with them until you achieve the results you mutually agreed upon, for no extra charge. And you need to create a USP. Dan Kennedy says it best, "You need to be able to comfortably answer the question going through the back of their mind, ‘Why should I do business with you, over and above any other choices available to me on the market today?'" If you can't strongly and confidently answer that, then your USP is weak (or nonexistent) and needs to be revamped. At the end of the day, successful selling must take into account a prospective client's concerns about the risk of dealing with any supplier, big or small.
What the customers say and what they mean aren't always the same, as Maitiu MacCabe, managing director of www.greatexpectationscoaching.com, explains:
Research shows that two-thirds of all pricing objections are a wrongly stated version of "What am I getting from you for the extra money you are asking me to pay?" Handling the issue is easy once you understand that this is what is happening. Here are a few approaches. First, when the customer does the "I can get it done for half the price," you come back with, "That raises a question, Ms. Customer, and the question I feel you are asking me is—Will you get full value for the money I am asking you to invest in our services? Isn't that your question?" You will be astonished at how often they agree!
Follow up with, "Ms. Customer, you are right. We are a little more expensive than some of our competitors. They will have to justify their own value, but let me tell you what you are getting from us that I feel makes us great value for the money." This turns the conversation into a discussion about your value for money, not an argument about higher pricing. Restate all of your benefits, not just your service, but the complete package of what you include: personal, flexible, individual-to-her, in-depth knowledge from your consultants, credit and research. Use your testimonial letters, as they are high value and crucial for all consultants. Finish by asking if that does not represent the high level of value she wants.
I usually finish by knocking the competitors, "The concern I would have with the cheaper service is what they are leaving out to do it at such a low cost when they also need to make profit. On a low budget, they cannot give your project the time, energy and attention it needs. They've got to make up the turnover on other jobs. Yes, we are a little more expensive, but we can then give your project all the time and attention to detail needed to create a first-rate product for you to help you get better than expected results. Why not go with us at the rate we are discussing, and at any time you feel we are not meeting our commitment to you or giving you the value you want, let us know. You know the logic of business, Ms. Customer, you can only give $100 worth of product for $100, so cutting prices also means reducing the service. That is not what you want or are paying for, and you have agreed that our proposal meets all your needs. If they were offering the same, they would also be charging the same, wouldn't they?"
Learn this and then use the bits that will do the job of overcoming the objection for you. These types of answers are endless once you start concocting them, but the main issue is, "What am I getting from you that makes you worth the extra investment?" Never be afraid of price. Once a customer sees your fear, she has you on the run and your rate will suffer.
Guy Smith, principal of Silicon Strategies Marketing, sums up the value advice:
Often, the best way to avoid pricing pressure is to be more expensive. Charging a small premium while promoting clear differentiators tells customers there is a reason to prefer your products/services, whereas discounting destroys any appearance of meaningful differentiation. If the extra amount you charge does not change the customer's budgeting priorities, then the higher price can become a "Mercedes Syndrome" benefit.
2. Have pricing strategies in place
Planning your pricing strategy and sticking to it is a way to avoid straying from you goals. Marcus Barber, a strategic foresight analyst, offers a variety of ways to do this:
There are a number of approaches you could take. One might be the three-tiered pricing strategy approach, where you start with the highest-priced offering that includes all of the bells and whistles; a second level with some of the things pared away; and a third level with a basic skeleton service. The key to using this approach is to ask the lead-in question often used in the printing industry: "Best price, quickest results, best quality—which two of these are most important to you?" This allows you to set the parameters by which clients must judge all other offerings. If they say they want the best price and the best quality, you can deliver a service over an extensive period of time. If they say price and speed, they sacrifice quality. And if they say speed and quality, they give up the "best" (think cheapest) price.
When you discuss your pricing structure using a three-tiered approach, you automatically highlight to the client that she will be sacrificing an aspect of her business aims if she "buys cheap." If a client says, "Can you do it any cheaper?" you can say, "Oh, I'm sorry I misunderstood you. I thought you said that quality was critical and that you needed it by next week?"
Another approach is to use the new customer/regular customer positioning statement. You state your price. The client says he can buy it at half the rate. Respond with a "not if the quality is important to you" type of statement. Before the client says anything else, you continue, "Look, you're a (new/regular) client. What about, by way of (an introductory offer/saying thanks for being a loyal customer), I'll see if I can shave 12% off the investment for this project only?" See what the client says. If he still wants to negotiate the price downward, you have to make a call. If you really think you have a quality offering, you cannot afford to give in and must consider walking away from the deal.
Another idea is to place the effort for finding the cheapest price back onto the client. A statement like "I can get it for half the price" is a negotiating ploy people use to try to get you to do their work. So, hand them back the work. "Excuse me, Mrs. Client, do you have a phone book?" Regardless of whether she does or not, you suggest to the client that if she wants the best price, and if the best price is the fundamental driver, then she should make sure she contacts every possible organization that could offer this service. Don't stick just to the home country—make sure Mrs. Client contacts all the companies on the Web that might be located overseas, too, because there is no doubt that she will eventually get the price she wants. But tell her to make sure she contacts absolutely everyone because if she doesn't, the one she doesn't call might just be the person who would have given her the cheapest price. This is called the "blown out of all proportion" objection-handling technique and works wonderfully well with people who insist price is all they want. And if it really is all they want, walk away because trouble surely follows.
A creative strategy is to let the client determine the price, but that doesn't mean it will be the final price. Jeremy Fernando, director of Innovative Data Solutions (Pvt) Limited, explains it better:
You could propose allowing your client to pay what he thinks is right for the scope of work you are proposing to do, provided you do not incur a loss. However, you must let the client know what you would expect him to pay additionally, if you are able to exceed his expectations.
If you achieve more than the client expects you to do, I am sure the client will end up paying you "your price." Why? Because he's happy and he wants to retain you. Of course, if the client isn't happy, you will not get the balance because he won't want to retain your services. My experience has been that most clients do not want to keep trying when they are looking for high-value service. Even if they are happy with your work, they may want to bargain within reasonable limits. But they will definitely try to please you as well.
Get the pricing problem over with by stating it up front. Fatport's marketing manager, Malcolm McDonald, has faced the same problem:
I believe that disclosing price differences up front is the best way of getting around sticker shock. You can bet that a potential client has shopped around a bit, and if the client sees a couple of prices at one level, and yours is much higher, you'll get rejected right away regardless of the impression made. It's better to go into the initial consultation letting them know that you're going to be more expensive, and then tell them the reasons why, along with the extra benefits they'll receive.
3. Emphasize the firm's experience
Many unknown brands sell for higher than average prices because their companies work to emphasize their products' strengths. Sunil Kumar, business development manager of Optimizers Consulting Pvt. Ltd., has been through this recently:
We worked to position our company, technical team and the product. We emphasized the kind of experience our technical team has in our target market and the exposure to our competition's software products. We demonstrated to prospects that we are more than just a price and stressed our experience and commitment to this market place and to each prospect.
4. Cut tasks to reduce price
When a customer says she can find another firm to do the work for half the price, explain that you can lower the price by dropping some of the tasks. The client might get the idea that different firms might complete the work differently, hence the different pricing. Mohamed Wagih, a consultant, suggests telling the client that you'll drop some tasks to meet his budget while ensuring you can deliver a quality report.
Pricing is a touchy topic for many businesses, especially small ones that want to thrive and don't wish to have many clients to make it happen. It's scary to ask for the price you deserve, but look at any product in the grocery store, and you'll see that prices vary within the same product group. People who buy generic products are focused on price and sacrifice quality, while those who buy higher-priced items know they're getting a quality product.
Is your business a BMW—or a Ford? Price accordingly!
Can we help you with other extreme problems that none of the tools in your toolbox will resolve? Share your challenge, and we'll put the handy marketers on the job.
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