How to maximize profits by adopting a systematic approach to pricing management

Dr. Jagdish Agrawal, Associate Dean and Professor of Marketing, College of Business and Economics, California State University, East Bay

Although pricing plays a pivotal role in generating profits, most firms end up leaving money on the table, because they rely on ad-hoc or undisciplined practices instead of a well-honed strategy. Worse yet, they don’t establish a price based on the product’s value, or forgo profitability by hastily initiating discounts to grab market share.

“Executives don’t run enough ‘what if’ scenarios before establishing a price for a product or service and then hope that something good will happen,” says Dr. Jagdish Agrawal, associate dean and professor of marketing for the College of Business and Economics at California State University, East Bay.

Smart Business spoke with Agrawal about the dos and don’ts of pricing management.

Why do companies overlook the need for disciplined pricing management?

For starters, academia hasn’t paid enough attention to pricing so MBAs aren’t familiar with the tools or the need for a rigorous methodology. In fact, there isn’t a single academic journal on the benefits of good pricing. Executives also tend to think that the market establishes the price for goods and services, when it’s up to the seller to educate buyers on their product’s value.

What are the components of an effective pricing strategy?

These best practices are integral to an effective strategy.

  • Start with a profit objective. Market share and profits aren’t necessarily related; conceptually, you can reduce your price to zero, lose money and capture the entire market. Start with a profit objective before establishing a price for the product and then research the market to see if it’s on target.
  • Practice value-based pricing. Pricing should be determined by the value of a product or service, not production costs. Research the competition and then adjust your price up or down based upon the inferiority or superiority of your product.
  • Understand market segmentation. Airlines are experts at market segmentation based pricing. They understand that business travelers don’t pay for their tickets so they don’t care about price, but families always shop for the best deal when booking a vacation.
  • Price proactively. Avoid knee-jerk reactions to competitive price changes by continuously monitoring buyer preferences as well as social and economic changes so you can adjust prices proactively.
  • Develop prices collaboratively. Solicit input across the entire enterprise, because each group offers unique expertise and perspective that leads to better pricing.
  • Invest in marketing. It’s not that buyers won’t pay more, but they need education and data to appreciate your product’s value.

How can companies utilize tools to attack pricing both tactically and strategically?

Savvy companies understand price elasticity and customer preferences and use niche software programs to conduct incremental break-even analyses. For example, what will happen if you drop the price of a product by 5 percent? How much will sales go up and will you still make a profit? Conversely, what will happen if you don’t reduce the price? Start with a conjoint marketing analysis to uncover the nexus between price and value by forecasting the impact of various price changes and then conduct trials or tests to validate the results before initiating wholesale price changes. Some product managers are turning to a new field called behavioral economics, which helps them understand buyer motives and strategically offer rebates or other discounts to communicate a product’s price and value to customers.

How can companies avoid typical mistakes?

Marketing has four variables, or ‘Ps’: price, product, promotion and place. Because price is the most flexible, people tend to use it for instant gratification. But it’s a mistake to temporarily lower prices for competitive purposes, because it compresses margins across the entire industry. Another error is incorporating irrelevant or non-incremental expenses into the cost assumptions because it results in an inflated price that isn’t based on the product’s value. Fixed costs like managerial salaries aren’t necessarily impacted by the number of products a company produces, so you stand a better chance of developing value-based pricing and realistic forecasts by excluding them from the estimated costs. Isolated pricing decisions made by a single department like marketing or accounting are usually off the mark. Instead, develop the brand’s positioning and profit objectives before creating a coordinated promotion and advertising campaign. Next, develop various pricing scenarios through a collaborative effort and run ‘what if’ models to validate your sales and profit goals. If necessary, adjust your product’s positioning or marketing strategies until they align with the desired outcomes, because everything should flow from the brand’s positioning.

How can companies boost profitability through pricing improvements?

Start with the actual product or service to uncover untapped market segments and incremental profit opportunities. Does your product solve a problem? Are there prospective customers who would be willing to pay more for a solution? For example, retailers usually charge less when customers buy online, but some people are willing to pay more for the experience of shopping in a pleasant environment. Train everyone in the company on pricing fundamentals and methodology so they make better pricing decisions and spot additional opportunities to sell goods and services for a higher price. Remember, price is the only marketing variable not associated with the product’s cost, and price allows you to realize the value of all your investments and boost profits.

Dr. Jagdish Agrawal is associate dean and professor of marketing for the College of Business and Economics at California State University, East Bay. Reach him at (510) 885-3290 or [email protected]