I pulled into my favorite car wash this week and pushed the button as usual and waited for the robot voice to tell me to swipe my card.
Boom! What the hay? The price of my usual deluxe wash with the under body flush and towel dry had increased by 20% since my visit last week. Now I had two cars behind me and couldn’t reverse in protest. Yes, it was now a hostage situation with my only alternatives being to choose a lesser option that would not get me what I expected or grudgingly pay the 20% and feel taken advantage of.
Where was the warning? Where was the loyalty to the regular longtime customer? What was I actually getting for the 20% increased ransom I just ended up paying?
Sales goals will never go down and part of making your sales goal will include raising prices to your top customers as well as your bottom customers. However, being proactive, transparent, and honest with communicating the price increase will help your cause of not creating a hostage situation.
Stagnant prices can mean a stagnant business model and stagnation can destroy companies. Sure there is the economic and academic argument that internal efficiencies, purchasing methods and production improvement should allow you to lower the price to the customer, but we are not just talking about widget production.
Professional services, SaaS solutions, any skilled labor based business, and custom manufacturing are always evolving their offering at a cost that is not always evident to the customer. These evolved offerings and services need to be communicated. Not only in the initial sale, but in ongoing communications as well.
Here are 8 tips to help your conversations when the time for a price increase is necessary.
1. Understand that your customers increase their prices
Your customers have probably raised prices to their customers and stand to increase more revenues if they mark up your product or services as part of their value chain.
What have they changed or added to their cost centers? Asking some questions and understanding their pricing changes could help open the door for your conversation.
Look at this opportunity as shared growth and more of a partnership in their growth rather than being a vendor with bad news.
2. Rapport won’t save you, but it helps
Although having rapport helps to soften the conversation about price increases, it is not built overnight, building rapport takes some time. Trust builds rapport so do what you say, honor your commitments, call when you say you will and always follow through.
If this a new customer and you don’t have rapport built, then start building it. It may not be the right time for a price increase this early in the relationship so place yourself in a good position to have the price increase conversation next year.
3. Understand the field of play
What questions have you asked to test the waters about a price increase? Asking some key open ended questions about their business trends, what they see in the market, what they have heard about competition, and where they see prices going can help you set the tone for your conversation.
If you are in a competitive market place, asking some key questions from strategic partners and potential prospects could help frame the potential conversation as well. It’s a good time to use that rapport you have built.
4. Remember why they originally said yes
Most of the time, your customers had a previous vendor in place or other options available before you won their business. Why did they switch to you? What are the top three reasons they stay with you? Reinforcing the value they realize should be ongoing and part of the price increase conversation needs to be how raising prices will continue to deliver that value.
5. Don’t flinch
Do you have a quality reputation and record with the customer? Then part of the increase is to ensure it continues.
If not, then you should stress how the price increase will allow you to begin addressing some of the issues in question by allowing you to improve the overall quality of service they have been receiving. Naturally, it is important to make sure all comments are backed with a commitment to follow-through.
Communicating a price increase is all about the delivery. Be transparent, honest, and continue to offer real value to your customers and you will be able to communicate a price increase with very little pain.
This could even make a huge impact on profits since 10% of most troublesome customers cost you money with givebacks and constant concessions. I would plan to talk to those customers first. The rest should be easy.
6. Believe in the price increase
In order to be paid what you are worth, you must charge what you are worth. In order to charge what you are worth, you must believe that you deliver the value you are worth.
Tell your customers what they receive in exchange for more money. In an ideal world, you’re asking for money for a better product which benefits your customers.
7. They could pay the same for less
Is there something you did not communicate they were receiving? Something they have been using but was not part of the original contract? Do you offer an alternative? Do you offer lesser option at the same price they were paying before?
You may consider having options available or an a la carte menu of alternatives if they really want to keep you as a vendor but can not afford the new price levels.
8. Switching vendors may cost them even more
Nuclear option? New Vendor? The lower price vanishes after the initial order and the new vendor will not have nearly the knowledge or expertise as the original company about how to service the customer, so the switch often winds up costing more money in the long-run. I would not consider this a hostage issue. It is rather a business point of where their time and energy is best spent in keeping the value chain running.
Turns out, the car wash added a towel person to the end of the line to better dry the car, they included a repellent in the final rinse that would help with the winter salt issues, and they upgraded the scrubbing mechanism to better clean the wheels of brake dust. If only they had posted a note!
Death, taxes, and sales goals never going down are three constants you can bet your next expense check on so make sure communicating future price increases effectively is part of your sales plan.