As its name suggests, demand-based pricing is a method that uses the buyer’s demand, based on an estimate of a good’s or service’s perceived value to the buyer, as the central element in setting price. Pricing strategies are most important because they can have a disproportionate impact (positive and negative) on a company’s bottom line. Managing prices has always been an activity of keen interest, but it has become even more so over the past decade as a result of the constrained pricing environment.
Price and revenue optimization (PRO) is a business discipline used to effect demand-based pricing; it applies market segmentation techniques to achieve strategic objectives such as increased profitability or higher market share. PRO first came into wide use in the airline and hospitality industries in the 1980s as a way of maximizing returns from less flexible travelers (such as people on business trips) while minimizing the unsold inventory by selling incremental seats on flights or hotel room nights at discounted prices to more discretionary buyers (typically vacationers). Today, it is a well-developed part of any business strategy in the travel industry and increasingly used in others.
I’ve identified six components that corporations must consider and manage well to be successful in using PRO: strategy, external factors, people, process, information and technology (software). Here are some thoughts on each of them.
Above all, companies must have a realistic pricing strategy that is closely aligned with their capabilities, product strategy and competitive position. In a scale-driven business, for instance, it probably doesn’t make sense for a small player to try to be the low-cost provider. Instead, pricing software enables these companies to find ways to maximize pricing in a price-conscious market by designing offerings with valued features and services that add to their margin.
Pricing strategy and execution must take into account external factors. In particular, different cultures and businesses often have their own attitudes toward fixed and negotiated pricing. In some cases, especially in consumer markets where fixed prices have been the norm, people may consider price optimization “unfair.” Companies that try to implement a PRO strategy must realize that they may encounter resistance and be careful in how their marketing and communications position their approach to pricing. That noted, despite some annoyance, people have grown accustomed to highly variable airline and hotel pricing. Also, there may be legal and regulatory issues that impinge on a company’s pricing flexibility.
As to the people dimension, management needs to ensure that the groups involved are behind the effort. It’s extremely important that incentives (especially sales compensation) are properly aligned with the price optimization objectives that I recently covered. In many cases, ongoing training will be necessary to continually refine techniques and deal with issues that arise. For some organizations, a “center of pricing excellence” may be a useful way to build on its experience and entrench a culture of price optimization. Exactly how this is handled depends on whether the company has a centralized or decentralized structure to manage pricing.
People and process meet in the ongoing evaluation of price-setting practices by a cross-functional team that incorporates all stakeholders. Initially these people will meet frequently (at least once a month), but it may only require a quarterly review as PRO matures. There also must be a well-defined price analytics review process to ensure the methodologies the company is using are sound.
Easy, rapid access to the data needed to support the use of pricing algorithms is a prerequisite for successful implementation of a pricing strategy. Such data feeds the analytics and facilitates rapid pricing-decision cycles. Our research consistently shows that access to the appropriate data is an issue for a majority of companies and that this issue grows in proportion to the company’s size.
Lastly, the company must acquire the right software, implement it properly and tailor it to its needs; it also should be easy to deploy and maintain. When it comes to pricing, there can be subtle differences in the needs of particular types of business; prospective buyers should focus on vendors that have strong references in their specific industry.
Robert Kugel – SVP Research