Updated January 2024.
Business pricing models are key to initial and ongoing company success. At a previous SaaStr event, our CEO, Hristo Borisov, shared insights on how to price products using data-driven research, testing, and more.
Getting the pricing strategy right is critical for all businesses, regardless of size. From scaleups to multinationals, pricing is a piece of the puzzle that can make or break even the best products and companies.
Back in September 2022, we attended SaaStr Global in San Francisco and joined over 10,000 Cloud and SaaS Founders, VCs, and execs from around the world to cover all things scaling.
As Bulgaria’s first ever unicorn, valued at over one billion dollars, we’ve spoken at several SaaStr events. And we were thrilled to join the global event in 2022 as an official unicorn sponsor and to share some of our insights on business pricing models with the vast mix of SaaS attendees.
VC investors are experts in discovering which startups can and will grow in size and profitability and invest accordingly. A considerable part of the puzzle driving said growth includes pricing and its role in a business’ overall unit economics.
Infamous American businessman Warren Buffett once said, “The single most important business decision in evaluating a business is pricing power. This means that if you can increase your prices and still keep your customers loyal, then you’re in a good place.”
In our SaaStr session, “How Not to Go Cheap: The Data Behind Staying Away from Freemium and Focusing on Premium,” our CEO and co-founder, Hristo Borisov shared some important tips on business pricing models based on our research and experience.
During the session, Hristo mentioned a stat from leading consulting firm, Simon-Kucher, which revealed that about 75% of new products fail entirely due to a poor pricing strategy and customers being unwilling to pay. But how can businesses avoid these pitfalls, and what does poor pricing strategy look like?
According to Madhavan Ramanujam’s book, “Monetizing Innovation,” the most common reason for failure over product pricing is ‘Feature Shock.”
Feature shock is where businesses create catch-all situations with products by cramming too many features into them and making them overly expensive. This happens because companies may overestimate the target customer’s needs and customers are unwilling to pay for a product with features they don’t need.
The lesson is to design a product with only the features your customer demands. A good example of ‘Feature Shock’ failure is Amazon’s Fire telephone which the public viewed as overpriced with unnecessary features.
‘Minivations’ are products that failed because they were priced too low from the outset in product development. They cost less than customers are actually willing to pay for the product and sacrifice profits.
A shining example of this is Audi’s SUV, for which the company underestimated demand by 14% and, as a result, under-priced the product and missed out on large profits.
‘Hidden Gems’ are products that are never even launched despite a possibly huge market potential because their developers believed they might cannibalise existing business.
The key example is Kodak which didn’t launch digital photography in 1973 when they developed it because they feared it would destroy their analog business.
You might think this is pretty uncommon, but these ‘Hidden Gems’ often occur when companies reach an inflection point, for example, when switching from offline to online business.
Like their namesake, ‘Undeads’ are products that should have never been launched in the first place because customers don’t want or need them, and they can even harm a brand image because they’re so off the mark.
A perfect example is Google Glass, a lightweight wearable computer that became a blip in Google’s brand reputation.
A key part of our pricing strategy has involved getting our target customer 100% correct. We focused (and still focus) on supporting scaleups and enterprise companies rather than early-stage startups.
This laser customer focus meant we could create (and continually innovate on) a product that supports specific needs, including scaling, rather than creating something with the potential to cause ‘feature shock.’
Our CEO Hristo recalled:
We did something very unconventional. Usually, companies start with a freemium option in their business pricing model and figure out the actual pricing later, which is then hard to charge. But, we decided to focus on the monetisation of a few customers directly with a premium model that remained cost-effective by delivering greater value. Very few people were doing that in the market.”
It was a risk going for premium pricing, but our pricing model, a superior product, and cashback offer keep the product desirable. Our customers understand that the more they use the product, the less they will pay, so it is a win-win.
So, how can business pricing models attract customers and keep them loyal? The pricing structure must reflect the value being delivered to the customer, i.e., your product must be worth it.
“We really like that when you pay with your card you get the cashback offer. We changed to Payhawk because of the cashback, but we stayed for the product!” Benoit Menardo, Co-founder at salary advance fintech, Payflow, said.
Our focus on service and customer-centric innovation ensures that we continually improve the product to offer the best outcomes and experience. This kind of innovation would be impossible with a freemium model, and our customers understand that they’re paying for a product that will scale with them and support them as they grow.
We designed our price structure by identifying the customers’ willingness to pay. We did this using market research with several questions on price. And by applying Van Westendorp’s Price Sensitivity Model. A mathematical theory developed in the 1970s that still holds today.
The result is a graph that reveals the perceived acceptable levels of pricing within a range of lower prices (and more customers) and higher prices (with fewer customers). The optimum point being somewhere in the middle.
Lower prices with lots of customers may suit some companies, but as we mentioned above, for us it would stifle our ability to innovate and improve our product for our customers. We don’t offer freebies and rewards to capture as many customers as possible, but instead we focus on our target group and deliver competitive benefits that add value to their operations, including: 80% less manual data entry and processes, and a four times faster month-end close.
We're not saying it's easy to nail pricing. Besides studying the theory of pricing failure, we spent a lot of time iterating on our pricing strategy and tried 15 business pricing models in the first two years.
Whether you offer an "all-you-can-eat" model which provides the same for every customer, or an "a la carte" type customised solution, the important thing is to ensure customers get value for their investment. And this is almost impossible when delivering freemium.
Want to learn how businesses are prioritising functionality and price when it comes to spend management in 2024 ? Download our ebook, The Pulse: Spend Management today. Or if you’re ready to talk solutions, book a demo.
Trish Toovey works across the UK and US markets to craft content at Payhawk. Covering anything from ad copy to video scripting, Trish leans on a super varied background in copy and content creation for the finance, fashion, and travel industries.