There’s a raging debate going on about whether or not B2B marketers should put pricing on their websites. The proponents like Jakob Nielsen argue that customers need to “understand the nature” of an offer and price helps that. Opponents counter with the point that putting price on a website actually reduces the effectiveness of the site. Instead of taking sides I’ve decided to examine some of the detailed issues that B2B marketers may want to consider. Below is a list of obstacles that stand in the way of publicly publishing pricing. Some are only perceived but others are real. What do you think?
Issue 1) The vendor can’t identify the visitor (it may be a competitor and we don’t want them to get our pricing)
This falls into the “perceived issue” category because your competitor already has your basic pricing. If you have a GSA Schedule with the Federal Government then your GSA pricing is already publicly displayed on GSAAdvantage.
Issue 2) Different customers get different pricing levels.
This is a legitimate issue especially with a vendor that sells its products through indirect sales channels. A single SKU (item) may have 20 different prices. Examples: Basic LIST price, Government GSA price, Educational price, Non-profit price, Registered VAR, Un-registered VAR, etc. There may be special Large integrator contracts with the likes of Lockheed, Northrop Grumman, EDS, etc…all have special pricing.
Issue 3) Displaying pricing would allow the visitor to avoid the sales team.
If price were the last thing the visitor needed then this is true. However, the answer is deeper than that. For an existing customer that already knows everything they need to know about the solution then there should be a way to easily request budgetary pricing while tying in the sales team. Don’t put your customers through voice-mail hades. For visitors in the research phase of a project they may not fully understand the benefits of the offer/product and could draw an incorrect conclusion about the price. Once again there is an opportunity to notify the sales team that a prospect has requested pricing…in real time. The sales team can then do what it does best, position it’s value proposition.
Issue 4) Complex product sets are difficult to configure.
This is a real problem because to get an idea of what a “solution” costs may involve multiple components. Once again, you can solve this using a kit approach. It is a simple way to have a visitor request the “X250 package”. The visitor is shown all the items in the package with advice that explains whether each one is Required, Recommended or Optional. The visitor makes the decision to include each item. It gently leads the visitor down the right path.
Issue 5) The website is generally owned by marketing which has limited IT staff.
The IT staff of most vendors is concentrated on the product itself, not the website. To solve all of these issues would take some concentrated development time so that is why outsourcing it makes sense.
I had to steal this campaign slogan coined by James Carville for the first Clinton term (”It’s the economy, stupid”). It’s succinct, memorable and [was at the time] true. It’s one of those “doh” moments where you realize you’ve been chasing so many good excuses why you are not getting very good lead capturing traction on your website that you are missing the underlying problem. A recent plug for an upcoming seminar track really drives the point home:
“Most B2B marketers feel that they don’t yet have the right formula to ultimately convert visitors to qualified leads and customers, and to grow the revenue stream. They also have to contend with relatively low (and sometimes stagnant) visitor-to-lead conversion rates, as well as forms abandoned midstream or just being ignored. Attend this session if you are looking for the testing and optimization methodologies and tools, and the surveys and usability approaches, to improve online offerings to engage and convert visitors in higher numbers. ”
It sounds like there is not much new in the new approach. Is a new testing or optimization methodology really going to make that big of a difference? If that is not the answer, what is? Is a new whitepaper or webinar going to do it? Now I am seeing discussions of “social networking” and video clips as the next big thing.
For B2B sales people I believe these techniques are further diluting our effectiveness at reaching prospects. We are beginning to tout entertainment as a way to reach prospects; talk about reverting back to traditional media (TV anyone?).
I propose looking forward and figuring out what a prospect needs NEXT in the logical timeline of researching, developing and executing a project. As business issues arise, prospects quickly develop ideas on how to solve them. Armed with the Google search box the prospect can clarify and create a short list of possible solutions in half a morning. The research is so concentrated that the prospect has trouble discerning the nature of the possible solutions; especially from a budget perspective.
Per Dr. Jakob Nielson, Web Usability Expert:
“Price is the most specific piece of information customers use to understand the nature of an offering, and not providing it makes people feel lost and reduces their understanding of a product line. We have miles of videotape of users asking ‘Where’s the price?’ while tearing their hair out.”
So even though a B2B prospect is not an immediate buyer of the solution, she still could use price to understand the nature of the solution. “Can we even afford that Storage Appliance Widget on our $60K budget?” Prospects need to know before they are willing to engage in meaningful conversations with sales people.
The only way to solve this problem is to provide a mechanism that gives prospects the ability to access budgetary pricing while remaining at arms length from a formal sales engagement.
Prospects need Budgetary Pricing, smarty!
I like the new commercials that start off “People Are Smart”. Prospects are and we should treat them as such. They certainly should be with all of the information that is available via e-brochures, whitepapers, webinars etc. It seems that just about every answer to every question is now only a Google search away.
So how do we engage smart prospects that have Too Much Information (TMI)? Well, for starters we can try and put ourselves in their shoes. Have you actually gone through the process of starting with a business issue and then researching from your prospects position? Let’s say you sell data storage appliances like NetApp or Equallogic. The brand doesn’t matter and the prospect is willing to evaluate many brands. What do they do?