By Colleen Francis, Published November 13, 2014
After three years of selling products and services at the same prices, your company decides a change is in order. It’s time to make a few price increases to better reflect the current market and rising costs.
Of course, any time prices go up, sellers are bound to hear complaints from long-term customers. Some companies, in fact, believe regular clients should be exempt from price increases altogether, that there should be a reward for loyalty in the client relationship. And yet there are several other pricing methods that businesses employ as well.
The key factor in all these cases, of course, is providing advanced notice of your company’s plans. Pricing surprises are never a good thing in sales!
As the economy continues to gain strength, a number of Engage clients are introducing price increases to the market. To help, let’s review the three most common ways to raise prices – and how to do it without losing business from your regular customers.
1. A universal increase
The first scenario is the most straightforward: raise prices for everyone – new and old customers alike. In this case, you’re hoping your steady clientele will remain loyal even if they’re not thrilled to be paying more for the same products and services.
The first step is to provide ample notice. Make sure you give your existing customers at least 3 months advance notice to ensure you can work through any issues, address exceptions, and even negotiate if you have to.
If you’re in a “mission critical” situation with a customer, or have them locked into a one-year contract, then chances are lower they’ll leave. Still, prepare for the fact that when you change your terms of service, you’re opening the door for long-time clients to say, “You know, we haven’t reviewed our contract for a while. Maybe we should shop around.”
To lessen the possibility of losing business, offer to extend the customer’s current rate for a few months or an extra year. Yes, this gives them more time to shop around, but it also increases the likelihood they’ll become more comfortable with the idea of your price changes. They might ultimately decide it’s easier and less costly to stay with your company than starting over with a new one.
2. Go 50/50
Scenario number two is to keep prices the same for existing customers and only raise them for new ones. A client of mine sells to law firms and often sees this method applied. The lawyers will increase the billable rate for new customers, but not for long-term ones, because the services and products they’re offering are the same.
In this case, it’s not just the customer but the law firm that’s benefitting. That’s because it costs less each year to manage the same products and services for a long-term client. You know them well and therefore aren’t continually trying to figure out what they want. And you’re also not investing money, time and energy toward marketing, because you’ve already attracted their business. So even though you’re keeping your prices the same, you may find that you are increasing your overall margin with these existing customers.
3. Add services and a choice
The third and final scenario has several components: add more to your current offering, raise prices, and then give your long-term customers the choice to opt in or opt out. For example, “We’re increasing your rate to $ 150 because the service offering is changing. Now you’re going to have A, B, C and D as opposed to the A and B you were receiving before.” Then, allow the client the flexibility to choose. “Do you want to stay with what you had before or do you want this new, enhanced service?”
A client of mine recently did this with great success. They increased the price on their software maintenance and told their regular customers, “You were paying 10 percent and you received all the updates. Your rate is going to 12 percent, but that allows you to call the help desk whenever you want with questions and issues. We can keep you on the 10 percent plan to give you just the basic support if you really want, but we’re encouraging our clients to switch to the 12 percent package so you have the opportunity to call into the help desk.” Over 75% chose the new enhanced service.
This client has a rock-solid product and knew the company rarely received help desk calls. So while that 12 percent was providing more value to the customer, our client considered it low risk because the chance of people calling in on a regular basis was slim. And they were right. Customers only tended to call once or twice a year.
Extra value of advanced notice
As mentioned before, client communication and giving advanced notice about a price increase to your long-term customers is crucial. But it’s also just as important for your B2B sales team. For instance, if clients are notified six months ahead, it gives sellers a chance to hear feedback and determine who’s unhappy about paying more and considering taking their business elsewhere. They can work to save those customers but also have a chance to backfill if some clients are determined to leave.
Gathering this type of information allows your company to do two things:
However your company chooses to raise its prices, in the end it’s the strength of the relationships B2B inside sales and sales development reps build that will ultimately help decide if a long-term customer stays – hopefully for many more years to come!