The truth revealed by online stores

Most marketing managers know that the hardest part of marketing to engineers and other technical professionals is the amount of information which needs to be provided. This is because your customers, by their very nature, are the type of people who like to research as much as they can themselves. And, dare I say it, they’re also the type of people who’d rather do anything than call a supplier to discuss things.

Yet there’s one vital piece of information which one company after another likes to keep a secret. And it makes no sense to me.

I’ve spent 25 years having “the price list conversation” with sales managers and marketing managers. I will admit to never having been a sales manager in industry, but I have been an engineer buying stuff, and I’ve certainly been someone who’s seen a lot of marketing successes and failures. In all that time, I have never once heard a convincing argument for keeping your price list a secret …but the majority of companies still do just that.

I’ve heard all the arguments along the lines of “well, it’s all about ‘systems solutions’ and the added value we can bring, yada yada”, but it’s not really, is it? You don’t seriously believe that. It’s about fear. It’s a fear that your competition will know your prices but you won’t know theirs. It’s a fear that customers who are paying over the odds will realise that’s the case. It’s a fear of doing something different to other suppliers in the market.

Worst of all are the companies which claim to be “customer focused” and other such waffle, but whose salespeople put their hand over the price list to shield it from the customer’s view. These don’t have the customer’s interests at heart, and the customer knows it. Just use your common sense: when you want to buy anything, from a wardrobe to a freezer to a new car, who are you going to buy it from? Certainly not a dealer who forces you to sit down with a salesman before even giving you a clue as to what the price might be.

Sure, the products you sell might be different. But if you don’t even provide any idea of the price range, nowadays you’re going to lose a whole load of prospects who’ll decide to use the “back” button.

However, I believe things are changing. It’s only anecdotal evidence, but I’m hearing one company after another say the same thing: “We’ve been doing really well over the past couple of years, coinciding with launching our online store, yet the store itself doesn’t turn over that much”. Most have worked out what’s happened, and I’m sure you can too. Customers are using the online store to choose products, then placing the order through traditional means. But it’s the presence of the online store – and the associated information it offered – which has clinched the deal. The online store isn’t actually necessary: it’s shown up something else – that having the prices published makes the difference. The prospect has seen that company A has a potentially suitable product which is within an acceptable price range, and company B has a potentially suitable product where the price is undisclosed. They choose to contact company A. Who wouldn’t?

While every supplier in a market sector holds out against publishing prices, the fragile combined front might hold. But once one or two start to break ranks, the wall will be breached. In fact, it may already have happened, and you might not have realised.

Discussion

  1. Dave J.

    Pricing on the web has become a classic B2B pinch-point.

    Me, I’m stuck with overseas distributors selling at their own price for their own market, which may include added costs for local compliance, support, and hefty shipping & import costs. Figure how to account for that, then throw all the internal political wrangling, and its a non-starter.

    Interestingly, the one company in our industry that posts pricing (because they work more as a catalog vendor) has prices that can be 25% higher than our prices are. Maybe they are accounting for external factors in their published prices, but it at least suggests that published prices are probably not your best prices.

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