Pricing challenges and models for consumer goods companies
Pricing challenges and models for consumer goods companies
Published on: Mar 4, 2016
Transcripts - Pricing challenges and models for consumer goods companies
Pricing challenges and models for consumer goods companies
The explodingnumber of brands, channels, and distinct customer segments means that many companies must now juggle
hundreds of thousands—in some cases, millions—of price points w hile seeking to maintain consistent pricing strategies and
communications across an ever-increasing number of products and outlets. For a broad variety of manufacturers that sellto
consumers and businesses alike, this proliferation has made pricing more difficult but the rew ards formanaging it w ellmuch
The proliferation of channels and the microsegmentation of customers have driven the typical consumer packaged goods
(CPG) company to create new brands and stock-keeping units (SKUs) as it attempts to limit channelconflict, address unmet
needs, and reach for underserved consumption occasions. In extreme cases, some CPG manufacturers with a number of
brands and SKUs—selling through various channels at both regular and promotional prices across different geographies—have
tried to manage as many as 20 million individual price points each year. In food service, w here pricesmight move on a daily or
w eekly basis, each transaction may carry a unique price point, elevating the number of pricing decisions to more than 100
million. And sheer transaction volumes aren't the only issue. The introduction of new discount, rebate, and trade allow ance
categories, combined w ith customer-specifictrade terms negotiated by pow erfulretailers, has driven down the number of
"standard" transactions, furthercomplicating price management.
The environment of business-to-businesscompanies is no less thorny. A leading manufacturer of lighting equipment, for
example, manages more than 450,000 SKUs across ten major brands as it tries to meet local market preferencesand remain
nimble in the face of increasing domestic and overseas competition. Direct-sales representatives, key-account-management
teams, and third-party agents sellthese products to contractors, localdistributors, distribution chains, consortia of small
distributors and retailers, and, not least, large home center chains. With more than three million pricing opportunities annually,
the challenge of making the right pricing decision every time is enormous.
Traditional models for managing prices are clearly inadequate for these and many other situations. Distributed responsibility for
pricing decisions across functions and geographies leaves no one managing the total price-profit-volume equation. Without a
common process for making pricing decisions across different brandsand channels, as w ellas a common set of data to
support these decisions and monitor performance, pricing becomes unmanageable. The results are inevitable: pricing
performance varies enormously among business units, channelconflicts lead major customers to demand price protection, and
brand managers compete among themselves for the same consumers and shelf space.
In light of these issues, this chapter doesn't focus on strategies, tactics, or tools for setting prices. Instead, it explores the new
operating model many companies need to realize the full potential of today's state-of-the-art approachesto analyzing and
improving pricing performance.1
The model has three characteristics: better visibility into pricing performance and clearer
performance standards; a common systemfor pricing across brands, channels, and segments; and organizationalbalance,
w ith a centralpricing group that integrates the model throughout the company but doesn't make every decision. In many cases,
the model w illrequire substantialchanges in the w ay companies make daily pricing decisions, as w ellas changes to systems,
organizationalroles and responsibilities, performance metrics, and incentives. Making these changes stickcalls for real
dedication and, frequently, a new performance culture focused on pricing.
Visibility into the performance of pricing
For many companies, generating even simple bottom-line price and margin reports for individualcustomers or SKUs is a
monumental taskexacerbated by the proliferation of brands, channels, and segments. Companies frequently find themselves
w ith a variety of systems that capture key pricing data. Integrating the data is difficult and time consuming—and therefore rarely
done. With so little information available centrally, it isn't surprising that sales forces have even less information w hen it is most
critical—at the point of negotiation. Few companies have tools to help the frontline sales force manage or improve pricing.
This lack of visibility increases the likelihood of w ide variations in price points for similar products acrossdisparate channels
and customer segments. What's more, the level of discount offered usually isn't related to the size or importance of individual
customers, as might be assumed, and raises the riskof channelconflict and arbitrage. In industries ranging from CPG to
building products to commodity chemicals, examples abound of very small customers receiving huge discounts and, invariably,
of companies serving unprofitable customers. In some cases, the variation among accounts is so significant that companies
fear that imposing greater order and structure on frontline pricing could disrupt their business.
Given the importance of incorporating clear information as w ellas the grow ing need to bring pricing decisions closer to
customers, an integrated database and frontline tools for pricing are essentialingredients of success. Unfortunately, despite the
increased sophistication of pricing software, companies stillhave great difficulty extracting the insights they need to improve
their performance in this area. The information required to develop these insights—product volumes, list prices, promotional
spending, trade allow ances, payment terms, and data on the cost of products, for example—typically resides in a broad array of
isolated systems run by finance, sales, logistics, and customer service. At the lighting company mentioned earlier, for instance,
managers had to pull data from more than 35 sources to develop a comprehensive profit-and-lossstatement for productsand
Since compiling and integrating so much disjointed information is a daunting and time-consuming task, it's not surprising that
many businesses lackeven the most basic insights into profitability at the more granular levels. This failure can prevent the
best companies fromoptimizing their pricing and discount levels. How can you manage pricing w hen you can't compare net
prices across markets or don't know w hether a particular price levelw illleave you w ith a profit or a loss? Since a 1 percent shift
in overall prices can affect profitsdisproportionately, rules of thumb and gut instinct aren't sufficiently reliable for fine-tuning
The answ er is to combine a laserlike focus on the most important information needed to make pricing decisions w ith a simple
process that integrates this information so that salespeople can use it. One leading beverage company regularly captures and
synthesizes accurate field pricing data, including prices, promotions, and shipments at the retail level. This company also
enlists its vast field sales forces to calibrate pricing on a market-by-market basis.
By methodically capturing information in a pricing database and support tool, a company creates a consistent set of data to
guide its decisions and measure their impact. Both aspects are vital, since visibility and accountability go hand in hand. A
Fortune 500 building-products manufacturer, for example, saw that the amounts paid by customers receiving its highest and
low est prices varied by more than 40 percent, even though its products were largely considered commodities. This company
faced a common problem: a strong traditional focus on volumes combined w ith scant pricing data meant that the sales force
drove dow n prices to win deals. Once the company installed a relatively simple software package to integrate its pricing data, it
could institute a compensation structure that rewarded grossmargin dollars and percentages (in addition to volumes), thereby
improving the alignment betw een the incentives of the sales force and corporate profitability.
After creating visibility, a company must bring this information to bear on decisions. Consider, for example, the very large
distribution company that designed a new process its sales reps could use in making on-the-spot pricing decisions. This
process not only used discount guidelines that varied by account type, product type, dealsize, and geography but also
provided for decentralized—though consistent—decisions. To w ork, however, pricing guidelines for the company's 30,000
products had to be easily accessible to more than 1,000 salespeople. The answ er was a relatively simple frontline pricing tool
that show ed salesreps the range of their pricing authority and displayed historicalpricing for the customer at hand as w ell as
recent pricing for comparable accounts.
The pricing tool, supporting interactions betw een the frontline force and the centralpricing group, w as a criticallink in the new
process. When-eversales reps wanteddiscounts outside these guidelines, the tool alerted these individuals to forward the deal
to the centralorganization for evaluation. Discounts beyond the guidelines w ere rarely approved, and competitive pricing data
played a key role in evaluating these requests. By centralizing the decision-making process forexceptionalcases, the
organization minimized unnecessary discounting and reduced the frequency of frontline pricing disparities—including those
among separate locations of large national customers—forhighly visible SKUs.
Understanding trade spending
Softw are that makes the impact of trade spending more visible can also improve the performance of pricing. Many CPG
manufacturers annually manage hundreds of thousands of individualpromotional events or other initiatives across a w ide range
of retailers, brands, and SKUs. The return on these investments varies a good deal. Usually, it is correlated w ith some
combination of promotional price, duration, frequency,the use of point-of-sale displays and features, geography, customer,
product, and time of year. Combining internal shipment and trade-spending information w ith syndicated store data linked to
each event is tedious and time consuming. As a result, most CPG companies measure the performance of only a very small
percentage of their events, and even these efforts are inconsistent, sincethey vary fromaccount manager to account manager.
Some leading packaged goods companies, by contrast, have made the return on their promotional investments a key
component of the pricing system. To examine more events, these companies have deployed promotion analysis tools that
provide regular and consistent measures of the w ayevents perform. Such tools give the frontline staff immediate feedbackthat
guides future investments. The companies can also review and synthesize their events centrally, which helps themto develop
better overall promotional strategies and to allocate funds across brands, channels, and customer segments more effectively.
Institutionalizing core pricing processes
If a lack of visibility makes it difficult to monitor and enforce good pricing, inconsistent processesacrossan organization further
complicate the execution of pricing. As the products and channels of companies become more complex, each silo w ithin an
organization develops its ow n approach to making important pricing decisions, such as pricing new products, negotiating the
pricing of deals, and managing trade funds. Without consistency acrossthe organization, a company can't leverage best
practices, shift and promote talented w orkerseffectively, or present a uniformimage to customers w ho make purchases in a
number of product categories, often fromdifferent salespeople.
To ensure consistency acrosssilos over time, it is criticalto identify and standardize the tw o or three most important pric ing
processes and to institutionalize them across the business. By formally establishing a consistent set of core pricing processes,
companies can deploy best practices and process improvements more quickly and make key pricing and promotion decisions
more transparent. Other benefits include predictable planning cycles, standardized communications to key retail and
distribution partners, and a systemof internal checks and balances to avoid poor decisions and potentially illegal pricing
The process problem
The pricing of new productsoffers a clear example of the challenges generated by the traditional disarray and show show an
embedded pricing process can addressthem. New brands, products, and packaging have proliferated as companies respond
to changing consumer tastes and shifting retail dynamics. Such companies commonly introduce their new products at price
points near those of their existing ones, thus cannibalizing the portfolio. Instead of increasing their market share, they divide it
among a larger number of SKUs, each competing for the same shelf space, consumer acceptance, and internalresources.
Ironically, considering how criticalthese decisions are, companies often set prices for new productson an ad hoc basis just
before they hit the market, w ith limited or no pricing research to support them.
Manufacturers selling to businesses face an equally profound problem, w hich frequently stems fromintroducing new versions
of products without effectively retiring the older ones. The net effect is increased inventory costs, greater management
complexity, and declining production efficiency. A major medical-device manufacturer's experience showssome of the
problems. This company faced very short product cycles, usually lasting 12 to 18 months. Whenever it launched new versions
of a product, it aimed to shift 80 percent of the sales volume to them w ithin 6 months. Yet the company also continued to sell
older versions and allow ed the sales force to offer deeper discountsto make them attractive to interested customers. These
price cuts encouraged such customers to stay with older products. In addition, the company risked dragging dow n the price of
new products, since such heavydiscounting could have tarnished the value perception of an entire line. Despite annual R&D
investments of hundreds of millions of dollars, the average price for every product line the company offered wasdeclining each
Companies can respond to these challenges by institutionalizing a pricing process for their new productsas part of the pricing
system. A leading consumer electronics company showed how this can be done in the face of common obstacles. The
company sold a range of products targeted at different customer segments that frequently overlapped. Further complicating the
picture, each product group had its ow n manager and its ow n approach to product pricing, and there w as relatively little
interaction among silos. To create consistency acrossthe entire organization, the company established a new process —used
by all product-management teams—based on four core principles:
1. Pricing must play a role early in the product-development cycle, and any new product must either address a portfolio's gaps
(such as price point gaps or underserved segments and channels) or explicitly replace an existing product.
2. New -productintroductions represent opportunities to increase prices overall.
3. Whenever possible, product managers must commission research on consumers to understand their price sensitivity and the
perceived value of a product relative to competing alternatives.
4. Plans to introduce any replacement product must include a clear strategy for the end-of-life management of the existing one.
These four principles became the centerpiece of a clear process the company could repeat again and again to manage the
pricing of new products throughout its portfolio. The process led not only to better pricing decisions for individualproducts but
also to a more cohesive product portfolio, with fewerconflicts and less redundancy.
Pricing new productsis just one example of the kind of core pricing processesthat companies can standardize acrosstheir
operating silos. Each company should identify the tw o or three most criticalpricing decisions it faces and focus its efforts on
institutionalizing the processes needed to make them. By concentrating investments in process design, training, and support
systems on relatively few pricing processes, companies can build capabilities that truly differentiate them fromtheir
Striking an organizational balance
As companies try to make their pricing performance more visible and to institutionalize core pricing processes, the question of
w ho manages and maintains the infrastructure becomes increasinglyimportant. If most pricing decisions remain decentralized,
w ho makes sure that strategy and tactics are integrated across brands, channels, and segments? Who maintains the central
pricing database and mines that data to create reports and identify pricing opportunities? Who trains the organization's people
in the elements of the pricing system? Leading companies have answ ered these questions by creating a centralpricing
organization—a center of pricing excellence—that maintains basic systems and functions and can collaborate w ith the rest of
Source : McKinsey
Recommended by : Steve Rogers ( email@example.com )