In this Mucker Growth session, Kyle Poyar from OpenView delves into the critical topic of pricing for SaaS startups, aiming to rectify prevailing mistakes in your pricing strategies. 



Optimizing SaaS pricing is an ongoing process, and one that most startup founders struggle to perfect.  A First Round Capital survey found only 6 percent of startup founders believe their pricing model aligns perfectly with their product value. Much like continuous improvement to refine a product is vital, so is recognizing that pricing your product is an imperfect science that is constantly evolving.  Founders need to embrace iterative changes guided by a defined strategy. As the aforementioned survey findings illustrate, this is a common struggle. The best businesses can do is adapt, evolve, and inch closer to their pricing North Star, acknowledging the quest for improvement in this dynamic landscape is perpetual.


Achieving product-market-price fit is paramount. It’s not merely about finding a product opportunity; it’s about identifying a compelling need that customers are willing to pay for and enabling the construction of a sustainable, profitable business model. The aforementioned survey reveals that startups struggling for funding often face issues linked to delayed monetization, incorrect business models, or excessive burn rates--all indicating a lack of early product-market-price fit. As a pricing expert at OpenView, Kyle has collaborated with numerous SaaS companies, experiencing the iterative nature of pricing adjustments firsthand. This experience is distilled into five common pricing mistakes, with insights crucial for unlocking untapped potential:


Mistake 1: You are too cheap!


One prevalent mistake in SaaS startups is undervaluing their offerings. Although common in the early stages, remaining too cheap hampers capturing the value created. Initial caution often leads to missed revenue opportunities. Unlike consumer products, B2B buyers prioritize ROI and vendor credibility over price. A study of startups’ pricing evolution reveals a pattern: a 60% ACV increase from seed to expansion, 40% from expansion to growth, and 20% from growth to IPO stage. Survey results underscore the positive impact of pricing changes; a 10-24% revenue growth is typical, with earlier innovative startups seeing more substantial gains. Hence, strategic pricing aligns value with revenue, propelling business growth.


Addressing pertinent questions, we clarify the intricacies of average ACV, specifically focusing on per-account pricing and the influence of feature enhancements. Early-stage companies often underprice initially and later introduce higher-tier packages or add-ons for monetization. Pricing strategies encompassing expansion revenue and contracts are complex. For SaaS startups, ACV largely stems from new customer cohorts in the early stages, with revenue diversifying as existing clients expand spending. Pricing evolution aligns with value delivery and customer expansion, shaping a dynamic SaaS market. As queries keep pouring in, the significance of pricing nuances becomes evident, fueling our exploration into this critical domain.


Mistake 2:  You picked the wrong value metric


Selecting the right value metric in SaaS is akin to navigating a complex chessboard of customer value and revenue capture. Once set, altering this metric becomes a herculean task. This value metric, the linchpin of pricing strategy, defines not just how customers perceive the product's worth but also shapes the revenue model. It's not just about numbers; it's about understanding the customer deeply. 


Take Salesforce, for example; their pricing revolves around user seats, a common practice in the industry. However, innovation lies in divergence. An intriguing case study involves a company in the RFP management sector. Traditional pricing was seat-based, predictable, and in line with industry standards. A new entrant disrupted this by offering unlimited user seats, charging based on concurrent RFPs instead. This approach enhanced collaboration, providing better responses and fostering customer loyalty. Innovation here was not just a pricing strategy but a narrative, emphasizing uniqueness and unparalleled value. 


Another instance is VTS, a CRM platform for commercial real estate. Initially charging per building, they transitioned to square footage-based pricing, aligning costs with how landlords perceive property values. This shift increased overall revenue and customer satisfaction, demonstrating the power of nuanced pricing alignment. These examples underscore that the right value metric isn't just a number; it's a story, a differentiation, and an opportunity for growth, shaping the very essence of customer-product relationships in the intricate world of SaaS.


Mistake 3: You make it hard to buy


Selecting the right value metric is the pivotal challenge that resonates profoundly with customers and aligns seamlessly with their perceived value. This selection process involves considering multiple criteria such as flexibility for gradual expansion, alignment with customer value, predictability for cost estimation, and scalability within an average account. 


These metrics can coexist, with a primary value metric at the core and auxiliary metrics, known as "fencing metrics," setting usage caps to encourage customers towards higher-tier plans. The choice between seat-based and usage-based pricing models demands a deep understanding of customer preferences. 


Usage-based metrics delve into sub-categories like API calls or data volume catering to specific needs. The customer's buying journey is another pivotal aspect, reflecting the evolution of software usage dynamics. Product-led growth (PLG) has redefined this journey, emphasizing seamless access and trial opportunities. 


Slack's model exemplifies this, offering free usage with upgrade prompts upon usage limits being reached, and thus seamlessly blending user experience with compelling purchasing triggers. The debate between freemium and free trial models persists, with a rising trend in the reverse trial approach. Businesses like Airtable, Crisp, and Cal have successfully implemented this method, initiating users with fully featured versions and creating urgency through trial periods. Logical, a legal tech platform, showcased adaptability by transitioning from annual subscriptions to a pay-as-you-go model, enabling customers to pay based on actual data usage. In this complex pricing landscape, adaptability and a deep understanding of customer expectations serve as the linchpins for sustainable growth.


Mistake 4: Your usual path is broken


Navigating the complexities of software pricing is akin to opening Pandora's box, especially in the context of product-led growth. The question at hand involves how to maintain the delicate balance between enabling self-serve, product-led growth while ensuring pricing packages don't impede growth or deter value realization. The key lies in differentiating between input and output metrics—inputs being steps towards value realization, and outputs reflecting the actual value perceived. A prime example is SurveyMonkey, which employs survey response limits but ensures the survey remains active, providing a clear path to additional value for a price. Usage paywalls should align with what's relevant to the ideal customer profile, creating healthy friction for non-core users.

When it comes to packaging, the all-in, modular, and good-better-best models are the options. Most businesses lean towards the good-better-best model, offering increasing features from good to best, allowing a natural upsell path. Add-ons are akin to McDonald's bundling fries and soda, appealing to specific audiences or specific usage times, enhancing overall value. 

HubSpot's success story sheds light on the usage-based value metric. By integrating contact-based pricing, HubSpot ensured its pricing model aligned with customer success. As companies evolve, these strategies underscore the importance of adapting and aligning pricing with customer needs, ensuring sustained growth and customer satisfaction.


Mistake 5: Your pricing is static


Exploring pricing strategies, the discussion highlights the challenge of bundling capabilities within good, better, and best offerings versus presenting them as standalone products. Kyle emphasizes aligning offerings with distinct buyer personas and budget allocations, using HubSpot's segmented products as an example of strategic separation to cater to diverse user needs. As companies evolve, pricing structures must adapt, transitioning from single-product simplicity to multi-tiered complexity, often leading to intricate landscapes with numerous add-ons and features.


Vital to this evolution is meticulous research and testing, yet many companies neglect in-depth pricing exploration. Methodologies like the Van Westendorp approach offer valuable insights into psychological thresholds and buyer psychology. In lean teams and early-stage companies, signs like swift purchases without price scrutiny or disparities between usage growth and expenditure signal the need for pricing reviews. The discussion stresses pricing's strategic importance, emphasizing alignment with broader company goals and the necessity of comprehensive risk mitigation before implementation. For further insights or unresolved queries, reaching out to industry experts offers a valuable resource for refining pricing strategies.


Thanks to Kyle Poyar for sharing this information.


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