I’ve met hundreds of founders over the years, and most, particularly early-stage founders, share one common go-to-market gripe: Pricing.
For enterprise software, traditional pricing methods like per-seat models are often easier to figure out for products that are hyperspecific, especially those used by people in essentially the same way, such as Zoom or Slack. However, it’s a different ballgame for startups that offer services or products that are more complex.
Most startups struggle with a per-seat model because their products, unlike Zoom and Slack, are used in a litany of ways. Salesforce, for example, employs regular seat licenses and admin licenses — customers can opt for lower pricing for solutions that have low-usage parts — while other products are priced based on negotiation as part of annual renewals.
You may have a strong champion in a CIO you’re selling to or a very friendly person handling procurement, but it won’t matter if the pricing can’t be easily explained and understood. Complicated or unclear pricing adds more friction.
Early pricing discussions should center around the buyer’s perspective and the value the product creates for them. It’s important for founders to think about the output and the outcome, and a number they can reasonably defend to customers moving forward. Of course, self-evaluation is hard, especially when you’re asking someone else to pay you for something you’ve created.
This process will take time, so here are three tips to smoothen the ride.
Pricing is a journey
Pricing is not a fixed exercise. The enterprise software business involves a lot of intangible aspects, and a software product’s perceived value, quality, and user experience can be highly variable.
The pricing journey is long and, despite what some founders might think, jumping headfirst into customer acquisition isn’t the first stop. Instead, step one is making sure you have a fully fledged product.
If you’re a late-seed or Series A company, you’re focused on landing those first 10-20 customers and racking up some wins to showcase in your investor and board deck. But when you grow your organization to the point where the CEO isn’t the only person selling, you’ll want to have your go-to-market position figured out.
Many startups fall into the trap of thinking: “We need to figure out what pricing looks like, so let’s ask 50 hypothetical customers how much they would pay for a solution like ours.” I don’t agree with this approach, because the product hasn’t been finalized yet. You haven’t figured out product-market fit or product messaging and you want to spend a lot of time and energy on pricing? Sure, revenue is important, but you should focus on finding the path to accruing revenue versus finding a strict pricing model.