Why Pricing Requires CEO and Csuite Backing 👨🏼💼 Podcast Ep. 118
In today’s episode, we will talk about CEO and Csuite backing for pricing transformation.
[00:40] Why is it important to have CEO and Csuite backing?
[07:16] What is sensible CEO and Csuite backing?
[12:14] How to make pricing a priority for CEO and Csuite backing?
[17:12] What Truly Drives Pricing Transformation With CEO and Csuite Backing
Why Pricing Requires CEO and Csuite Backing
Aidan: In today’s episode, we want to dig a bit deeper into a topic we’ve covered a couple of times in previous episodes. And that it’s vital, it’s so important that a pricing transformation or a major pricing project has CEO, C-suite backing.
And I suppose today we’re going to dig into that. We’re gonna do a bit of a question-and-answer format. Cause it works quite well. So we’ll be asking our resident pricing expert, Joanna, these questions. I suppose then she’s smiling at that suggestion. So the first one is, I suppose an open-ended question.
Why is it important to have CEO and Csuite backing?
Joanna: Well, let’s start with the simple truths and facts about pricing. The importance of CEO and C-Suite backing comes down to the returns that you can get from pricing. They’re more than substantial and very impressive when you compare a change in price to changes in cost volume, a mix for instance.
So you can say if you were going for a 2% increase in prices, versus not increasing prices, can lead to an impressive and direct flow to the bottom line of 20 to 30%. Obviously, here I’m thinking, volume is the same and constant and we’ve got our supply chain and costs in control.
But I think you can hear the message here if you just make very small improvements and changes to pricing. You can get a lot of money for it. So that’s why number one, it’s very important that the the C-suite understand how much monetary leverage they have with pricing.
And equally, if they do pricing incorrectly, how much margin they could potentially lose?
Aidan: Okay, so I think we understand, that’s clear that it’s important for the business, but does the CEO have to be involved in this project? Does the Csuite have to be involved? Can they not just delegate it down to a finance manager or someone like that?
Joanna: I like how you mentioned delegating down. It’s always about, I hear this a lot and look, I agree with delegating to the right people, but if that in itself can be a problem. I think initially it’s very important for the executive team. A) to understand the importance of it as I’ve already stressed, and B) to get behind it and to be shown as a consistent voice on the topic of pricing.
Even if their areas of expertise are in supply chain sales, and product pricing. They still need to get behind the pricing project because pricing often touches all of those areas inadvertently. And what we also find, if the executive team, you know, they’re role models for change.
What we commonly see within our clients, if they’re not really behind it, they don’t understand it, they’re not committed, and they’re just more focused on their area, almost this siloed culture. And they’re sort of paying lip service to the role of pricing.
Yes, it’s important we get that. But that really isn’t what I call sponsorship, that’s just lip service to sponsorship. You’ve really gotta take an active role because if the executives don’t do that, then it sends a clear message to anyone, that they’re gonna delegate the responsibility of pricing to that. It’s really not that serious, and they can just tack it on at the end of the normal day job and nothing really gets done. Or if it gets done, it gets done poorly.
Aidan: You know, that makes sense to me. I think we’ve covered also some other podcasts, and how pricing often slips between the gaps. Which function does it fit into? Is it finance? Is it marketing? Or is it sales? Or is it the commercial function, which some companies, let’s be honest, don’t really have?
So, I completely understand that it needs to be for a real pricing project to really work, it needs to work across multiple functions. So I completely understand that. The other thing I think is if, just on this point, if people do what they’re incentivised to do, and I think that concept you mentioned of leadership, role modelling. People know what if the higher-ups care about something. I think there’s an old anecdote about it.
Some executive, what do you care about today? I care about what my boss cares about, and that’s how you get promoted. So I think it is really important that it makes a lot of sense to me.
Joanna: I think, when you mentioned, Where it should be delegated to, should it be the finance manager? And often if there isn’t an established pricing team, it does go to some kind of finance manager often, or a commercial manager. And I think, when it gets down to it, the real reason why you need executive sponsorship, especially if you’re gonna move to strategic pricing or a value-based pricing system, you really do need sponsorship there because what you’re actually saying is, I’m going to change how we think about our customer.
How we think about how we do business, how we think about making money. We’re no longer going to anchor ourselves to our costs. We are no longer just going to look at maximising margin by putting pressure on our suppliers and thinking smart about procurement. We’re actually gonna believe in ourselves and the value of our products, and we are going to articulate that to the market and we are gonna invest in our sales team’s capability. We are going to install a new pricing manager, and we are no longer just going to delegate pricing, a tactical pricing based on cost plus methodology and tools to a finance manager who just rolls out that same, tried and tested legacy pricing method based on cost plus.
Now, that is the crux of why you need sponsorship. It’s a mindset change, it’s a complete culture shift.
And you know what, Aidan, sometimes the CEO needs to be reminded of that because often obviously they’re not, they’re not a value-based pricing expert. They’ve been grounded in that cost-plus modelling and viewpoint of doing business.
Like 99% of businesses have been for the last hundreds of years, but it doesn’t work anymore. So sometimes a good CEO will ask for that additional support and education on why they must go to a new system. Often, they know deep down it’s right, but just like they need to be reminded, their teams need to be reminded because it’s a new habit, it’s a new way of thinking.
And once you’ve got that mindset change in place. You can then build capability and then you can keep reminding of the importance of pricing by getting your executive teams there, sponsoring, educating, nudging the teams, encouraging them, and recognising all the good work they’re doing in new areas rather than reacting and going back to cost plus when things get a bit hairy.
Aidan: I think that makes a lot of sense. Look, I’m assuming we’re not proposing that CEOs go to every meeting and sit in on pricing projects. But, at the same time, clearly, if pricing is successful or if this project, even if it’s a fiasco, the C-suite has to be aware that what’s happening in the business.
They have to be aware of the drivers. What are driving volume change, profitability change, and all that sort of stuff? So, I think the question I’ll ask is, what would you propose would be a sensible level of CEO or C-suite engagement? Would it be a weekly meeting?
Is there reporting style that they need to be looking at? Are they in kickoff meetings? Are they just championing stuff? Where would they be?
Joanna: These are good questions. And actually, I have met a number of CEOs that inadvertently have been the pricing manager for their businesses pretty much because they didn’t have the governance, the setup in the business, the right structures, the right approvals process in the business and everything, therefore was escalated to them by the sales manager or the finance manager.
So inadvertently they had to do all the pricing, like all the tender pricing, the negotiations with customers, and they were the most knowledgeable. However, that’s unsustainable. That’s not the role of the CEO. And a CEO would know that. So, what I would suggest. This is a balance between knowing the principles of pricing.
So everybody needs to have an understanding of the basic principles of value-based pricing (for CEO and Csuite backing).
And you also need to have your organisation set up appropriately and have the right approvals processes in place. So then, where there are serious matters like market changing matters or serious money at risk from a large customer who is threatening to switch and it’s going to impact the P&L. Those sorts of things would and should be escalated. But with a rationale and evidence for supporting the “Why” behind it. So a CEO could comprehensively read through the detail without having to get right into it. And then in my view here, and what I’ve seen work well is that the CEO is almost like a chairman of a meeting.
It’s not the ultimate decision-maker. It’s the people around him or her that need to make that decision. And that overall with the evidence provided that they together make the right call. Does that sort of answer your question? But you see, before I even get there, we’ve got a road of what level of education does a CEO need to know? I think the basic principles, the fundamentals of economics 101 and the reason for the change. Good case studies, understanding the business model changes and trying to align their pricing according to that.
Now, here I’m hearing as well, we also need to get everybody else on board so they trust their go-to people, their sales executive, their commercial executive. So when they feed the information to them, they go, “Okay, that makes sense. Okay. I think we’ve actually got more of a decision here than we actually thought.”
And then together they can make a call. But that does require capability build. And often I think sometimes executive teams shy away from pricing cause they don’t want to invest in themselves and build that capability even in the executive team.
Aidan: You know what? Look, I think any senior leader, whether you’re like a general manager, whether you’re an executive or whether you’re the big dog, realistically you’re short in time.
I think everyone’s short in time. That’s the modern corporate world. You know, meetings, emails, appointments, travel, all this sort of stuff. So, like clearly, any executive’s got a very limited time for a new project, right? So, is there a sort of format or a best practice for dashboard reporting?
Clearly these people, or it’s very unlikely, but clearly they’re not gonna all be on the C-suite. They’re not gonna all be by any means pricing experts or even commercial experts. So clearly there’s gotta be a level of detail that they should have, but that isn’t always granular. I’m assuming there’s some sort of, what would you suggest there? what metrics or what sort of stuff should they be looking at?
And does that change? Through the process? Through the project? Clearly, you know what you’re looking at in week one. To manage something, you need to know the detail. What is the detail they need to know?
Joanna: Okay. Right. When I hear about this, I think, that’s why I started with the rationale, with the impact of pricing on the P&L being quite significant.
That if we can all agree at the C-suite that this is worth the effort, is pricing worth it? Yes, it is. But you’ve got to have an agreement on that. But what I often see is that, yes, executives may agree on that, but deep down they’re not prioritising correctly. So they go, “Yes well this is a priority”, but actually it’s put on the back burner. And then it’s, as you say, it’s delegated to a finance manager. And even though there are major in price increases at the moment, strategic pricing isn’t given the attention and investment that it requires, and then therefore people think it doesn’t work.
So, I think one of the problems here is that you have to have clear priorities as an executive team (CEO and Csuite backing).
And when you say pricing is a priority, you’ve gotta back it up. I think that clarifies a lot. Now, once you’ve decided that actually pricing is a priority, then you’ve got to put in place those commercial systems that I think you’re alluding to aid and that helps fast track and give executives what they want.
So, they are not crawling through the detail of every price rise, every price tender, every account. They just simply don’t have the time for that. But here, you know, to build that structure is a project. And throughout industries, we’re hearing those. To be referred to as pricing transformations.
Now, to really make sure that you wanna fast track that pricing transformation, just gets the fundamentals right, cause I think you just want an answer here. What I would do if I was the CEO of an executive team, I would make the first call here and say, should decision-making in pricing be centralised?
That will cut out huge amounts of work for you. Huge amounts of work because currently, as we all know, in most businesses, there’s discretionary pricing and hundreds of salespeople, and product managers, all having to change setting pricing price overrides. The whole lot’s happening. So it’s very difficult to escalate any sensible recommendation to the executive based on discussionary pricing.
To cut a long story short, if you want clearer answers and fast, think about centralising your strategic decision-making.
But obviously, you are in a complex B2B or B2C business. You want to give your sales teams the flexibility they need to make a sale. So here, think about and consider decentralising execution and putting the two together.
In that instance, you’ll go through a pricing transformation with a much clearer direction, and you’ll be able to be given the information that you require along the way. And over time, things will just get easier, but, I’m not saying this is a journey. It’s not just one or two decisions.
And here you’ve got your silver bullet recommendation. You just have to go through one or two pages and the decision is done. Things that work like that. We are realistic business people here. It doesn’t work in any other area like that. So it doesn’t work in pricing like that. So it’s small steps, but making the right decisions, and being guided by logic, sense and the market.
Aidan: Okay. So I suppose, just maybe a final point, what metrics should they know? And this is, I probably am pushing this point a bit, should they know margins? Should they know the general company’s margins? Should they be aware? I’m assuming they should be aware of the actual pricing strategy that we’re pursuing.
I’m assuming we should. If we’re doing value-based pricing, they should know that.
They should know about if we’re bundling, and they should know about what our overarching pricing strategy is. I’m assuming they should know our margins going up or down. I’m assuming they should know, what we’re doing to prevent margin decline. What we’re doing versus this and versus that? Should they know about it? And again, this is a CEO. I’m almost painting in my mind, a perfect CEO. They should know the values of the company, the pluses and weaknesses are, you know, those value drivers. Should that be something they should be discussed at these meetings?
Joanna: I think this is, I mean, if they were discussing these sorts of things at meetings, it would be great. I rarely see it, however, but yes, I do think that would be absolutely a well-informed executive team meeting.
When I’ve gone into businesses, I’ve often found it’s very difficult for executives to make any call because their teams haven’t been able to provide them with even baselines on price metrics, on margin.
And often you think, “Gosh, it’s astounding.” But even th[e baseline level, like where we at now with costs? It’s incredibly difficult to get that level of detail, especially as we know there’s been major commodity changes and fluctuations and things like that. But in terms of pricing, yes, getting the baselines, understanding price elasticity, understanding the opportunity in long tail pricing.
I think we were talking about that, which connects with elasticity, understanding which parts of your products are highly sensitive and which you, I suppose make a change to pricing and nothing will happen. Those inelastic products, understanding in specifically the value drivers of your customers, Why they’re buying for you?”, those sorts of things are really interesting to executives and once they get that information, they can start piecing it together.
Then they don’t have to go into the details, the nuts and bolts of price management. Then you can trust your pricing team to do their job.
Bottomline: CEO and Csuite Backing
Aidan: Okay, look, I think we’ll leave it there today. I think all this is suggesting to me that wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was some format or system that would make this easy for CEOs to do, wouldn’t that be a valuable product or service?
Joanna: I suppose it would. And, we’ve been working with executives and CEOs in the past few years now on building commercial systems that provide these sorts of answers to and support systems to executives and their teams as they go through a pricing project. And overall what we have found accelerates the pricing transformation by three times shorter than just organically finding things out yourself and putting a hodgepodge of tools together, hoping that, that will fix the problem.
It never does. So yes, there are things out there fortunately for executives. And it’s great to see that these new tools and systems are there.
Aidan: Well, that sounds really interesting, and I think that’s something that I would like to dig into in a future episode. So maybe that’s something we’ll discuss next week. Okay. I think we’ll leave it there today. Everyone has a great weekend.
Joanna: Yeah, thanks a lot.
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