I had a coffee with a ‘comparer’ last week.
Although busier than ever, he was bewildered by a response from a significant prospect.
He had pitched an advice strategy that would have saved the prospect tens of thousands of dollars in the first twelve months of an engagement.
The savings made would far exceed his proposed advice fee.
He didn’t get the gig.
He made contact to seek my advice if his fee was reasonable.
I couldn’t advise on the fee as too much information was missing.
But I could verify he was a ‘Comparer Pricer’.
We’ve all done this. It is almost too easy.
The Comparer Pricer positions their services as being cheaper than the prospect’s current costs or as a relatively small cost to significant savings their advice will uncover.
It is a no-brainer. Isn’t it?
It has ‘worked’ for the industry funds, fast-moving goods providers (e.g. hardware and grocery groups) and many start-up firms who use cheaper pricing as a differentiator.
Unfortunately, once firms and their clients are ensnared in the ‘compare-the-pair’ proposition, getting off the slippery race-to-the-bottom gets harder at precisely the same time as the stakes and consequences get bigger.
Many Comparer Pricers live and die on their proposition sword.
While the financial value to the client is clear, pricing on a saving or a comparison to external cost factors (e.g. a competitor’s price or a win-fall saving) is fundamentally pricing on something totally outside the control of the pricer.
Everyone does it until they either can’t or won’t.
There comes a time for every Comparer Pricer when the growth in their success, demands of success and rising cost bases, create cracks in their proposition, undermining the perceived value proposition and, worse of all, their ability to fund the growth they desperately need to avoid their self-made dependency trap.
When the costs get too high, and the slippery slide gets too steep, some Comparer Pricers reposition their hard-earned experience and become ‘Innovator Pricers’.
THE INNOVATOR PRICER
Innovator Pricers leverage a novelty.
Innovators earn their fee not only on expertise but also because their offer improves the options for their clients.
Innovators continue to get paid for as long as their clients believe their service is novel, is a necessity, and no copy-cat innovators have yet emerged with better innovation.
Whatever the innovation in specific advice niches, managed funds, self-managed superannuation, exchange-traded funds, crypto, underwriting, structuring, aged care or other service, the premiums of being an innovator are good.
Until inevitably, they are not.
Unfortunately for innovators, nature abhors a vacuum.
Technology, copy-cats, regulators and sentiment drive the perennial market waves of creative destruction, all focused on eroding the Innovator Pricer’s premiums and market share.
That’s how markets work.
With promises of $7T balances in Australia’s superannuation account by the end of this decade, expect a gluttony of financial services innovators hell-bent on making today’s offerings as bland as yesteryear’s café bar.
As Innovator and Comparer Price models get too hard, there is a more common and familiar pricer model – the Familiar Pricer.
THE FAMILIAR PRICER
The Familiar Pricer prices familiarity.
Through exemplary service, solid years of respected relationship, and genuine care, advisers slip into familiar pricing like a comfortable pair of slippers.
Pricing comfortable prices to maintain comfortable relationships while delivering comfortable services sounds comfortable, enduring and a great business model.
Unfortunately, the adviser herself (or himself) becomes the value proposition.
This ensures an enduring yet stressful and demanding work life.
Familiar Pricers’ greatest strength is their greatest weakness.
Not only do their clients become familiar with their services from their familiar provider, but they also become familiar with the fees they regularly pay.
Unfortunately, for successful advisory teams built upon a Familiar Pricer approach, the real growth in advisory expertise, value and experience is not matched by the needed increase in fees paid by familiar and loyal clients.
Wanting to maintain familiar revenue streams from familiar clients, loss of loyal clients is not an attractive option. Client subsidisation starts to creep into client bases spreading like wildfire and creating a toxic number of varying service standards. This makes workloads inconsistent, productivity unpredictable and the ability to fund growth pure guesswork.
Being wedded to client-for-life thinking forged during the product-based advice era, Familiar Pricers find that more work creates more revenue, stress, dependency, and less ability to fund the growth, the needed new talent, and the firm’s expansion plans.
Eventually, Familiar Pricers become less familiar with the loyal base and begin the hard search for a prosperous solution to exit their founder’s trap.
A possible answer is why they became advisers in the first place – helping their clients achieve the value important to their lives.
Client Value is the fundamental and unique truth at the foundation of every advice relationship.
Value Pricers enter into advisory relationships with an agreed understanding of the unique value each client seeks as the fundamental reason why an advice relationship exists.
Compared to Comparers, Familiars and Innovators, Value Pricers do not display their credentials, pathways, experience, or product features. They focus on understanding why an advice relationship makes sense and creates a price only upon the client’s value.
Detaching price from familiarity, innovation, and comparisons is impossible, nor is it the intent of Value Pricers.
The intent of Value Pricers is to build a consistent, specific and methodical approach to pricing that is based upon the value experienced by their client base, who are the best pricers of advice value.
Seasoned in pricing conversations since earning our first pocket money, clients will naturally question, object and potentially reject our pricing.
Many advisory teams respond or justify their price using familiarity, innovation or comparison, all uncontrollable, particularly as a firm grows.
Value Pricers never justify their pricing.
The client value is either clear to the client, or it isn’t.
The coffee with the ‘comparer’ was focussing on the wrong value.
What do you reckon?
Photo credit: Strategic Consulting & Training Pty Limited
ABOUT JIM STACKPOOL
For over 30 years, Jim has influenced, coached, and consulted advisory firms across Australia. His consulting firm, Certainty Advice Group, coaches, trains, and builds advisory firms delivering comprehensive, unconflicted advice, with fees priced purely on value. He is growing a strong and collaborative community of advisory firms aligned on Australia’s only Certification Mark advice standard for comprehensive, unconflicted advice – Certainty Advice. He has authored four books regarding financial advice, with his latest – What Price Value – available now since release in March 2022.
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