Wednesday, July 1, 2015

13 times You Should Never Discount

A quick review of the Profit Reports generated by several knowledge-based distributor associations reveals a few undeniable facts:
• Distributors sell thousands of SKUs
• Distributors sell to thousands of customers
• This equates to millions of customer/product combinations

Another point dwells just below the surface. While it is harder to spot without lining up the reports over long period of time, our research indicates the typical distributor discounts more when times are good than when they are bad.

You would think that margins would go down in tough times and up in good times, but the preliminary results indicate just the opposite. Perhaps times of economic growth cause us to loosen up our grip on pricing mechanisms. Maybe we get just a little sloppy. Or, perhaps our customers rev-up their negotiating strategies. Still, we find ourselves discounting.

As we say here in Iowa, "let’s put some lipstick on this pig."  Our customers don’t think poorly of us because we discount. They have even put a kinder name on the beast – they call it “leveraging the relationship," “customer concessions” or “rollbacks."  You can thank Wal-Mart for that last one.

They reason - their size, industry sector, quantity of purchases, advanced ordering techniques, or plushness of their office carpet somehow justify a price slightly lower than
your norm. In extreme cases, we have discovered situations where customers insisted on discounts because of clerical error. Really, the inside sales person made an error in a one-time quote and the customer insisted on the price for the next 12 months. My guess is, if times were tough, the distributor sales manager would have fought and argued to get the money back, but what the hay-- times are good.

Other times, we discount without the customer’s assistance. In these cases, our purchasing department makes a special buy. Instead of putting the extra margin in our pocket, we get discount drunk – dishing out special deals to everyone who crosses our path. Don’t believe me? Next time copper takes a jump, watch electrical sales guys fight to sell their customers copper wire at last week’s older and lower copper price. That’s a form of wacky discounting that seems to only happen in distributor-land.

I realize these discounting practices have been going on for a very long time. Further, old habits are hard to kick. But join me for just two minutes while we talk about the 13 situations where you should never discount.

1) Never discount to make your quota or goal.
There are salespeople who really do try to end their years with a bang by offering some amazing discounts. This strategy seems to be part of the American lexicon. Just listening to radio or TV for a couple of hours you will most likely hear ads touting end of the year (month or week) discounts from car dealers, appliance stores and carpeting outlets. Remember, these people sell on price. When knowledge-based distributors get sucked into this mentality – they lose. Don’t be tempted to offer up an end of the year deal… ever.

2) Never discount on emergency stock.
Good wholesalers hold onto certain items “just in case." Here’s a quick example. A number of companies in your area use gigantic fuses to protect their plant’s electrical system from catastrophic failure. This almost never happens but you decided to keep a couple of these fuses around as a customer service. It’s emergency stock. When the emergency rolls around, price should not be an object of discussion.

3) Never discount on your exclusive products. 
There are products where you are the exclusive supplier. If you happen to be the only source for the product, why would you offer a discount? It doesn’t make sense.

4) Never discount spare parts.
Really, you already sold the solution. It has provided the customer with years of solid operation and finally something must be repaired. Why would you discount these parts? Providing a special price here really won’t guarantee you future business. It will guarantee you less margin.

5) Never discount a modification to an existing product.
An existing product needs to be modified to work with new equipment. Adding the modification extends the life and the serviceability of the product, discounting is not needed.

6) Never discount weekend or after-hours deliveries.
It’s totally amazing that distributors will go to the trouble of opening their doors for after-hours pickups or weekend deliveries then succumb to a request for a cheaper price. Say no to discount requests here. If the customer really wants a lower price, ask them to wait until Monday. If they won’t wait; you shouldn’t cut your price.

7) Never discount on parts required after troubleshooting.
If you or your distributor specialist help the customer figure out what is wrong with their existing product and helped establish the solution, say no to requests for a discount.

8) Never discount after the fact.
One negotiation ploy purchasing types have learned is the request for a lower price after the product is installed. They will ask nicely and you should respond nicely as well. Sorry, but we cannot do anything about the price now.

9) Never discount on a first time sale.
If your price level is right (and it should be,) this is wrong. We have heard of companies offering a “welcome to our business” discount. Here they unilaterally provide a discount to customers who have placed their first order. In our opinion this sends a message – everything we sell is priced high, so always ask us for a better price.

10) Never discount to someone who is slow pay.
Unfortunately some of our customers are slow to pay. This fact alone most likely justifies a higher price. I ask sales managers repeatedly, why discount?

11) Never discount a safety related product.
We’re not talking about the consumables sold by Safety Distributors here. Instead, think of products which impact workplace safety. Things like machine guarding, particulate monitors and other products. Safety shouldn’t be purchased on price. You shouldn’t sell it on price.

12) Never discount to convince a customer to return,
This one may sound strange, but when you offer discounts to convince an ex-customer to return to the fold, you are in essence sending the message that you are willing to match any price on the planet. It’s a reverse auction on steroids.

13) Never discount without getting something else in return.
When you come to think of it, this really isn’t discounting – it’s called negotiating. When you are absolutely forced to make some type of price concession, get something of equal value in return. Freight, long term commitment, other products which are not discounted or payment terms all can offset a lower price. As you do this, remember whatever you’re given in return must have a value.

We don’t want to discount our time together…
Many people inadvertently discount because they are unsure of where the pricing should be. In the world of wholesale distribution, this puts pricing responsibility on the shoulders of someone who should be concerned about helping the customer create real value.

Salespeople, customer service reps, counter sales folks respond to customer need when pricing levels are systemized and maintained properly. Pricing expert David Bauders of Strategic Pricing Associates recommends that his clients to establish a management-level Pricing Czar. This person bears the responsibility of establishing company price.

We recommend three actions to virtually every client we work with:

1) Build a process around sales activities.
There is no such thing as an informal process. If you lack metrics, coaching points and the ability to train on your process, you need to reevaluate your process.

2) Pricing responsibility belongs in the hands of somebody besides the line sales team.
I am not saying you don’t need the sales team’s input. I also believe in aligning gross margin with sales compensation. But unless there are some rules and some separation, your sales team will give away margin. It’s too prevalent to argue away.

3) Unless you understand the value you provide to customers, you will have a tough time with the first two – Measuring and understanding the value you provide makes you price proof.

Call on us if you want to argue these points. We would love to be proven wrong.

If you are a distributor specialist involved in the pricing process – we would like to interview you for some research we are conducting.

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