We have had the privilege of posing this question—Who’s in charge of value in your organization?—to thousands of leaders around the world. We're usually met with a momentary staring ovation, and then someone will inevitably shout out, “Everyone!” Really? Ron lives in California, where he's told everyone “owns” the Golden Gate Bridge. He would like to sell his portion; unfortunately he encounters what economists call the tragedy of the commons.
If everyone owns something, no one does. No one has an incentive to protect and maintain the value of the asset in question. Think public toilet.
Pricing is far too important to the viability of the company to be left to mediocre pricers. No other area—not cost cutting, efficiency increases, or growth—can have as large an impact on profitability as does pricing.
It is time for organizations to recognize that if they are serious about pricing commensurate with the value they create, they need to establish a core group of enthusiastic pricers to make pricing a core competency within the firm.
Appoint a Chief Value Officer
To understand value, we have to understand the customer. This is not accomplished with more accurate cost accounting, better project management, or any other internal initiative. Companies have a wealth of information on how long things take and what they cost; they have a paucity of metrics on the value they create for customers.
Someone needs to be in charge of value. BMW has a Customer Experience Officer, responsible for the entire BMW experience, from decision to purchase, to service and trade-in. Many professional firms have now created this position, with the CVO overseeing a value council.
One question that continually comes up is what are the traits of a successful CVO, or value council member? The acronym LACEY is a useful framework for identifying what characteristics are essential for a successful CVO:
An organization will never rise above its leadership. CVOs implicitly and explicitly understand that the firm’s prices are the language in which they strategically communicate value to customers.
Perhaps the first important characteristic of a successful CVO is high self-esteem; they believe that their company’s services are worth every penny they charge. There is great nobility in being paid what you are worth.
A CVO must have demonstrable leadership skills, while commanding respect and creditability across multiple functions within the firm. She will be responsible for communicating the importance of pricing and value to the media, thereby negating price wars within the industry.
Since competitors tend to judge a firm’s pricing behavior based upon its most ruthless actions, think of the message appointing a CVO would send to others in your industry about how committed you are to price for value and not engaging in self-destructive price wars.
Leadership is essential, and leadership demands tough decisions (the word decision comes from Latin decidere, meaning “to cut off”), and some times individual opinions have to be sacrificed for the good of the organization. Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister of Britain, was fond of pointing out: “Consensus is the negation of leadership.”
The CVO and members of the value council have to view pricing as an enormous opportunity for the firm to create and capture value, rather than a limitation imposed on them by the market, which they have no control over, like the weather. Pricing is far too important to assign to narrow minds. Pricers have to be intellectually curious, constantly learning, reading, and studying why humans behave the way they do.
Look for a CVO who is moving through the five levels of learning: awareness, awkwardness, application, assimilation, and art. Pricing is an iterative process of the mind and it will always require human judgment.
A CVO and value council that does not have the support of the CEO are destined to be feckless. Effective centralized pricing has to have total authority, which needs to be vested in one individual so there is one throat to choke.
Taking it a step further, the CVO should report directly to the CEO. This will send a powerful message throughout the organization that the leaders are serious about value and pricing, as well as to competitors, thereby possibly reducing the threat of price wars. This also provides a competitive advantage, since competitors can only monitor historical pricing, not value.
Perhaps the largest commitment required will be in the area of pricing talent. Since this is a relatively new skill in the marketplace, talent is presently hard to find, and firms will have to develop it internally.
If resources are limited, the best advice is: Read, read, read. There are many more books out there on pricing than there were even ten years ago. Assign the council a reading list, and make every member teach what they learned, and what they think the firm should do differently as a result, to their colleagues.
There are also graduate level courses on pricing taught at many universities’ executive education divisions, which are worth the price of admission. Be sure to join the Professional Pricing Society, which provide seminars, workshops, and a chance to share intellectual capital with other pricers.
As Professor Ernest Rutherford, the man who split the atom, said: “It’s true we don’t have much money so what we have to do is think.”
Also, as with any new initiative there is bound to be inevitable mistakes, failures, and setbacks. The CVO must be committed to the process. Pricing is hard, but so is training for the Olympics, or anything else worth doing. Obtaining a competitive advantage is never free. Determination and commitment defeats diffidence.
The CVO has to take a stand for the customer, constantly asking how the company can provide more value. They have to be willing to experiment and cannot be prisoners of the past. “That is the way we have always done it,” should inspire nothing but contempt from CVOs.
Soren Kierkegaard wrote, “Purity of soul is to will one thing.” What is more important than to champion the cause of value creation within today’s organizations? A CVO is never satisfied with the status quo because they will constantly be on the search for new ways of doing things, all the while eliminating procedures and processes that do not add value to the customer. This is the CVO mandate.
Out of all of the characteristics in LACEY, we will admit a certain amount of uncertainty as to the implications of this last one. We are not suggesting you cannot teach an old dog new tricks. Instead, research on age and innovation suggests you should not expect an old dog to innovate a new trick to add to the repertoire.
If organizations want innovation and dynamism, they will have to give more authority and responsibilities to their youthful team members. At the least, some people in their twenties or thirties should be on the value council. Organizations, like people, tend to calcify with age, and youth can keep the blood pumping at a more vigorous pace.
No doubt they will make more mistakes and incur more failure, yet risk is where profits come from. What is the alternative? Ossification is not an option.
Not Final Thoughts
It is often said we get what we measure. If this is true, isn’t it time we measure what we want to become? Who in your company is measuring value? Unless someone in your organization owns the value function, it will not get the proper executive attention, respect, and resources it deserves.
If you are competing against a firm with a CVO—either for customers or talent—you may well be at a severe competitive disadvantage. The Roman God Janus had two sets of eyes, one to see what lay behind and the other to see what lay ahead. A CVO is an outward-looking position, with duties carried out in a world of risk, uncertainty, innovation, and faith in the future, where value is solely arbitrated by the customers your firm is privileged to serve. If the only set of eyes you possess look behind you—at historical costs, hours, activities, and efforts—you are destined for a perilous future.
So, who is in charge of value in your company?
Other Books and Resources
Pricing on Purpose: Creating and Capturing Value, Ron Baker.
Human Accomplishment, Charles Murray (for the link between youth and innovation)