Public Displays of Pricing

Eric Sink has a blog post about his experience in trying to get pricing information out of a vendor whose products he was looking into. Their prices weren't listed on the web site (strike 1), so he had to fill out a web form to request a price. The response he got back was a request for his phone number so that a salesperson could call him (strike 2). Specifically, they wanted to talk about his application and how he planned to use their product (strike 3).

I've run into this several times with development tools and components and it typically tells me one key thing about the vendor involved... you want to jack up the price based on my ability to pay. More succinctly, you want to find out my "price sensitivity" which is just a fancy way of saying, "What it's worth to you?"

That tells me the vendor isn't sure what their product is worth in the market. And that they don't think my time is worth much either (not to be an ass, but I'd like to avoid 30-minute phone calls when the topic could be covered in a 3-sentence email). Finally, it says that you (the vendor) want to dictate to me (the customer) the nature of our relationship.

"How I plan to use your product?" -- What if I'm a rich, whacked out philanthropist who buys software component licenses, reads the Quick-Start Guides to my kids at night, and wants to use your install media as the basis for my Chinese throwing star? What's the price then?

My experience with this is typically in dealing with the vendors that make UI components and other development tools. Doesn't matter if you're talking about Java, .NET, or anything else. One vendor I dealt with recently didn't have any pricing on their web site. Instead, you have to contact a salesperson via email and request a price. The response back was along the lines of this (paraphrased, but not by much):

Before I can give you a price, I really need to find out more about your product and your company. We like to look at ourselves as not just a tools vendor, but also as a partner in your business. Knowing more about the pricing of your products and services will help us craft a relationship that benefits you and ensures that you get the most out of our product.

Pretty amazing, huh? In truth, the conversation was more about him asking me questions than me asking him about licensing their product. He wanted to know how many licenses to our products are sold each year. How many end-users does that represent? What's the pricing of our product? What do our sales forecasts look like?

It's probably worth noting here that the vendor I'm referring to makes exactly one development tool -- a UI component for .NET. And I tried to explain it as simply as I could -- "Look, we already license UI tools from companies X, Y, and Z. I can go to their web site and immediately see how much I have to pay per-developer for their tools, and what the deployment licensing is for those tools (royalty-free distribution, named users, etc)."

But trying to get that information from this vendor was nearly impossible. In the end, I ended up on the phone with the president of their North American business, playing a game of 20-Questions. All so he can make an educated guess at how much I might be willing to pay for the use of his product.

By the way, when I finally got a proposed price (after multiple emails and a long phone call), it was about 8-10x what we were willing to pay to license the component. So much for the analysis of our price sensitivity... We went another direction.

Now, I don't even bother. If I go to a site and can't find any sort of pricing information, I move on.