Monday, November 23, 2015

Forrester's Next Wave? -- Adaptive Subscription Billing with FairPay (+ Zuora, Vindicia, Recurly, Digital River...)

The recent inaugural Forrester Wave Report on Subscription Billing Platforms, shows that the trend toward subscription models -- as an aspect of relationship marketing -- has become very important in many industries.
Key drivers behind the experimentation and subsequent adoption of transformative business model relationships include a desire for stickier customer relationships, a thirst for customer insights, an eagerness to capitalize on the cloud, and an inclination to experiment with connected products.
The next-generation FairPay strategy (as described on the Harvard Business Review Blog) has not yet surfaced through Forrester's radar, but it is on the radar of some of the companies Forrester reviewed, including Zuora, and Vindicia.

FairPay further transforms subscriptions and similar recurring relationships, to re-center the customer journey on value -- adaptively seeking win-win value propositions. This can change the fundamental nature of the customer relationship and how we think about pricing and selling services. It is especially relevant to B2C businesses (and SMB-oriented B2B).

Companies in the subscription/recurring revenue space should be thinking about FairPay and how to do controlled trials to see how it can transform their business. More about that below, but first some general insights from Forrester. (A free copy of this $2,495 Forrester report is available from Zuora.)

"Innovation Is Enabling An Era Of Continuous Customer Relationships"
Firms are shifting from one-time perpetual sales or fixed monthly subscriptions to consumption models that blend one-time, subscription, and usage-based billing... CEOs recognize this shift toward business models that reflect the value of the relationship with the customer:
“There’s a secular movement that’s happening . . . more to an annuity relationship as well as a subscription relationship. These are the long-term relationships we want to have with all customers.” Satya Nadella, CEO Microsoft (May 2015)
“If you went to bed last night as an industrial company, you’re going to wake up today as a software and analytics company.” Jeff Immelt, CEO GE (October 2014)
“We’ve gone from selling boxes, cloud, mobility, or any other solution, to partner with customers on their outcomes.” John Chambers, CEO Cisco (May 2015) 
The report outlines "four key drivers behind the experimentation and subsequent adoption of transformative business model relationships that firms have with their customers" -- two of these are significantly enhanced by FairPay:
  • A desire for stickier customer relationships. ... an additional emphasis on loyalty...
  • A thirst for customer insights. build long-term relationships, monitor engagement, and perform sentiment analysis. 
The eight vendors Forrester reviewed all serve both B2C and B2B businesses, "Zuora, Vindicia, Digital River, and Recurly had unique strengths in supporting consumer or hybrid B2C or B2C-focused subscription scenarios." ("Apttus, Aria Systems, goTransverse and SAP hybris were especially well suited to supporting complex B2B billing scenarios.")

Forrester also noted that some of these vendors have strong relationships with Big Five consulting firms, as well as many ERP and CRM platform providers.

I have had discussions with some of these companies (notably Zuora), and have had expressions of interest by them in adding FairPay support to their offerings if a customer has interest. Should your firm want to consider testing FairPay, please contact me to assist in assembling the appropriate resources (including such platform vendor services, as well as academic researchers willing to help design and evaluate trials). I have been working on FairPay as a pro-bono project, and am happy to explain the concepts, and help companies develop applications of it, at no charge.

How FairPay strengthens customer relationships to change the subscription game

Why you should want to try FairPay? The short answer is better and more profitable relationships with more customers who value your services. It is especially attractive in markets like digital content and services that offer experience goods that are cheap to replicate but costly to create, and for which managing and quantifying the customer's perception of value is a challenge not well met by one-size-fits-all pricing methods. FairPay adaptively seeks personalized price discrimination in a way that customers accept as fair.

This blog includes an Overview of FairPay and a sidebar on How FairPay Works (just to the right if reading this at There is also a guide to More Details (including links to a video). Some of the posts most relevant to subscription billing platforms are:
A significant and growing portion of our economy is conducted in ongoing customer relationships -- FairPay is the way to adaptively seek win-win in those relationships, to make them stronger and more profitable over time. Let's work together to see how to make that happen for your business.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Price = Value

Price = Value. The essential logic of FairPay is that Price = Value context, and over time.  Or at least it should, and an efficient economics will seek to approximate that.

Isn't that only fair? -- the only win-win way to do business? Why should we -- both producers and consumers -- settle for prices that are anything less than the best reasonable approximation of the actual value we receive?

FairPay is a new logic for conducting ongoing relationships that adaptively seek win-win value propositions in which price = value.

  • The core idea is that prices should equate to value. Not the producer's preconception of value for an average consumer, but what value a particular consumer actually perceives as realized  in the experience of using the product or service, in the fullness of their individual context.
  • Such a concept of price = value is win-win for both the producer and the consumer. They agree to do business if they expect a value surplus over cost, and both benefit if they divide that value surplus fairly -- fair value to the consumer, while providing a fair profit to sustain and motivate the producer. It allows a producer to provide value to a maximum number of consumers who seek it, in a way that can maximize revenue and profit as well -- especially for products and services (such as digital content) for which consumers may challenge any pre-set price as arbitrary and unfairly out of line with their actual perceived value.
  • Adaptively seeking such win-win value propositions is required because the valuation considerations are complex. It is hard to do this accurately for any one transaction (which is why value-based pricing is now done only in high value B2B contexts). But an adaptive, intuitively reasonable approximation can be cooperatively converged upon over a series of transactions -- and can continuously adjust as things change over time.
  • Ongoing relationships provide an environment that justifies and enables the process of adaptively seeking those win-win value propositions. If the marginal costs of the product/service are low, producers can afford to take limited risks at the start of a relationship (just as they do with free trials or freemium), in hopes of building a productive and loyal relationship that is profitable over the lifetime of the relationship.
  • FairPay is a new logic in that this idea -- that price must be co-created, as a dynamic and personalized approximation of value as exchanged -- creates a very different conceptual framework for how our markets work. It shifts us from a mentality of take-it-or-leave-it prices pre-set by producers, which are often unfair, to a cooperative process of creating value in a way that explicitly seeks to be fairly win-win.
From this perspective, FairPay is a form of co-pricing for services, in which buyer and seller agree on a process to adaptively seek a win-win value exchange -- not focused just on single transactions, but over the life of their relationship. That ongoing relationship perspective opens up a whole new dimension in customer relationships that can deeply alter how we do business -- transforming the nature of the customer journey, as well as the workings of our broader business ecosystems.

This formulation encapsulates the core conceptual perspective that I have absorbed over the past year, drawing on current marketing and service science theory (see my recent posts about ISSIP and the Naples Forum on Service).

Those with a purely practical focus might skip the rest of this post and turn to more pragmatic information on FairPay. The core dynamic of the FairPay choice architecture is described in the sidebar and the practical implications and applications to various businesses are discussed throughout this blog. Check out the Overview, and More Details

Conceptual Perspectives on this New Logic for Business
The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence, it is to act with yesterday's logic.   --Peter Drucker
That quote is one of the inspirations behind an emerging reformulation of marketing -- the idea of a "Service-Dominant Logic" (S-D-L), in contrast to the "Goods-Dominant Logic" that developed over the past centuries -- "yesterday's logic." Now we are in a service economy, and are beginning to see that the value of goods is really in how they enable a service -- for example, the value of a car has little to do with the physical product in itself -- its value is in how it provides the service of transportation, in a particular use and context. Is it reliable, comfortable, safe, economical, fun? what mixture, to meet what needs? (Long ago a wealthy friend of mine owned an expensive new Jaguar, but was afraid to drive it far from home for fear it would break down -- high price, costly to create, but low value.) The value of services is understood to be "co-created" by the provider and the consumer in a particular use-context. This has many important implications that have been the subject of an extensive body of work. Proponents of this thinking (including the related field of service science) have been among the most receptive to the ideas of FairPay, such as at my Naples Forum and ISSIP presentations.

I pick up on this further now, by suggesting that what FairPay adds might be thought of as a Value-Dominant Logic (V-D-L) -- as opposed to yesterday's Price-Dominant Logic (P-D-L). FairPay offers a process for seeking fair value, in which price becomes emergent from buyer's and seller's interactions over time. Thus price remains the metric of net value-in-exchange, on which our economy is centered, but now price tracks to value-in-context instead of being pre-set in ways that track poorly to value. The processes of FairPay -- as embodied in cycles of customer journeys -- set price to approximate value. This not only can transform business, but makes a better economics, because prices that track to value make the economy more efficient and productive.

This builds on an earlier post that describes a thought experiment based on imagining an economic demon that reads the minds of buyers and seller to determine the actual value-in-context for each transaction, figures out the value surplus (over cost), and negotiates an equitable sharing of that value surplus between the producer and consumer. Prices set by such a demon would be win-win for both sides. The FairPay process of repeating dialogs about value over a series of transactions serves as a way to approximate what that demon knows, at least on average, over time.

Another post describes how this can be viewed as an invisible handshake -- an agreement between the producer and consumer to work together through the FairPay process to try to come to a common understanding of individual value propositions over time. While this emergent approximation may not be very accurate for any one transaction (especially when the relationship is new), the process seeks to converge on a level of fairness over time, as the parties get to understand one another.

This is win-win for producers and consumers because it allows producers to sell to all consumers who find value in the producer's service, at prices that are dynamically personalized to approximate ideal price discrimination.  That leads to a near-maximum number of profitable and loyal relationships, to maximize total revenue and total value creation. It also enables a near-maximum number of risk-free trials by consumers who think they might find value. All of this brings more value to more people.

Price ≠ Value

We are so used to our current practices of seller-pre-set prices that discriminate poorly (yesterday's logic), that we tend to not realize how that distorts our economy and makes it inefficient. Why do all users of a service -- such as digital newspaper or digital music or video subscription service -- pay the same price? Some use such services heavily, others lightly. Some obtain high value from the services, others just minimal levels of value. Yet they all pay the same price. Not only is that unfair, but it distorts our markets, as a deadweight loss. Many pay less than they should -- and many forgo using such services at all because they the price is too high, even though a lower price would create value and profit.

At a theoretical level, one of the open challenges of service research is that its focus on value-in-context works well at a microeconomic level, but does not translate well into macroeconomics, because value-in-context is hard to measure at a macro level. I suggest the reason is that macroeconomics is centered on price, and in current practice Price ≠ Value. How can our macroeconomics be effective when Price ≠ Value? Revenue is the total of a firm's prices, but total revenue tracks poorly to total value. Similarly for GDP. If we can get prices to track better to value, then our whole economics will be centered on that, and will work better.

Broad considerations of value

Another implication of this Value-Dominant Logic is that value should be very broadly defined to include all aspects that matter to the producer and consumer. Many of the current challenges in getting businesses to better address social values stem from the limited scope of prices, since they are not set to reflect such broader values. We speak of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Creating Shared Value (CSV) and triple or quadruple bottom lines because our current bottom lines are missing many important components of value. Here again, FairPay provides a rich broadening -- Price = Value, including whatever social aspects of value matter to the consumer. If the consumer values broader social benefits, they can reflect that directly in the price they pay, which then adds directly into the bottom line..

Making it happen

It seems clear that we should be seeking prices that map better to value. We should be exploring how to do that. FairPay suggests an architecture for a process that does that. If the particular process I suggest is found to not work as well as hoped, perhaps understanding why, in detail, will lead us to variant processes and/or process architectures that will work better. One way or another, going down this path should lead us to more value for all of us.

Monday, November 2, 2015

How Consumers Can Nudge Corporations for Good

Richard Thaler raised some interesting points about The Power of Nudges, for Good and Bad in a NY Times opinion piece on 10/31. "Nudges, small design changes that can markedly affect individual behavior, have been catching on" he observes, and then explains his concern that "Many companies are nudging purely for their own profit and not in customers’ best interests."

He concludes the piece with this observation (emphasis added):
As customers, we can help one another by resisting these come-ons. The more we turn down questionable offers like trip insurance and scrutinize “one month” trials, the less incentive companies will have to use such schemes. Conversely, if customers reward firms that act in our best interests, more such outfits will survive and flourish, and the options available to us will improve.
I take that as a nice statement of the power of FairPay, a new framework for choice architectures designed to use the power of nudges to adaptively seek win-win value propositions, and to directly reward firms that work with us to serve our joint best interests.

  • Using FairPay, firms and consumers can jointly create a virtuous cycle in which the consumer nudges the firm to understand what they value and are willing to pay for, and the firm rewards those consumers who work with them by delivering more of what those consumers show that they value. 
  • This builds customer journeys around cycles architected to build a mutually beneficial relationship of service, value, profit, and loyalty.

From this perspective, the appeal of FairPay is in how it deepens the relationship between a firm and its consumers to be more open and responsive, and shifts focus toward value -- in context, in the broadest sense, over the life of the relationship,

  • It not only channels the nudges from the company to the consumer, but also creates a framework for nudges from the consumer to the company. 
  • Consumers who use FairPay fairly will get the most value, and companies who use FairPay effectively will attract and keep the most profitable and loyal customers.

- - -

The core dynamic of the FairPay choice architecture is described in the sidebar and the broader implications are discussed throughout this blog. (Check out the Overview, and More Details.)  Some posts of particular relevance to nudging for good: