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Ask HN: “Contact us for pricing” nonsense
70 points by gesman on June 15, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 69 comments
I am looking to purchase advanced communication device manufactured by specific vendor - but every single website has this "Contact us for pricing" links.

This certainly is an invitation to sales dance and subsequent spam.

I'd rather avoid that and buy from reseller/store that is clear and opened about their pricing.

This "contact us for pricing" approach certainly doesn't help to win business (at least mine).

Just wonder if this kind of policies are dictated and enforced by actual manufacturer or is that a habit of a specific industry?

A few possible reasons for this:

- You aren't their target audience. I come from enterprise SaaS, where we often force people to talk to someone, and working with sales is not a problem for the people we care about. I know that someone who has your reaction (calling it a "sales dance" and assuming you'll be spammed) is unlikely to be a real buyer, since real buyers are accustomed to the sales process. They also appreciate that sales reps for this type of product can be really valuable. Maybe you're the exception here, but it's worth losing your business to filter out bad leads.

- They've done the math and realized that when they get someone on the phone, they are better able to build a long term relationship and have a substantially greater customer LTV. They lose some customers, but the ones they retain end up being higher enough in value to offset the loss.

- The product can't be sold as a standalone item - it requires setup and integration, and without understanding what you have in place already, they can't give you a quote. Of course, this seems less likely for a hardware solution.

- Related to the above, it's possible that it's a complex product to set up, and they've found that if they don't get you on the phone, you're likely to screw up the setup and get mad at them and/or return it. Better to scare you away up front if you're ultimately just going to take up time and end up getting a refund.

Ultimately, the answer to this question and any like it is that if they're competent, they do this because they've done the research and determined that it is better for them (typically in terms of revenue generation, but really better is defined as they see fit).

> is unlikely to be a real buyer, since real buyers are accustomed to the sales process.

Reasonable but as you are probably aware you are potentially leaving some sales on the table.

I'm the sole tech buyer for my entire company (SME) (because I'm the only techie on staff so it naturally fell to me) and I loathe "Contact us for pricing" enough that given two equal(ish) options I'll pick the one with the "Foo costs X"/"Bar costs Y" pricing.

Also heavy after sales contact (Dell are buggers for this) puts me right off as well, if I buy a product from someone I maybe want one email a quarter with similar products and that is it, if we are in the market for a new product I'll go do the research at that point and buy it.

My time is critical to me because I wear lots of hats and want to get the none-core part of my role done quickly and smoothly.

It's really important for many companies to know what sales they want to leave on the table. You can't be all things to all people, and if you don't know who you want as a customer, it's frequently a bad experience that sucks time, energy, and attention from building the core business.

I totally understand why people don't want to build a relationship with a sales person. However, I don't want transactional customers, which is how I perceive them.

Again, reasonable from both sides. You shouldn't try to sell to everyone.

Yeah, you're the collateral damage - a good buyer but one whose profile looks like a bad buyer. If you know of any good ways to screen for folks like yourself while still keeping out the chaff, let me know :)

I do. Post your prices online. Make these prices be the non-discounted prices. The chaff will balk at the price and move on. The wheat will call you to find out what more you can do.

I hate calling only to find out you're selling for triple the price of comparables because of "magic beans" reasons.

>- The product can't be sold as a standalone item - it requires setup and integration, and without understanding what you have in place already, they can't give you a quote. Of course, this seems less likely for a hardware solution.

>- Related to the above, it's possible that it's a complex product to set up, and they've found that if they don't get you on the phone, you're likely to screw up the setup and get mad at them and/or return it. Better to scare you away up front if you're ultimately just going to take up time and end up getting a refund

Oh man I've run into this and you make an exception for someone, give them pricing and it is just confusion and a mess because they don't need integration.... except for all the integration they need...

Yep - on a related note, those experiences have also led more than one company I've worked at to require that you sign a services contract for implementation when you buy the product. When it's optional, the people who opt out of it are often the people who need it most, and they end up taking up dozens of hours of your support team's time instead of the ten hours they should have spent with your implementation team up front.

You left out the #1 reason: so you can suss out their spending power and level of need so you can charge value-based pricing instead of cost-based pricing. Nothing you wrote is relevant to OP's concern about "call for price".

Most SaaS that is intelligently priced is value-based, even if the price is public. What you mean is that you want to do price discrimination. That's possible but somewhat risky as people will ask for references, and references will sometimes disclose how much they pay, etc. So no, overall the OP has the main reasons right.

Another potential reason- especially for a reseller- is that they don't want to get commoditized. If they're just reselling x product and every reseller puts their price on the website, then one party will cut the price a bit, then another party will cut it more, and pretty soon it's a race to the bottom. Opaque pricing and an air of mystery helps them preserve margins.

Just like healthcare, come to think of it. Good luck finding out what the cost of procedures are at each hospital or provider

I have never gone through the sales dance, but couldn't you try to provoke this by asking all potential suppliers, keeping them aware you're considering all options?

Those are all reasonable positions, though I sometimes wonder whether the assumptions underlying them are correct, particularly the foundational assumption that the sales lost aren't worth it compared to the presumably higher-valued sales retained.

May I ask whether you ever collected hard data, at least internally, from trying this multiple ways, perhaps earlier in the growth of your business if you're well established today? Or did you just hire sales people who know that this is "how things are done" in your industry? In my experience working with businesses aiming for enterprise sales who operate this sort of policy, it is almost always the latter, and there are often principal-agent problems as well because of the compensation arrangements for the sales staff.

In my experience working with both smaller businesses or within larger ones, this definitely does cost a lot of money in lost sales sometimes. However, enterprise sales isn't really my field, and I don't have any frame of reference to know how many such failed transactions happen compared to how much extra those same suppliers might be squeezing out of juicier targets.

Edit: As an example of the sort of deal I'm thinking of here, suppose a business with a headcount in the 10K range didn't pursue a SaaS solution to something that they expected to cost on the order of $1M/year, because the decision-makers lost patience with being given the run-around and instead decided to commission an in-house solution. Is that likely to have been a significant loss to a large SaaS business, or is that kind of customer just too small to worry about in the world of enterprise sales?

I've seen both. I've worked at early stage (seed/A) enterprise startups and have seen the pricing strategy evolve (including moving from publicly listed prices to making people talk to sales). In those cases, we were still really finding out who the right buyers were, so there was a lot of analysis of pipeline and conversions.

There was also a lot of analysis of churn, and for one company that was the big driver of the change - companies that engaged with sales took up measurably less time from customer success post-sale and were much less likely to churn.

That said, I've also come in later and seen the talk to sales culture already there, clearly driven by experience at the VP/C-level.

That said, what I have found to be pretty much universally true is that for enterprise SaaS deals over a certain figure (typically something like 100kish, though it can differ by customer industry/type of software), the buyer expects to talk to someone and won't consider a company that doesn't have a sales team.

Interesting, thanks.

FWIW, in the actual case I was first thinking of, the potential customer did make contact. It wasn't a lack of up-front price specifically that killed that deal, though as things turned out, maybe it was a bad omen. The ultimate cause of the failed deal was the decision-makers becoming frustrated, because after making contact, the sales people just seemed to want ever more information out of them without giving a straight answer on pricing and other basic contractual details.

How much can it cost to process a payment via web form and drop a box in the mail? If anything it should be the phone sales interactions which have a high cost and are sometimes not worth it.

I work around enterprise SaaS sales also and the other reason is that we don't want to give our pricing strategy to our competitors.

Does it mean your pricing isn't competitive against competitors?

Otherwise, wouldn't showing the pricing just upset your competitors?

Also, can't one of your competitor ask you for a quote and figure that out as a fake customer?

Publicly known prices are one of the elements of the ideal free market, as described in economics textbooks. It's well-known that free markets encourage competition and generally push the margins of vendors down, even to subsistence level, which is great for consumers, but obviously not attractive for vendors. So, naturally, the companies do everything to move away from the free market as far as possible - i.e. have a monopoly/oligopoly if possible, or introduce super-convoluted contracts that the average consumer has no chance of understanding (EULAs etc.), hide their pricing etc. In general - the more muddy the situation is, the more it favors bigger players.

Possibly, but not necessarily. You might want to lead with your value before price, especially in an industry where it's difficult to see at first look what the differentiators are. Alternatively, public pricing could start price wars, leading both companies to unsustainable pricing. Or maybe you want to be able to give strategic customers specific discounts. These aren't pricing strategies to make sure your customers get the best price possible -- they are designed to allow me, as the creator of some value, better control over how that value is perceived and deployed.

For a business, you want to build relationships, not just have transactional customers. The more custom or integrated your solution is, the more important this is. (Also, it's the best way to make sure your customers are deriving the most value from your product, which is a win-win.)

Yes, competitors can do that, but that additional friction means they won't stay up to date, and you have a chance to discover what's going on.

As a customer - in this case I don't want to build "relationship" with some random middleman reseller.

I know exactly what i want and rather avoid wasting time on upsells thrown at me.

I understand that sales departments strongly prefer "bait and pimp" vs. "sell and forget" strategy - but some customers and often significant ones will give business to competitors if former is the only strategy to generate revenues.

I've definitely heard this as a reason to not give pricing in enterprise SaaS, but I actually think it's not a very good one. At a couple places I worked, we had someone on the marketing team calling around to competitors and getting quotes. Even when that wasn't the case, we'd learn about competitors' pricing structure when selling into accounts anyway. Your customers don't care about protecting your pricing strategy, and they'll happily talk about it to your competitors if it helps get them a better deal. If you have a unique pricing structure, your competitors will find out quickly, because a prospect will have to explain your quote to get help understanding how it compares to others.

Are they incapable of phoning for a quote?

For buying a piece of hardware — especially one that doesn’t require some complex sw to go with it — doing the “contact us” thing definitely turns a lot of people off. When I see that I think they will start off by pumping me for information about my company and basically trying to figure out if I can afford a high price, then they ask me what my application is and if I’m aware of any other solution than theirs. Then they give me the price and if I say no thanks I proceed to get spammed by them for 6 months about whether I want to buy the product or not..

Care to name and shame? Or are you talking about many different experiences.

I’ve never really had this problem but my sample size is small.

If you feel like talking to someone over there wouldn't add any value, simply hire a freelancer with decent English on Upwork to act as your 'representative' and take the call with their sales rep to find out the price. I've absolutely done that before to avoid talking with low-level account executives who don't add any value but just want to 'build a relationship' and upsell you etc.

If you're a senior person in your workplace, I suppose you could make a junior employee do the call, with strict instructions not to give out your name or contact info to the sales rep. A bit mean but also a perk of seniority

Wonder if you could go really low-end and successfully use Amazon Turk for this?

Or train an AI from the kennel and name her the real Duplex.

If you really want to know the price of such a device, it is likely that someone in the US federal government has bought it before. If you know the name or even better have a part number, search for it in combination with GSA or DLA. I have managed to get pricing for all sorts of instruments that way.

That's correct - the price that "someone" paid for these things is searchable and discoverable.

The problem is that to buy this thing I still have to go through the sleazy, "personalized", time wasting sales process from the beginning per each reseller to achieve [presumably] the best price.

This is like 1980's

Very interesting.. classic useful response from the HN community! Any chance you could point me to an example so I can use this technique in the future?

I've used it for various biomedical equipment before like PCR machines and a Mass Spec. Here is a list I found while trying to find out the approximate cost of an AKTA FPLC(https://inventory.data.gov/dataset/2d2da689-5342-4024-b9e1-f...). The pricing may swing wildly from what you might pay based on various factors, but at least you have a starting price.

As an example, how about a ballpark figure for everything that AT&T has for internet connectivity. Search things like "AT&T OC3 GSAadvantage" with and without PDF and I got this(https://www.gsaadvantage.gov/ref_text/GS35F0249J/0TQT0R.3OCL...)

If the government buys it and it isn't secret or a one off item or service, there is pricing for it on the web. For some, the price won't be useful. If you looked up contracts for something like tech support, it might not be possible to find out what exactly they were asking for. But if it is something you can put a part number on or a service that is somewhat commodity, you should have a good chance of getting some sort of pricing.

I often prefer the self service model, but other times I like talking to sales. Some of them are good (just happened yesterday) where they take time to understand your company and goals. He suggested their cheapest plan. You can often get deals. I know of a cloud hosting company that cuts outrageous deals if you talk to sales. Another gave a potential customer 80k in credit to leave AWS.

Most sales people aren't very good and there is a bad stigma that perpetuates

If I believe that outrageous deals are available, then I can't help but think that whatever I do, this company will end up outrageously ripping me off if I do business with them. After all, why else is an outrageous deal possible?

Because their sticker price is 2x the competitors and they are willing to take a loss to get people on the platform. They are not winning in the cloud wars.

Would you trust such a company over AWS or Azure?

Nope, I use GCP first

I don’t have anything against GCP on a technical level - I don’t know enough to. But their enterprise support is abysmal and that whole “No one ever got fired for buying AWS/Azure”.

But they might get fired buying from IBM

I’m not sure. I think IBM will be selling systems compatible with the mainframes of the 70s until the heat death of the universe.

I can sell you some IBM if you'd like, official reseller.

Working on the GCP equivalent if you prefer :]

IBM better get their act together to make your (reseller) life easier.

I used to work with IBM big data analytical tool and honestly you should get a medal for closing sales on this garbage.

I ask this question a lot from new clients coming in for marketing or ecommerce rebuilds who have this style pricing.

I get three answers

1. Not allowed ( manufacturer/vendor regs)

2. High Touch sales, "anyone who was over worried about price isn't likely a buyer/good match" real buyers know the price range and we need to customize/vet the buyer

3. Highly customizable product that they cant or won't invest into making possible to pre-price online, probably wont get added to a cart and shipped or sold without a buyer wanting to actually talk to someone)

( for example, a 150k Caterpillar with various attachment options)

Unrelated - but #2 is interesting.

Last year I was on a market for high-end car (~$100k price tag) and one dealer who had the vehicle we wanted absolutely refused to give the price via email and insisted that I had to drive 1 hr for a personal visit.

I did very fair, prolonged effort to try to get them to sell me a car to no avail.

Ended up flying 2 hrs to another city where they had a car (of a different brand) with a specs I loved. I ended up enjoying driving it back home.

Being stubborn, hard-nosed sales person clearly doesn't pay off, no matter the excuse.

> Highly customizable product that they cant or won't invest into making possible to pre-price online, probably wont get added to a cart and shipped or sold without a buyer wanting to actually talk to someone)

This isn't a good reasons not to have a guide to the pricing though (e.g., the base price plus the rough prices of popular options). That can be super useful for determining if this is possibly something the buyer might want to buy, and saves them a ton of time calling salesmen.

The other two reasons are reasonable.

If you're selling ~$150k worth of customizable hardware and services to improve people's business processes, I'm not sure there are many genuine buyers out there that haven't got a few minutes to discuss which of the many, many options might be relevant to their needs rather than rely on probably unrepresentative "base price" and "popular" options on a website. If there are executives that evaluate ~$150k range business process improvements based on published sticker prices to save time on calling salespeople, their company really, really ought to be taking decision making power away from them.

I had the same issue a few months ago; I wanted to get some advanced networking equipment and it was all "call for pricing". It was clear that the reason why was to determine if I was actually knowledgeable enough to handle advanced equipment as it's considerably more complicated than a home router.

The sales process did take much longer than buying something off of Amazon, which was very annoying. But I did get it relatively quickly and it did work for my purposes, so there's that.

When a product is super complex, fixed pricing might not make sense. I wouldn't ask a general contractor "how much would it cost to remodel my kitchen?" before they have seen my home (especially because I don't because a kitchen!)

It's more like: "how much does it cost for that specific model of a washing machine?".

You shouldn't be forced to "call for pricing".

Even if you know what washing machine you want, that might not be the one you want to buy. An experienced salesperson will ask what you need, why you need it, and help you understand your options. They aren't there to take orders and be micromanaged.

If you want to walk in with the attitude that you know what is best, I recommend writing down what you need and why you need it in advance, so you can communicate you know what your needs are without insisting on a solution. The recommended thing may or may not be what you thought you wanted. If you can't write down your needs clearly and concisely, buying what you thought you wanted is likely to turn into an expensive waste of time for all parties.

Source: was good salesperson in a former life

In a former job where I was in applications engineering, the cost of getting the customer up to speed (from a support point of view) was many times the product price. In a couple hundred sales cycles, there was only one we would have made money on in qty 1.

And value based pricing...

I'm wondering about this too, since I recently am looking for a payment processor that also handles VAT. Most of them don't have the pricing, and one of them even called me up after I asked for prices. This is a total waste of time on my side.

I also have the feeling that they are ripping me off if I don't negotiate, because why else wouldn't you be upfront with your pricing?

Nice to see that Atlassian became really successful with their upfront pricing.

You can try buying used if that works for you. You will get a way better pricing and they will either be sold to you on a set price or auction price.

If that isn’t your cup of tea, call the salesperson. And tell them you need this now as a replacement part. If your hardware cycle is 3 years down the road, they will wait 3 years to find you again to try to sell you $100k+ in gear.

I personally love it because then I know I can't afford it

We had a strict policy that we didn't do business with companies that hide their pricing. For anything.

Have you evaluated whether you were cutting off your nose to spite your face? In a commodity market, this makes sense. But if you're eliminating potentially valuable and unique solutions to your problems because of a principle about up front pricing, you might be hurting your own business. After all, the whole concept of buying something like this is that it adds more value than it costs...

It's a suboptimal process to limit options because you personally are affronted by having to talk with someone on the phone.

Doing things on principle is inevitably less economically efficient, otherwise it would be indistinguishable from making an optimal selection regardless of principle? I don’t think that implies you should discard all principles.

I’ve done the same thing with a £60k piece of farm machinery recently. I took the time to write to the more opaque dealers, apologising for not considering them but noting that their pricing wasn’t transparent, and therefore they lost the business regardless of the price they would have quoted.

If more of us don’t do this, we’ll be stuck with sleazy salesmen and the “how much can we extract from this gullible customer” model indefinitely.

Thank you.

This is not only taking the long view, but really a form of public service.

A million other selfish thoughtless people have it as good as they do, only because some number of less-thoughtless people stood on principle once in a while and simply demanded better rather than taking the 100% path of least resistance 100% of the time.

An alternative narrative is that standing on principle (for things like this) is at best orthogonal to the reasons I (us) have it as good as we do.

Just because the stories about people standing on principle are sticky doesn't mean they cause good outcomes. (Also, there's the other side of the coin, where people who stand on principles cause great harm, intentionally or otherwise.)

Manufacturers typically dictate reseller pricing and marketing to serve the needs of their brand ("you can't sell below x as that makes our product seem cheap") so dictating a sales tactic isn't unimaginable. Especially if the tactic is designed to sell services and what not the manufacturer offers via the resellers.

My other guess is that the resellers have figured out that while they cannot fleece you on the price of the device - they all sell the same, identical hardware after all - they can charge you extra for services, support insurance and extra options as long as those prices aren't readily available for comparison.

To me the clear winner of business would be the site that has available pricing for base + options. Literally they can make an easy $2-$4k sale just by adding [Buy now] button, considering that the rest of the pack are playing tough sh.. to get with the prospects.

I also found one site that has "add to card to reveal pricing" - which is perfectly fine with me. The problem with that specific site is that they only carrying outdated models.

PS: this is hardware device, not SaaS or service.

That makes 100% sense from a customer POV but this anti pattern exists because it serves (bad) businesses very well.

Say a reseller does exactly what you suggest: initially they might make more money that the competition simply because their sales approach is favored by customers but pretty soon the competition would catch on and embrace the same sales approach. Now everyone have a smaller profit margin on the product or, even worse, might get dragged in a price war.

"add to card to reveal pricing" is just bad UX, without any gain (assuming there is one from the sales dance) to anyone.

It's an end run around contract clauses that tell them they can't advertise pricing until there's a qualified lead (or similar).

Very common for legacy enterprise software products repackaged as SaaS. I hate it for the friction it creates. Self-service with transparent pricing is the way to go for me and preferably coupled with payment convenience.

Some thoughts after reading your various responses in this thread:

1. You seem to be looking for commodity pricing -- that is, you just want the product/service, and you do not want any others services related to it.

2. Most (all?) of the vendors are unwilling to provide open commodity-level pricing. This makes me think that one of two things (perhaps both) are in play. One is that the margin on commodity-level pricing just isn't worth the time. If that's the case, good luck finding a vendor -- maybe go straight to the manufacturer.

3. The other (more likely imho) is that the device requires something else to reach its full potential/value, and that something else is variably priced (e.g., set up, follow up, maintenance, etc.). If that's the case, make the call and either buy their expertise or demonstrate that you do not need their expertise. You can get to a near-commodity price fairly quickly if you actually know your stuff.

4. You seem to think that the "song and dance" is a waste of time. As a provider, I want satisfied customers. I want to add value to their experience purchasing through me. There exist cases where certain unsophisticated customers think that all they need is a product or service, and they do not realize that the real value add is in something else (e.g., the proficiency with which the product is used, onboarding, etc.). There are a lot of products and services for which this holds true. I have declined to do business with people because I knew they would use the product/service I was selling them in an inefficient manner and then blame me for it not working.

5. My general thought about customers like you who are not even willing to pick up the phone is that I do not want you as a customer. If you can qualify yourself as needing absolutely zero support, I am happy to sell you a product or service at a lean margin, and I have a sales process that accommodates that. If you do not trust me to qualify you as a customer, then feel free find someone else to do business with.

6. Beware of becoming a pathological customer. You may find that somehow your options are much narrower than others around you. Good business people engage in mutually beneficial relationships -- show that you can add value to the relationship (money is just one factor).

It may certainly be dictated by the manufacturer. Some products simply require someone properly trained to make sure people are buying correctly. This might not be your case.

Now, a contact us approach sounds like a huge waste of time for you. You know what you want. You can describe it exactly. Know what? Most people don't. They need and appreciate the help.

A contact us approach is basically the sales process adjusted to the market needs.

It is a habit of many industries because purchasing is a complex process most people dont get. Throw in the complexity of a corporation and you have a recipe for disaster.

I have personal experience working on both the software and marketing site for the software product like this.

In particular, we had a very high-touch sales process that started with cold-calling or references. The marketing website was more likely to act as an aid to a cold call than as Google traffic.

Second, it was a more abstract product with a custom implementation that had to pull data from whatever pre-existing software they were using.

Also, it was a very young product that was constantly evolving with ad-hoc deals and pricing. Some would buy the software package outright with full integration, demanding high-touch support and training. Others were willing to go with our “development partner” package, with a 50% discount off any custom implementation - but we also retained the ability to decline those customizations if they didn’t fit with our vision.

Also, the product was so abstract, it was very rare that its potential would be understood without a conversation.

Finally, often the person “tasked” with buying the software was not actually the holder of the purse strings. They usually needed a boss or other stakeholder to sign off and write the check. So it wasn’t really advantageous to discuss the price and sticker-shock that the lower level employee might experience, vs the business owner who was more used to making those types of purchases. Really, we needed to turn the person who was doing the inquiry into an advocate for our product within their organization. If they could advocate the value of our product to the check writer in an effective manner, it reduced the friction for us to come in and tell the check writer the price of the solution. Then we let them make the judgement call.

Another part of this is that since the sales process was very high touch, and since we were so small. There was a serious opportunity cost to incur if our sales guy was wasting his time creating materials for a particular customer who wasn’t going to buy. So we would quickly qualify the customer by getting them to pay a non-trivial amount of money to RESEARCH the implementation. If they paid that qualifying cost, we would ask for information on all of the software systems they had in place, along with database schema information. Then we would pour over it to determine what we could do with that data, if it would be a successful implementation, and if there was any data missing that we’d need to collect. Either from a UI or through a bulk dump from some obscure archive. That was definitely not worth the opportunity cost of a barely interested customer.

Overall, I think we were trying to be honest and fair. Not trying to price gouge or anything, but it was a very complicated product, and it was a complicated sale.

Now being a technically minded business owner, I have been on the other end of this and found it to be extremely annoying. But it is not too often that whatever product I am looking at is being researched directly by a business owner with check-writing ability, and one who is also coming from a technical background. So while it annoys me, I get why the company/product is choosing to do that.

one thing everyone so far is missing: often the product being sold is vapor ware

Sometimes, anyway. The company wants to gauge interest before committing to development. Availability: 6 months' lead time. Still interested?

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