Pricing Optimization Lessons from Solitaire

April 24, 2016 Ben Blaney

I’ve recently started playing Solitaire on my smartphone. I got it as something cerebral to do in dull moments where I might otherwise do something completely mindless. Now I’m addicted, and I just love playing.

It’s taken me right back to my childhood, playing with a deck of actual cards (remember those?). I can almost sense my mother’s presence as I start a new game.

For a while, I was obsessed with finishing the game in the fewest possible moves. I thought that would represent the pinnacle of Solitaire achievement. I would play hard and fast, beating myself up for the smallest error (even those I couldn’t foresee), and quitting games when I got over 100 moves without a path to completion.

Then I Googled the game, because the stats geek in me was curious about the fewest number of moves possible, but also the distribution of moves (for a stats geek, everything is a bell curve and standard deviations). Well, it turns out that he fewest number of moves theoretically possible is 76 – but that would take a phenomenal fluke. However, the thing I learned in reading up on Solitaire is that 79% of hands are winnable. I was amazed. My win rate was running way below that, because of my focus on move efficiency.

I thought about it some more. I was handicapping myself, on occasion, by moving cards straight to the Foundation (the piles where cards are discharged and scored) to try and save an extra move over moving them to the Tableau first (your workspace piles). This behavior was detrimental to my win-rate because cards in the Tableau enable other cards to be played.

Sometimes that’s how I feel about companies’ activities in sales and marketing. There’s a real focus and attention on a particular area: metrics are developed, systemized, recorded and communicated; initiatives are launched, consultants are hired, tiger teams are formed, and all kinds of other things. From time to time, though, one has to wonder whether the focus on one area allows a lack of attention in another.

These choices don’t have to be binary. With PROS as the software driving your organization’s pricing, there can be global strategies deployed, complemented by more specific actions for local situations.

For example, in our data science-driven approach to pricing optimization, there are options for our customers to deploy price guidance based on what is mathematically optimal but also — crucially — appropriate given all the variables at play in the complex world of B2B selling in the 21st century.

I’ve changed my Solitaire strategy, and set a goal of winning more games. The funny thing is that while concentrating on that strategy, I became much more conscious of my tactics; I constantly remind myself about the most impactful things I should be doing, with every deal from the deck. These are lessons that naturally carry over to the business world. While efficiency is certainly beneficial in the sales process, it is making the right moves at the right time that ultimately wins the deal.

About the Author

Ben Blaney

Ben Blaney is a Senior Strategic Consultant at PROS, helping organizations select and deploy its cloud-based software. He previously served as director of Commercial Excellence for ESAB, a $2B division of Colfax Corporation, where he was responsible for strategy, execution and measurement of all aspects of commercial excellence. Blaney also led pricing strategy for a $2B division of GE; has served as a business consultant at Vendavo; and led pricing for a $1.5B business unit of ITT Corporation, where he worked for eight years in roles of increasing responsibility and seniority. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Exeter. Blaney holds the PRINCE2, Project Management Professional (PMP), Certified Pricing Professional (CPP), and Lean Six Sigma Black Belt certifications.

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