What Does it Take to be a Pricing Leader?

July 30, 2020 Stephan M. Liozu, Ph.D.

Everyone wants a great career. Most professionals want to climb the corporate ladder to reach the C-suite. The same is true for pricing professionals. But pricing is typically not well represented in the C-suite. Some industries have Chief Revenue Officers (software, airline, hospitality). But outside of these, only a few companies have CPOs or CVOs. A recent study published in the Journal of Revenue & Pricing Management (Liozu, 2019) report that only 25% of global Fortune 500 firms that have dedicated pricing titles are led by a Vice President. Most of them are led by a Pricing Director or a Pricing Manager. 

I have written in the past about some of the soft pricing skills that pricing practitioners should develop to advance in their career (Liozu, 2017). I also dedicated a book on the topic of Pricing and Human Capital published in 2015 which touched on the topic of career path and executive capability development. I propose that there are 5 critical leadership skills that aspiring pricing professionals need to acquire and to develop to reach a top leadership position. Here they are:
  

  1. Learning the Language of Business

    Pricing is a critical function and an integral part of the marketing discipline. As such, pricing leaders must develop a strong business acumen to be able to interact and work with sales, marketing, innovation, supply chain, and finance professionals. They must speak the language of business but also the language of their top leaders. Participating in business meetings and business processes (forecast, budgeting, and marketing planning) will certainly help. But the best way to learn about business is to spend time working in other fields than pricing. This was a consistent message given to me by the pricing executives I interviewed in 2015. Most of them had worked in sales, finance, and marketing during their careers. They could engage with their executive peers outside of pricing and adapt their language to their needs. In fact, pricing professionals should stop speaking the technical pricing language and speak other stakeholders’ language on how pricing can help them.

  2. Change Leadership

    Pricing professionals need to seriously consider learning more about the science of change management and change leadership. Most of them are proficient in project management as it is a more formally developed and widely accepted science. Change management is about the management of people during pricing projects. As pricing methods and technologies become more complex and dynamic, the need for formal education in change management is increased. Change leadership refers to the energy fueling the change management process. Pricing leaders need to act as change agent with a great dose of energy, charisma, and drive. They need to be inspirational to a certain extent to get people on board a new vision. And the C-suite is paying attention. Can you deliver the impact of your pricing programs and bring everyone else along? Can you drive large-scale complex projects without disrupting the organization?

  3. Emotional Intelligence

    Leadership experts argue that change agents must possess both analytical and emotional intelligence skills. Good leaders can activate and balance both analytic and empathic networks at any time (Smith et al., 2020). In practical terms, it means that pricing leaders can go from one deep technical discussion with their peers to a one-on-one meeting with a sales manager and discuss their resistance to change with empathy. They must be able to listen and coach with compassion. But that is not all! Good leaders must be a source of hope, positivity, and resilience. Because pricing projects can be complex, team members carefully observe leadership behaviors. Carefully paying attention to the selection of words being used in pricing communication is a critical skill to develop. That is not me saying it. Positive psychology scholars and executive coaches will tell you that positive words of hope can help persuade and motivate people. I often recommend to my clients to count the number of positive words in their pricing vision, pricing messages, and pricing reports.

  4. Telling Stories & Holding Conversations

    In general, pricing professionals are not good presenters. Their presentations are full of charts, numbers, and formulas which automatically turn off non-pricing audiences. Part of change management is to craft and deliver inspiring stories with or without PowerPoint support. That includes using metaphors, humor, anecdotes, “battle stories”, and personal experiences. In the words of the experts: “When making (or communicating) a decision that impacts others, think about potential personal implications of the decision. Spend time attending to these relational aspects in addition to the technical ones” (Smith et al., 2020). Making powerful presentations also means that you can develop credible and emotional stories to tell your audience. This is a helpful skill also if you interact with customers and trade channels. People like having good discussions and hearing fun stories. By stories, I also mean being able to make strong business cases for pricing investments to the C-suite, and to sell an internal vision for pricing. Holding conversations with other functions requires good listening skills. It is about rephrasing their needs and expectations and responding by using vocabulary to create trust and credibility.

  5. Managing Without Authority

    Getting people to do things for you, getting on board projects, and getting buy-in for a pricing change are helpful skills. The future of management and leadership goes across boundaries, hierarchies, and geographies. More and more, work environments are virtual, collaborative, and integrative. Silos are bound to disappear and because of this, pricing folks with a high degree of technical skills will have to reach out across functional boundaries to create coalitions and project teams. Managing these diverse teams requires understanding the motivation of all actors and speaking in terms of success, hope, and great team accomplishments. This is a critical skill, but one that is hard to develop. We tend to use authority lines to get things going. Sometimes, it might work, but most of the time, it shuts down people we need to bring into our winning coalition. The art of influencing people uses some of the skills we have already described early: visioning, reassuring, changing mindset, storytelling, selling project softly with emotional intelligence.

Conclusion

Based on my research and experience in business and pricing, I listed the five most critical leadership skills for aspiring pricing professionals. However, there are others that may be more relevant to your business and to your industry. The question is not to be right or wrong. The real challenge is to recognize that businesses are run by humans and that leadership skills are critical. The C-suite is paying attention as well. They will not create a Vice President position for someone who does not have these skills. They also will not make large investments in pricing if they do not have a strong executive and leader who can successfully get it done. So a pricing leader is first a business leader with strong leadership skills, then a pricing professional. Not the other way around.

If you enjoyed this blog, register for the Value Based Pricing webinar to hear more from Dr. Lizou. 


1 – Liozu, S. M. (2015). Pricing and Human Capital: A Guide to Developing a Pricing Career, Managing Pricing Teams, and Developing Pricing Skills. Abdington, UK, Routledge. 2 – Liozu, S. M. (2017). "Ten Soft Pricing Skills to Pay Attention to and Develop." Pricing Advisor (October): 1-3. 3 – Liozu, S. M. (2019). "Penetration of the pricing function among global Fortune 500 firms." 4Journal of Revenue and Pricing Management: 1-8 5 – Smith, M., Van Oosten, E. Boyatzis, R.: The Best Managers Balance Analytical and Emotional Intelligence, HBR.com, June 12th, 2020.

About the Author

Stephan M. Liozu, Ph.D.

Stephan M. Liozu, Ph.D. is Chief Value Officer at Thales Group (www.thalesgroup.com), Research Fellow at Case Western Reserve University, and Founder of Value Innoruption Advisors (www.valueinnoruption.com), a consulting boutique specializing in value-based pricing, digital pricing, and industrial pricing. Stephan wrote nine pricing books and is a frequent keynote speaker at industrial and digital conferences. He can be reached at sliozu@gmail.com.

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