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Pricing a SaaS product

Pricing a SaaS product is not an exact science. There exists no magic set of formulas that will tell you how many pricing plans you need and at which price.

I will try to give some tools & ideas that we’re using internally when setting prices for SaaS products.

Cost – Price – Value

The first concept that is very useful when you think about pricing is the relationship between cost, price & value. You can easily put these 3 values on an axis:


For any healthy business you should have cost < price < value.

Furthermore you have 2 gaps:

  • Your margin: the difference between the cost and the price. This margin will determine how profitable you will become.
  • The customer’s margin: the difference between your price and the real value of your tool for the customer. What does your customer win by using your solution? If the price would equal the value, then you will have a hard time selling your solution. There’s this formula: “Price x 10 = Value”. In words: you need to provide 10 times more value than what your customer is paying for.

Basically you need to maximise both margins in such a way that you have the maximum possible profit and your customer has the maximum value.

A more realistic spreading of cost, price & value is:

The idea is: You try to give as much value as possible!

Problem 1: Value < Price

When the perceived value of your solution is less than the price you’re asking, then you won’t be able to sell to many clients.

We repeat as it’s so important: a SaaS industry standard is that you try to provide 10 times the value of what your customer has to pay for the solution. If you can not prove to your customer that the value of your offer is a multitude (aim for 10 times) of the asking price, then you probably need to go back to the drawing board and improve your offer or decrease the price.

Example:

If your software can eliminate the labour cost of 40 hours of manual work a month (at an hourly rate of €25) AND your potential customer can easily understand & confirm this benefit, then you can perfectly ask for €100/month (but price it €99).

Problem 2: Price < Cost

If the cost to build, market & sell your solution is higher than your price, than this is obviously a guarantee for failure!


It can be a strategy to enter a new market with existing competition, but at some point your price has to be higher than the cost!

Price axes

You can start with a single package, but as you move forward you can begin to introduce different packages at different price points. Below we shortly discuss what you can take into account when creating different packages. We will use the concept of price axes.

Feature axis

The most obvious way to create different packages is by adding more features to the more expensive packages:


Evernote (note taking app/platform) is a good example of this pricing strategy. At the time of writing they have 3 plans:

  • Basic: free
  • Premium: 6,99/month
  • Business: 13,99/month

The main differentiator between the different plans are the available features:

 

 

Quantity based axes

Number of users

After feature based packaging, is the “number of users” criterium one of the most used differentiator in price setting.

 

Quantity based product usage

You can restrict the most basic package with some quantity based limitations and gradually scale up these quantities for higher plans.

These limitations are specific for each problem domain, but some examples are:

  • Number of contacts
  • Size of database or storage
  • Social profiles
  • Number of hits
  • Number of messages that can be sent

Multi dimensional pricing

It really gets interesting when you start to combine different axes into a 2, 3 or multi dimensional pricing space. Of course you also don’t want to make your pricing scheme too complex, so really think carefully about how far you go!

2 dimensional pricing

When you use 2 axes for your pricing, you will have a 2 dimensional pricing model. The combination we see most often is features in combination with number of users:

3 or multi dimensional pricing

And if you add more criteria, you get a or 3 (or higher) dimensional pricing scheme:

There are many examples of multi-dimensional pricing. The first example is Wix: a popular web site building tool.

They use the dimensions:

  • Features
  • Bandwidth
  • Storage

Hootsuite is using a multi dimensional pricing scheme:

 

Discrete vs continuous pricing model

In a discrete pricing model you let your customers choose from a set of predefined packages.

  • Free tier: 1 user
  • Basic tier: max 3 users
  • Pro tier: 10 users

Whereas in a continuous or sliding model, your users can configure their own selections on 1 or more of the price axes.

They could for instance:

  • Select their exact number of users
  • Choose from a set of (add-on) features
  • Select the number of contacts

An example is hubspot where you start from a plan (Starter, Professional, Enterprise), but from there you can configure the number of contacts and some additional features:

Most popular SaaS pricing models

Flat rate pricing

Flat rate pricing is the easiest to implement: just 1 price for all our customers, take it or leave it!

It’s not very often used by SaaS platforms, but it’s more popular by App Store apps. This can be one of the mobile app stores (such as the Apple App Store or Google Play Store) or inside an “plugin” app store of an existing platform (WordPress, Shopify).

Here’s an example of a Shopify plugin with a flat price of $6.99/month:

Is it a good pricing model? It’s easy to understand, but you probably miss out on a lot of customers:

  • customers that would opt-in for a higher plan
  • customers that might choose for a lower plan

It’s a good model for starting SaaS platforms or for very basic products (such as plug-ins).

Tiered pricing model

In the tiered pricing model you bundle feature sets into predefined packages (called plans or tiers). Typically you see some plans that follow the structure:

  • Starter
  • Professional
  • Enterprise

The SaaS industry average number of packages is 3,5.

Basically, you recognize that not all users have the same needs and don’t want to pay the same price. Each type of user can select the plan that best suits their needs. It’s the de facto pricing model used by most companies.

As previously discussed: every plan can make some selections on each of your price axes.