Chief Scribe, Stacy Zemon, authored a post, titled: The DJ Pricing Trap on September 29th. As I read the article, I found myself both in agreement and disagreement with its logic.
I pride myself on seeing not just ‘both sides of the argument,’ but ‘many sides of the argument’. I assert there are multiple right and wrong approaches in pricing strategy. This post presents some alternative pricing rationale for your consideration.
Start-Up Mobile DJs
In 1977, when I started Music Man Mobile Disco, the DJ entertainment industry was only beginning to take form. The amount of public information on competitor pricing, sales points, and the like was minimal. Most start-ups had no formula or experience to draw from. They started by throwing darts.
My first event, a 4-hour party, was $250.00. Was it high? Was it low? Could it have been higher… maybe $300.00. My recollection was the event director, Frank La Scala said he had a $250 budget, and ‘Would Music Man work for that fee?’. When it’s your first event, you say, “Yes!”, because you need to build a portfolio of performance, quickly. Finding the pricing sweet spot and profitability come later.
Intangibles, Pricing, and Selling
Customer satisfaction only arrives after the event. With rare exception, it became clear to me satisfied customers rarely said anything about price, after the fact. An unhappy customer had detailed recollections (accurate or inaccurate) about every little thing. And if a person is dissatisfied, money almost always becomes part of the discussion. Giving a refund or partial refund does not solve failing to perform to their expectations, but it does become part of the back-and-forth.
Over decades, the barriers to entry for the DJ industry have fallen, resulting in an increasing number of competitors. The key factor is the number of competitors in your market area… Not your state, country, or on the planet.
The dawning of Internet access to information about potential DJ service providers has reached massive proportions. Part-timers and full-timers of any configuration, are able to create a competitive website presence. You may KNOW your business is superior. If any competitor has a polished website and rapid response time, it affects you.
These factors put the focus squarely on Selling Intangibles.
- Selling Features are often pointless – The number of songs in a music collection is now irrelevant. DJs have access to almost every song on the planet. With the rerelease of music on compact discs, and more recently in digital formats, your music collection is fine. If you don’t have a particular song, you can get it. You can even download it, on the fly, at an event.
- Translating a feature into a benefit – Having a massive music collection is convenient; however, the key is the depth of musical knowledge of your DJ staff, down to the individual DJ entertainer. The intangibles which differentiate your company may be, the extensive training and music education you implement for every up and coming employee, and/or the average years-of-experience (or # of events) of your DJs.
- There are Subtleties to DJing – You understand anyone can make a song list, but it doesn’t guarantee success; in fact it can inhibit success. Most wedding clients develop bloated song lists, frequently choosing to dictate the order of songs. My response to such a client path is this: “I appreciate your taking such care in outlining the music you want played, down to the order in which you want to hear it. (pause for effect) I appreciate that, but I don’t recommend deciding on the sequence of songs, in advance. Let me explain. A DJ is like a chess master; we think 3 songs ahead, but only make one choice at a time. Based on dance floor reaction and other factors, what makes the party flow is the ability to ‘recalculate’ what’s played next… The same way a chess master responds to the move of their opponent. Working within the guidelines you provide for Must Play, Don’t Play, Ceremonial Songs, and overall music category preferences, it is the experience and invisible decision making of the DJ which are the intangible skills that win the day. Makes sense, doesn’t it?”
This education/selling approach is an example of demonstrating superior knowledge and authority without condescending.
The challenge to selling intangibles is developing client confidence during the sales process. The actual value is confirmed when the work is completed.
One’s ability to assimilate the goals, fears, and concerns of the prospect, addressing them with education and logic, is what positions you as the authority, whose company is best equipped to provide a successful outcome. This process is the dominant factor (along with marketing and brand awareness) in creating a perception of value, not simply asking for a high-end fee for services.
It’s easy to make the case that there are massive risks in hiring a DJ with low-end characteristics and pricing. It is not enough to parrot the adage, “You get what you pay for.” That may be true, frequently; however, it’s up to you to fight back with excellence and sales prowess.
You’ve received the call… “Well, my fiancée and I would really like to hire you, but we talked to one of your competitors who will do the same work for $300 less. If you’ll match their price, we’ll go with you.”
This is perhaps the most insulting call a DJ company can receive. In response to this challenge, I would often invoke Ebon’s Law of Disproportionate Value and Risk.
“I certainly understand your reasoning for asking me to match a competitor’s price. I’ll explain my outlook on this. I’m sure it will give you some additional perspective. In reviewing my notes on your wedding, I see we have quoted $1500 for your wedding reception. You are asking us to match a price of $1200; a fee for services, 20%… $300 lower. It has been my experience over hundreds of weddings that trying to save money on certain types of wedding services is dangerous. DJ Entertainers and EMCEEs are at the top of the list. (at this point, I would review our benefits and intangibles). What you’ve told me is we are a better fit for your wedding day, but are asking we accept a lower fee. My outlook is this: You should hire one of our competitors for one reason, only… that your expectation of their ability to meet and exceed your needs is clearly higher than ours. If you felt strongly about their level of quality, I would tell you to book them even if their price were $300 MORE THAN HOURS. In the final analysis, your DJ/Emcee is a linchpin to the success of your entire reception. The choice is really not about saving $300 out of $1500, but saving $300 out of $30,000 (i.e.). And when you look at it that way, you’ll see why we hold the line on our prices (minor recap of why). Now that we’ve had a chance to review the rationale, do you have any other questions I can answer about what makes our service superior, or should we just move ahead and confirm the booking details?
This ’closing tactic’ ‘cannot be a bluff. You have to be able to make the case, smoothly, and be willing to walk away in some situations. Sometimes, after going through the logic, the prospect will say, “Well, I appreciate your point of view, but we had to ask Let’s go ahead and finalize your services.”
Other times the alleged competitor will be entirely fictional. Just acquiescing to the 20% fee reduction is a statement of lack of confidence, primarily in one’s own sales ability. Remember, in this example, the prospect has told you that your business is the preferred choice.
I concede a larger DJ company with 10-plus sound systems is under greater pressure to fill its availabilities. But I believe if your marketing is on-point, there is almost always another prospect/booking in your future.
Are your rates too low?
Before you ask yourself, “Should I raise my rates?”, ask yourself if your rates are too low. How can you tell? It’s pretty simple. If you have a very high closing rate (90% or better), then it’s likely your rates are too low.
It’s not uncommon for me to speak with DJs who will talk about a competitor in condescending terms. The technical term for this is Believing Your Own B.S.
Yet, when challenged, “So, exactly when did you last see them in action and how did you/they compare?” The answer is usually weak.
We are all busy with our own businesses. That’s why it’s important to attend local trade association and networking events to see how you compare against others, in the present tense. Your industry specific national conferences are also helpful getting a view of what’s developing outside your market.
Then, challenge yourself to evaluate the overall state of your marketing and sales practices. If they need improvement, before raising prices, then take care of it.
When you’re ready, make your pricing updates, explain the logic to your sales staff, and train them on any changes in sales techniques. Depending on your management style, it may be wise to talk with all sales staff about the logic of price increases, when you are thinking about, to get better buy-in, and make the process something of a team-decision.
Active Listening is the key to the selling process. If you have truly listened to your prospect about their vision and concerns, then you’ll know which benefits and intangibles to utilize. Don’t throw the kitchen sink at them, address the relevant issues to each client, make your case, and close the sale.