Ep84: How to Set a Price that Best Aligns with Your Pricing Strategy with Wendy Johnson

 

Wendy Johnson started out as an M&A Consultant at Accenture. After she got her MBA, she went to IBM (another large corporation) as a pricing and investment specialist. She was at CA Technologies for eight years where she was VP of Global Pricing and is now an executive at FIS.

In this episode, Wendy talks about what skills and characteristics you need to function as a ricing executive effectively, while at the same time managing the best pricing team. She also talks about how being logical is crucial in making pricing decisions.

 

Why you have to check out today’s podcast:

  • Learn how to involve stakeholders in making pricing decisions – why it is considered a team effort  
  • Determine the best ways to be influential and stay price competitive despite experiencing business challenges 
  • Find out the key qualities required to rise through the ranks and become a highly qualified and effective pricing executive

 

“I find that we can do the best work in terms of pricing and setting a price that best aligns with your strategy. But the people who have to execute it determines the success of that price.”  

– Wendy Johnson

 

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Topics Covered:

01:18 – How did Wendy start her career in Pricing?

02:40 – What made her stay in Pricing all these years 

03:24 – What made her rise up through the ranks 

04:43 – What influence do her mentors have on her 

05:41 – What is her management style?

06:51 – The important skills needed to be in a pricing team 

09:45 – How to set pricing so the sales and product management departments agree 

11:46 – Doing the right thing for the business 

12:24 – Pushing the big wall 

14:27 – Qualities of a leader that are needed to replace Wendy 

15:38 – Wendy’s one big Pricing advice that would impact one’s business 

16:53 – How to get people to understand the value of their products

 

Key Takeaways:

“I think the key is knowing how to build relationships. Pricing is, typically anytime you’re making a pricing decision, there’s a lot of emotion behind it, whether it’s from the product owners, or the salespeople, there’s conflict across those different groups. And you have to be able to manage those discussions and not be emotional and come out with an answer that maybe not everybody likes, but everybody can accept, and everybody can support and respect.” – Wendy Johnson 

“A lot of times when you have, most of the work that’s thrown our way where people want some kind of pricing analysis. The problem is usually not pricing. People usually think it’s pricing because it’s the easiest thing to point to.” – Wendy Johnson 

“The most valuable use of your time is probably figuring out how to be the most influential within the constraints that you have, and trying to make an incremental change on pushing out those walls at the same time.” – Wendy Johnson 

“Who do you choose to replace you? It’s a tough decision and it’s usually looking forward in terms of what’s next on the docket and who you think would be better aligned to that particular project” – Wendy Johnson 

“You can tell how good your sales team is, if you ask somebody else in the company like an administrative assistant or somebody in operations, what your company sells and what the value is, and if they can answer that. Do you have champions for what you do as a company and do they understand the value?” – Wendy Johnson 

 

People / Resources Mentioned: 

Connect with Wendy Johnson:

Connect with Mark Stiving:   

  • Email: mark@impactpricing.com
  • LinkedIn

 

Full Interview Transcript

(Note: This transcript was created by an AI transcription service.  Please forgive any transcription or grammatical errors.  We probably sound better in real life.)

 

Wendy Johnson   

Everybody should know the value of your product. 

 

[Intro] 

 

Mark Stiving   

Welcome to Impact Pricing. The podcast where we discuss pricing, value, and the thoughtful relationship between them. I’m Mark Stiving, today is the fourth episode of our season of Pricing Executives. We’re going to do five to 10 episodes in a row to learn how pricing executives think. And today our guest executive is Wendy Johnson. Here are three things you want to learn about Wendy before we start, she started out as an M&A Consultant at Accenture, god that had to be a fun job. After she got her MBA, she went to IBM, another big corporation, as a pricing and investment specialist. She was at CA Technologies for eight years where she was VP of Global Pricing, and is now an executive at FIS. Welcome, Wendy. 

 

Wendy Johnson   

Thank you, Mark. I’m happy to be here.  

 

Mark Stiving   

This is going to be so much fun. So how did you get into pricing? 

 

Wendy Johnson 

Actually, I fell into pricing, I like to tell people that. 

 

Mark Stiving   

Everybody does. 

 

Wendy Johnson   

When I was recruited to work for IBM, I was recruited into their finance organization, and I was placed in pricing. I was new to pricing as a function and learned everything I know about pricing there. 

 

Mark Stiving   

Wow. So, most of us, I think, when we’re first exposed to pricing, it’s because we get involved in some big project, we had some big impact. And we say, ‘Oh, that’s impressive.’ Is that the story that happened to you as well? 

 

Wendy Johnson   

No, and actually – and IBM had a huge pricing organization. I know it’s somewhat contracted now. But it was very developed, very much, a very mature pricing organization within finance, and pricing was very influential to the business there. There was a lot of structure around the organization in terms of processes, compliance tools that we used. So, there wasn’t a lot to do outside of that structure. So, there wasn’t any specific project that I worked on, or that existed, that drove the organization to, you know, have any specific focus on pricing or the work that I was doing. I was just incorporated into the organization. And it’s much like you would see a marketing organization or a product management organization today, there was a lot of structure around it. 

 

Mark Stiving   

Nice. So why did you stay in pricing? Why are you still there? 

 

Wendy Johnson   

It was very interesting. I like the fact that pricing touched all areas of the business. It’s very much a matrix function. In order to do our jobs right we have to be engaged with all of the different functional areas, and you really just learn how the business runs in pricing, in a way that you really don’t do in other areas of the business. 

 

Mark Stiving 

And that is so true in every company. Pricing touches so many different departments. Okay, so now you personally, you’ve made it up into the executive ranks, the highest tiers of pricing you can get to. What were your special skills? How did you do that? 

 

Wendy Johnson   

You know, I think it is, well, when I moved to CA technologies, I think it was just a very strategic move for me, because I came, as I mentioned from IBM, where they had so much structure, so much rigor around the pricing function, to a company that did not have a pricing function at all. So, I was able to add value very quickly and be able to basically implement a lot of things very quickly and take advantage of a lot of low hanging fruit and be very impactful to the business. I had great leaders there, my boss, Denise Elias, who recruited me, as well as the CFO who actually came from IBM, who was very engaged in pricing and very much valued the work that I was doing. So that helped us as well. And they were very much champions for me. And that’s much needed in any type of role; you need people who are very much invested in your career and will champion your work, and help me progress up through the ranks. 

 

Mark Stiving   

Nice. So, believe it or not, the next question I was going to ask you is, do you have mentors? And so, what did they do for you? I assume those are your mentors. And maybe you had others. What did they do? How did they help you? 

 

Wendy Johnson   

You know, they really just valued my work and they supported the work that I was doing. They provided very critical and honest feedback. And they left the door open. They didn’t limit me in any way in terms of how I wanted to impact the business. Denise was very smart. She was definitely a working manager, herself. And a lot of my management, the things I learned about managing people I’ve adopted from her and, you know, equally good managers that I’ve had throughout my career. She was always a collaborator with me, and then that helped as well –  so that you don’t get stuck where you are, you’re always levelling up in terms of your work. And just that kind of visibility helps a lot. 

 

Mark Stiving   

Do you think of yourself as a quantitative, logical person or more of a touchy-feely managerial person? And you can probably tell which I am just from that question. 

 

Wendy Johnson   

I’m definitely more quantitative but very much conscious of that and that awareness, whatever you are, you just need to be aware of it and make sure that you have a balance on your team, right. And so, the work that I do is very data-driven. Of course, there’s a very large subjective piece that comes into pricing, as well, because – especially in enterprise pricing in the B2B space where I’ve done most of my work – there isn’t always perfect data, right? There’s not a lot of data that you can do some of the analysis that you learn in business school, and employ a lot of those tools, but you’re not able to do that all the time. So, there’s a very large subjective piece as well, that needs to come into play. 

 

Mark Stiving  

So, the reason I asked the question is that I know that my best mentors taught me more about management than about pricing. And so, I was guessing since you said that, it’s like, oh, I’ll bet she’s more logical, too. So, you have a team or you’ve always had teams of people working for you really often, tell me, what are the characteristics of the best pricing people on your teams?

 

Wendy Johnson  

Really though, the characteristic, I mean, there’s a lot that you need to have because there’s no getting around knowing how to analyze data and build models for pricing. So, everybody needs to know how to do that and to be able to read the reports and be able to assess that data. I think the key is knowing how to build relationships. Pricing is, typically anytime you’re making a pricing decision, there’s a lot of emotion behind it: whether it’s from the product owners, or the salespeople, there’s conflict across those different groups. And you have to be able to manage those discussions and not be emotional and come out with an answer that maybe not everybody likes, but everybody can accept, right, and everybody can support and respect. The other thing is, we deal with a lot of data, and we’re getting a lot of information and it’s really about mining through all of the information you’re getting. And having the skill to make decisions from it. Like what is that data telling you? What should you be looking for when you hit a roadblock? What are you going to do next? What are you going to look at next? So that’s a very important skill as well. 

 

Mark Stiving   

So, I love the data-driven ones because they feel so natural to me or feel comfortable to me. What’s really hard? Let me ask you, if I have to go convince –  or you have to, or one of your people has to go convince sales and the product development team, that this is the right price, but sales want a lower price, the product team wants a higher price, and you’re in the middle someplace. How do they do that? What are the skills? What are the things they can do to make that happen?  

 

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Wendy Johnson   

Usually, I mean, there’s a couple of things you could look at. The best is if you have the data that just spits out the right answer for you, right, because nobody can argue with that. But that generally never happens. A lot of times we’re looking at past performance, right? You know, look at what happened when we had a similar decision to make – either in your group, or had a similar decision to make in some other area. And let’s look at the results of that. Or if you were, you’ve been doing one thing, one way all along and not getting the results that you want, you know, it’s probably likely that the best decision is to change and try a new direction. But there are so many things that impact pricing. A lot of times when you have most of the work that’s thrown our way where people want some kind of pricing analysis, the problem is usually not pricing. People usually think it’s pricing because it’s the easiest thing to point to, right, these prices, maybe this price is probably too high. Oftentimes, the direction we give is usually pointing to something else, something pointing to some other piece of that product or that go to market strategy outside of pricing. 

 

Mark Stiving   

You see one of my favorite sayings is, ‘Your pricing problem is probably not your price. It’s…’ 

 

Wendy Johnson   

Exactly, exactly. So, you know, and it actually, it works out well, because there are so many levers that you can pull. If you can’t get an agreement on a change of price, you might just have to pull another lever to balance out the solution. 

 

Mark Stiving   

So, one of the things my mentor taught me, which is probably the single most valuable thing I ever learned, was, instead of trying to convince people of what I was trying to get accomplished, I was always spending time listening to different people. I wanted to know what their goals were, what their opinions were. And eventually when – if I was the one who had to make the decision, eventually the decision I made at least was being listened to, and paying attention to everybody else that matter. 

 

Wendy Johnson   

I agree and people appreciate that everybody appreciates that. Everybody wants to feel heard. Right. And hopefully, you’re in a situation where everybody wants to do the right thing, right, for the business. 

   

Mark Stiving 

Yep, absolutely. So, I love this concept. I often think of this concept called ‘pushing walls.’ And I think of pushing walls as I’m about to go knock down a big constraint. When you join CA, they had no walls, right? You just got to go build whatever the heck you wanted or whatever you thought was appropriate. But you could easily imagine that in IBM, if you wanted to change something, now you got to push a big wall. 

 

Wendy Johnson   

Oh, yeah, it was almost impossible. Yeah.  

 

Mark Stiving   

So now think about your people for a second. How would you want your people to do that? How much time, how much energy should they spend pushing walls versus doing the job we’ve asked them to do? Does that make sense, the question here? 

 

Wendy Johnson   

No, it’s a good question. I think it’s probably trying to figure out how to be influential, the most valuable use of your time is probably figuring out how to be the most influential within the constraints that you have and trying to make an incremental change on pushing out those walls at the same time. Right? Because pushing walls, believing that you have the right answer – and I’ve tried to do that in my path. Even at CA it’s just, it’s just too hard and you waste a lot of time. You waste a lot of time doing that. Yeah, the only way I’ve seen that be successful is when you have a directive coming from the top. Right. But trying to do that kind of laborious work from the bottom up is nearly impossible. You just get frustrated. 

 

Mark Stiving   

It is very hard. There’s no doubt. And so, it’s got to be well worth it if you’re going to spend your time and energy doing it. 

 

Wendy Johnson   

Exactly. And I think there’s much room to be influential. I mean, I talked about IBM and how much structure they have. There are still relationships to build, there are still discussions to have, and you can do that in any environment, right? 

 

Mark Stiving   

Oh, absolutely. It’s a matter of changing processes. And what I often try to coach people to do is recognize what the constraints are. And then you get to make a decision. Am I going to go to try to change that or not?  

 

Wendy Johnson   

Right. And then who are you taking with you? 

 

Mark Stiving   

Exactly. Who’s pushing beside me? Right? Absolutely. Okay, so now you’re looking across your entire your huge team of pricing people that are working for you. Which one are you going to go promote? What are the characteristics of that person? 

 

Wendy Johnson   

Yeah. And that’s tough because I mentioned before that I usually take a collaborative approach with working with my team. So, there’s usually a couple of people who can replace me if I leave. I’m very comfortable that you know, I have people on my team that can step right in and not miss a beat. So, who do you choose, right? Who do you choose to replace you? It’s a tough decision and it’s usually looking forward in terms of what’s next on the docket and who you think would be better aligned to that particular project. It’s better when you’ve developed trust across your team, which I think I do well, I hope they would say that, so that there’s no animosity or any bad feelings when that decision is made. And everybody knows that you know, their time is coming, whether in that particular role or somewhere else. 

 

Mark Stiving   

Excellent, excellent. Okay, so we’re going to start wrapping this up, but I got to ask the final question that I always ask, what’s one piece of pricing advice you would give our listeners that you think could have a big impact on their business? 

 

Wendy Johnson   

You know, I would say – and you caught me off guard with that one, but I would say the pricing advice that I would give for your listeners in any company, is that ‘Everybody should know the value of your product’ because I find that, we can do the best work in terms of pricing and setting a price that best aligns with your strategy. But the people who have to execute it determines the success of that price. Can your sales rep execute that price in the market? And I think that’s where everybody, a lot of times, our strategies fall short, does your sales rep believe in the value of what you’re trying to sell? Do they understand it? Do they understand it from the customer’s perspective? And not just sales? And you can tell how good your sales team is, if when you ask somebody else in the company like an administrative assistant or somebody in operations, what your company sells and what the value is – and if they can answer that. Do you have champions for what you do as a company and do they understand the value? 

 

Mark Stiving   

You have no idea how much I love that answer. That was so awesome. Now, how much time do you think your pricing team spends helping people understand what value means? 

 

Wendy Johnson   

You know, we actually take a very prescriptive approach to that. Like we actually want to spend a specific percentage of our time doing that work versus the other analytical work that we do. So, we’re very much very aware of that and have tackled that through working with our customer success teams, our sales teams – we develop a lot of collateral around it so people can access it on their own time through self-service tools. And we put a lot of focus on that because we understand the importance. And we understand – like we even look into the psychology – one of the things that we say to ourselves all the time is that it takes individuals seven times hearing something before they really know it or before they actually listen to it or understand it or are able to repeat it. And that’s where we want to get everybody – that they’re able to repeat it and they really believe the things that we put down on paper. 

 

Mark Stiving   

Nice. Absolutely love that. Wendy, thank you so much for your time today. If anybody wants to contact you, how can they do that? 

 

Wendy Johnson   

Oh, thank you. Please feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn. I’m Wendy Johnson or on social media at WKJ today on both Instagram.

 

Mark Stiving   

LinkedIn, we find you on LinkedIn. It’s just been so fantastic talking to you. We so rarely find lady executives, let alone ladies who are also people of color. So, I just love the fact that you are with us today. 

 

Wendy Johnson   

Oh, thank you, 

 

Mark Stiving   

Episode 84 All done. Listeners would you please leave us a review. As always, I’m going to read a review that we got recently. This one comes from Chest Seal on iTunes, ‘If you want to know how to do pricing better and be more effective at using pricing to grow your revenue and profit. This podcast is the place to go. Excellent.’ Thank you, Chest Seal. Don’t forget to join our free community, community.championsofvalue.com That’s where you’ll find all of the free content. I put out memes, blogs, videos, podcasts. And as always, if you have any questions or comments about the podcast or about pricing in general, feel free to email me, mark@impactpricing.com. Now, go make an impact!

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