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How to Win More Clients With Tiered Pricing (with Template)

Tiered pricing makes it easier to buy your services. It works by bundling services and deliverables into distinct packages at set price points. Using tiered pricing, you can take advantage of powerful behavioral heuristics like decision fatigue and anchoring to shape buying decisions and increase revenue and client satisfaction.

The following insights were gained over many years working as an agency founder, freelancer, and consultant. Over the course of those years, I made my share of pricing mistakes. Something I was reminded of recently as I came upon some old printouts from a decade ago.

I'd found an early draft of a proposal for a project that the agency I was an owner of had pitched. The project was laid out in plain text, Georgia 12 points, and Arial, with numbered headers. Barely any graphics used to explain concepts or ideas. The final page had the title “Cost Overview” printed in large type at the top followed by a table of estimated hours for design, development and project management…

Yes, the forbidden C-word. Boldly written. Firmly confirming that this proposal was indeed a "cost."

I do know better now. I know, for example, that the word price sends a whole different message. I’ve also picked up a thing or two about presenting prices and emphasizing the benefits of projects, since they should be investments, not costs.

One of the ways you can do all that is with tiered pricing.

What Is Tiered Pricing?

Illustration showing an example of tiered pricing.Tiered pricing is a way to bundle features of what you’re selling into packages or tiers. Each tier is sold at a different price. If a client needs more or less, they cannot buy that specific feature but have to choose a different tier instead.

A frequently used version of this is the gold, silver and bronze tiers used in many different industries. Or perhaps more relatable, the menu offers at fast food restaurants, offering meals in tiers. The examples of products offered in bundles and tiers are countless.

Tiered pricing also works surprisingly well for those who sell professional services.

Tiered Pricing Is Incredibly Effective

Staff at a fast food restaurant under a tiered menu.Tiered pricing is one of the most powerful ways to present an offer in a compelling way and encourage a buyer to commit. This is possible thanks to so-called behavioral heuristics that we can apply in the design and presentation of our tiered offer. More on that soon.

Behavioral heuristics are “rules of thumb” or mental shortcuts that we rely on unconsciously for almost every decision we make. These have evolved as a way to simplify decision-making. They usually present themselves to us as “gut feeling.” We make decisions all the time without thinking about it and in most cases, these heuristics do the mental legwork for us.

The Psychological Secrets of Tiered Pricing

In this post, I will describe some of these heuristics and how you can use them to write winning proposals with tiered pricing. I will also cover other aspects of the psychology behind the effectiveness of tiered pricing. I will finally wrap it all up with an example you’re free to copy. You can download this free example of tiered pricing design which you can modify and use in your own business.

Minimizing Decision Fatigue: Reduces the Resistance to Making a Choice

Shelves full of brands of drinks at a supermarket.In decision-making psychology, there is a popular concept called decision fatigue that is currently gaining popularity. It holds that making decisions depletes mental energy and that individuals have a limited supply of such energy, i.e., willpower.

Whether that is true or not (the jury is still partially out on it), I’m sure we’ve all suffered the feeling of powerlessness that comes with having too many options. It makes intuitive sense that providing fewer options can help a person make up their mind. Especially if those fewer options are already tailored to their needs, which appeals to their sense of being confirmed and their needs recognized.

How You Can Use Decision Fatigue

In tiered pricing, decisions have been made for the prospective client. You do indeed take away some of their freedom. However, by grouping features into tiers, you also radically reduce the challenge of choosing. It’s important to remember that the buyer always has the option not to make a choice.

Choosing anything you offer, even the cheapest option, is better than the buyer refraining from choosing at all. It’s in your interest to make it as easy as possible to choose what you’re offering.

Emphasizing Effort: The Harder Something Is to Make, the More Valuable It Is

A man lifting heavy weights.According to the heuristic of “effort,” items that have required more effort to produce are inherently more valuable. While you can apply this to most forms of pricing, it’s far easier to do it using tiers. Using the tiered table format for presenting your offer, you can more effectively describe what the features provided are and what value they offer the buyer.

How You Can Use Effort

Instead of writing this: ”Site search with keyword suggestions.”

Write this: “Tailor-made full website search with manually weighted keywords to ensure customers can easily find the most important content.”

These richer descriptions aren’t about trying to impress your client with advanced terminology. That doesn’t work. Technical verbiage doesn’t impress serious buyers. The point is that in the age of automation, manual effort counts more than ever. You need to emphasize the manual expert work you’ve put in and why it’s valuable to the client.

Here are some words that communicate effort or expert skills:

  • handcrafted

  • meticulous

  • painstaking

  • expertly

  • elaborate

  • thorough

  • custom-made

  • artisanal

  • caring

  • bespoke

  • skillful

  • rigorous

  • diligent

If you need help writing your effort-hinting copy, feel free to post a question in the comments. I'd be happy to weigh in.

Bundling: Capture More Value by Grouping Features the Buyer Didn't Know They Needed

Stacks of newspapers, bundled with string.One of tiered pricing’s killer features is that it lets you take advantage of a pricing technique called bundling. In tiered pricing, each tier is a bundle. Using bundling, you can combine a set of products or services into a bundle and put a price on that. This helps reduce decision fatigue for the buyer, as we discussed previously. But it also allows you to steer the buyer’s choice and what they are buying.

As described in my guide to value-based pricing on the Bondsai Blog, bundling enables you to charge for more than the specific delivery you’re making. Using bundles, you can include items that are valuable to the client but may be tangential to what you’re delivering. These items could even be freely available, yet still part of the bundle.

How You Can Use Bundling

You can take advantage of bundling by grouping features into one bundle per tier and adding tangential features. Examples of such tangential, yet valuable, features that you can bundle along with your deliverables are:

  • Access to blogs and articles that provide insights or analysis that the client finds valuable.

  • Newsletters allowing the client stay up to date easily – it can be as simple as a memo you write up every Monday morning and send out.

  • Webinars that give clients a quick rundown of emerging technologies, tools or methods.

  • Free or discounted entrance fees to conferences which provide a way for your client to quickly get up to date, find partners, suppliers, and network.

  • One-on-one consultation. This is a sales opportunity for you and also lets the client ask questions for free, making it a win-win.

Anchoring: Adjust the Buyer’s Idea of a Reasonable Price

An anchor on a pier, with the sea and boats in the distance.A while ago I had to go shopping for a tuxedo for a black-tie event. I didn’t own one, and I hadn’t been able to find one during the months leading up to the night. So I had to go to a store to find one with the right fit, and of a classic cut that would survive well past the latest trends.

After hearing what I was looking for, the salesperson did what every good salesperson does. She showed me one of the most expensive ones in the store. She probably knew I was looking for a different price range. Instead of showing me a tuxedo in that range right away, she tried anchoring.

When pricing, by using anchoring you can influence a buyer’s idea of the price they’re willing to pay. The theory is that we all have mental ranges of what is typical or reasonable. There are estimates that apply to many different aspects of our lives, prices being one. The first example we see will become an “anchoring point”, or benchmark, which we use to evaluate all the examples that follow.

How You Can Use Anchoring

By presenting the highest price as the first piece of information, you will make the following prices seem low. The buyer will use the first price as a baseline to evaluate the following prices.

In tiered pricing, this is particularly easy to do since you can present your tiers in sequence starting with the most expensive one. Just like the tuxedo store salesperson did when showing garments to me.

Fluency: Offer an Effortless Buying Experience

Smooth baby feet.Research shows that stores that want to sell more should reduce the complexity of their interiors. This heuristic is called fluency and relates to the smoothness of an experience. The smoother and more fluently something is presented, the more value will be attributed to it. We can apply the same thinking to how we package and price our offers.

A tiered pricing offer with just the right amount of information is the equivalent of a modern and minimalistic store design – an effortless experience. A massive text-intense proposal with long lists and dense blocks of text analogous to an old messy, though perhaps classy, store.

How You Can Use Fluency

Visual design and text matter more than most people think. An attractively designed tiered pricing offer will be more successful in winning bids than one that hasn’t received any attention at all, as far as design is concerned.

Attractive design is subjective and what one client likes may not match what one prefers. For high profile cases, I recommend you spend the time to do the research and design the offer to meet the clients’ expectations. Hire the services of a visual designer if needed.

Things to Consider When Designing a Tiered Pricing Offer

Take a good look at the following:

  • Colors: Are they appealing and effective? Are they readable for those who are color-blind? Color-blindness affects 10% of the male population, and you don’t know who will be looking at your proposal. Use a color-blindness simulator to color-blindness-proof your design.

  • Typography and Layout: Are headlines clear and is there enough of a visual hierarchy? Is it clear what items belong together?

  • Information: Read the text critically and pretend you don’t have any prior knowledge. Do items require additional explanation? Is it clear what’s included? Is it clear whether prices include or exclude applicable taxes?

  • Tone: Is the text written in a positive and helpful tone or is it defensive? Don’t write your proposal the way you’d write a legal document (which a lawyer will interpret in the case of disagreement or conflict). Instead, imagine putting a smile on the potential client’s name when they read your offer.

Don’t List Features – Describe Jobs and Benefits

A battery-powered drill.I’ve used the term features throughout this post for simplicity’s sake. But just to be clear, the best marketing and pricing focus on benefits. You should describe your offer in terms of the benefits it provides to your client.

Those with a background in marketing are probably familiar with the idea of thinking in terms of features, advantages, and benefits. This refers to the fact that features provide advantages that in turn give benefits. This idea is probably best illustrated with a quote by Theodore Levitt, a legendary Harvard professor of marketing, who famously said:

“Nobody wants a 1/4 inch drill – what they want is a 1/4 inch hole.”

We can break it down into features, advantages, and benefits like so:

Feature: Rotating drill bit.

Advantage: Being able to make holes in walls, fast and easy.

Benefit: Being able to redecorate a home by mounting shelves on walls.

“Upgrade your user, not your product. Don’t build better cameras — build better photographers.” — Kathy Sierra (source)

Help Your Client Be the Best They Possibly Can

If we apply this to you, your role isn’t to build apps, providing advice, creating digital marketing plans or designing blogs. Your job is to help your client be the best they possibly can at what they do.

The late Clayton Christensen, a well-known professor of marketing, and his colleagues reformulated this idea as Jobs-To-Be-Done (JTBD). In terms of JTBD, every product or service performs a job for the buyer. The buyer “hires” the product to perform the job and thereby obtains the benefits.

The question you need to ask is: When a client purchases your services, what jobs do they need performed?

To deliver a proposal that punches above its weight, make sure you put the focus on problems the client has admitted to having. Once you have identified the painful spot, all you need to do is to apply pressure. This works well since resolving pains is usually more highly prioritized than achieving gains.

When Pricing Your Tiers, Put a Value on Benefits

A menu at a bar listing food, drinks and prices.First, tiered pricing works best with fixed prices. I wouldn’t dream of trying this with hourly rates. Hourly pricing defeats the purpose of bundling, focusing on pains, and capturing value. I advise strongly against it.

Setting a price is difficult. There’s no way around that. Most companies rely on gut feel or guesswork. Others employ pricing consultants that carry out anonymous market research to determine what potential clients are willing to pay for an equal offering. Chances are you don’t have the budget for, or cannot motivate, a €40,000 consulting fee.

The Key to Pricing Is Understanding Where Your Clients Are Coming From

The good thing is that you get quite far just by taking pricing seriously. The starting point is understanding what your clients and potential clients value highly. I recommend that you first read this post about value-based pricing. It describes a method to gain insights into your clients’ pains and gains. This will help you reason about what problems you solve for them, which enables you to understand the value that you bring.

8 Questions That Make You Better at Tiered Pricing

These questions are relevant to pricing generally speaking.

Woman doing fist pump.To arrive at a number, make a hypothesis about the value you’re providing as perceived by the potential client and put a price on that value. Bring it to someone whose honesty you trust, such as a spouse or business advisor, and get their candid feedback. Your mom is probably not a good choice.

Expect Trial and Error

Have realistic expectations. You won’t get the price right the first time. It takes practice. However, keep in mind that almost every consultant, freelancer, and agency underestimate how much they can charge. You can almost always charge more than you do now. You’ll be surprised!

If you have any questions, feel free to use the comments section below.

Download the Free Tiered Pricing Design Template With Heuristics Explained

The template also summarizes the heuristics covered in this post and illustrates how they can be used.

Image of the tiered pricing template

To save you time, I’ve created a fictitious pricing example to you can use as a template. It’s available as a PDF and a Powerpoint file you can download and edit yourself.

Download the tiered pricing template

This article is available in multiple languages

Svenska 🇸🇪 SvenskaEnglish 🇬🇧 English
Article written by
Jakob Persson
Last updated
Originally published

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