Time-squeezed meeting planners are pleading with tech companies to stop requiring buyers to sit through lengthy online demos before getting an idea of whether or not the platform cost fits into the event budget. Tech companies say pricing is far too complex to post on a website, although some are addressing the issue.
PUT PRICING ON YOUR WEBSITE. That was the plea from Liz Caruso, CEO of techsytalk, in a recent LinkedIn post that sparked heated discussion by calling for greater pricing transparency among tech companies.
“We don’t have time to sit through a thousand demos just to get a price,” Caruso said in her post, adding that pricing should be standard and not vary according to the buyer’s budget, as it often does. “You should be able to list at least basic pricing for X number of attendees with X, Y, and Z features without requiring a demo.”
Caruso told EventMB that she believes a lack of transparency in pricing is a serious problem, one that has been exacerbated in the current environment.
“The competition is high, and companies are scrambling to figure out their pricing models and maximize revenue,” she said. “Unfortunately – for the planner – this makes it very difficult to understand what starting points are, what companies might fit within our client’s budget, and to get other basic information we really need.”
Caruso said that many tech companies do not seem to understand that planners have often already seen their demos, usually at industry events. While she finds information on service and features on websites to be helpful, it needs to be accompanied by basic pricing information.
“If the platform does not offer the tools we need, they’re automatically off the list,” she said. “Likewise, if the platform is completely out of budget, they are automatically off the list. I know companies don’t want to hear this, but it’s a reality.”
Mahoganey Jones of Event Specialists has a similar take.
“Price transparency should always be key,” she said. “I don’t want to hear it’s dependent on the scope of the event and that we tailor to match. With that approach, we can’t properly quote for our clients, AND we’re being sold to with additional charges that weren’t accounted for. I’ve also seen pricing higher for one client than another based on their budgets.”
Given that event managers are often asked to quote, sign, and execute events in short timeframes, she added that recommending services to clients has become a challenge.
“Sometimes potential clients come to us with platforms they have seen and would like to use, but the booking of a demo and then the follow-up with pricing, adds too much time to the quoting phase,” she said.
Why aren’t virtual platform providers more upfront about their pricing? Caruso believes there are several issues at play.
“First of all – companies like to believe that they can sell anyone if only the planner gets to see how great their product is,” she said. “At the same time, they play with the pricing. Based on an organization’s size and budget, they often change their pricing. This is where I really feel it is unethical, and I’ve seen it happen many times.”
Rather than a straightforward pricing plan based on the number of attendees, the number of services used, etc., Caruso said too many companies are playing a game intending to make as much money as possible based on the client’s budget.
Jones said she wonders if companies are truly trying to vet planners by requiring them to view demos or if it’s a “fishing expedition.”
“The demo to show your bells and whistles and attempt to upsell has a place, but not always,” she said. “I personally get extremely annoyed because doing a demo if you’re already out of budget is a waste of everyone’s time. I also like to send an event scope for pricing, and that doesn’t always help.”
Jones said she primarily sticks with those vendors she already has relationships with rather than sit through a demo “only to be told I need to book another call with the demo team and then wait to receive a pricing sheet.”
“I have my preferred vendors, and those are who I recommend,” she said. “If a client asks for one we don’t have a relationship with, I message the sales team with the event scope, and if I can’t get an initial estimate without a demo, I move on and offer alternatives.”
Caruso said many planners choose to get pricing information from colleagues rather than sit through numerous demos, which is a less than ideal situation.
“The trouble with this is that, again, companies change their pricing based on organization and budget so even if I know someone who went through a demo and got some pricing, it’s very hard to translate that for our clients.”
A Complex Process
Pedro Góes, CEO of InEvent, said the variation and complexity in what different events require from a platform makes it all but impossible for companies to post a flat fee or even a range of fees on their websites. For example, InEvent requires first-time customers to attend a 90-minute training call, after which they receive certification.
“Once certified, planners can log in with a password and get a quote – there’s no need to sit through a demo that you’ve already seen,” he said. “If planners get the training on how the business model works and the different components, then they can make an informed decision, and there is no miscommunication later.”
Why not at least post a range of prices on the website? Góes said the problem is with complexity.
“There are so many components that go into pricing – it’s not just about the features, which is what people tend to focus on,” he said. “You also have to consider languages, implementation, support, and volume to get the right price. Do you need support 24/7? Do you need to reach Japanese speakers?”
Putting all of these variables into one table of price ranges is complex and may not provide planners with an accurate look at what their costs will be, Góes said,
“If we have a conversation, we can have a perfect price for the customer rather than presenting a huge, complicated table with a range that really means nothing,” he said. “It could turn out that the pricing is much lower for their particular event needs.”
While Rachel Jacob, manager of congress and events for the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, acknowledged the complexity of event platform pricing, she said tech companies should be able to furnish a concise summary of the platform’s capabilities with some range pricing.
“If platforms aren’t organized enough to succinctly give clients a ballpark, I’m not sure that’s in their best interest,” she said. “My sense is planners specifically might find this more frustrating since we do our due diligence and deal with range pricing and negotiators and sales folks all the time, so we are well equipped to receive this information and move things forward.”
Setting Flat Fees
One tech company moving toward greater transparency and upfront pricing is Encaptiv, which provides platforms for virtual, hybrid, and live events. The company already offers flat pricing for events, ranging from an entry-level plan for $1,500 on up to a top-tier plan for $30,000, and will be posting the pricing on its website in the near future, according to founder and CEO Shannon Malkin Daniels.
With experience in the planning side of the industry, Daniels understands the frustration of having to sit through a lengthy demo without knowing the costs.
“Demos are great – and you do need to see if it’s a right fit, but why go through this if they aren’t in your price range,” she said. “When anyone asks us for pricing, we are transparent with it. We have a calculator for our pricing model and can give it in a matter of seconds.”
However, Daniels acknowledges the challenges that companies like hers have in setting and posting fixed prices. Factoring in the cost of streaming is especially difficult, as it varies widely according to usage, she said.
“It’s hard to have flat-rate pricing as it’s hard for us to predict our costs,” Daniels said. “We’ve been playing with different flat-rate prices, but we may have to change them if we see we’re losing money.”
Predicting what the event will actually require is also a big challenge, she said.
“Costs increase as attendees and booths increase – and this changes a lot in the planning process, even down to the day of the event,” she said. “Sponsors and speakers drop in and drop out. As an event organizer, you don’t want to be held to not being able to take these additions. You don’t want to be limited based on what you have purchased.”
To avoid this, Daniels said Encaptiv has built a platform where the organizer can add or subtract throughout the planning process. “We don’t want people to be nickel and dimed for adding another session.”
Given their time constraints, who can blame event planners for not wanting to endure a lengthy sales demo, which they may have already seen, without knowing if the product fits their budget. For their part, the complexity and variables of different events make it difficult for tech companies to post flat fees on their websites. The industry needs to find a workable compromise to take the mystery out of pricing, shorten wait times and ensure that planners get a fair deal.