As we work with service providers across the industry, a theme we hear increasingly is the buyers’ unrelenting pressure on providers to reduce price. The pressure is exacerbated by the growth slowdown in the industry. I believe this pricing pressure will soon show up in providers’ financial performance with decreased earnings per share.
The unrelenting pressure — which also seems to be growing — is linked to the power of purchasing departments and their inability and unwillingness to consider factors outside of price per unit in decisions.
The pressure frustrates service providers across two dimensions. First of all, it’s always unpleasant to have a services client ask a provider to reduce its price when its costs are rising. I think this is one of the reasons why we see a rise in anti-incumbency that I’ve blogged about before. If not the number-one reason, it’s at least a significant concern of service providers. Customers increasingly ask their providers to make investments in the customer’s business, but their pricing pressure deprives the providers of the margins with which to do that.
The second frustrating aspect is that the pricing pressure creates a set of unintended consequences. Most notably, there is less and less time for clients to take into consideration quality, total cost or total efficiencies the providers deliver. Instead they place more focus on reducing the cost per FTE or cost per unit.
It was easier for providers to resist, or at least manage, pricing pressures when the industry enjoyed a fast-growing marketplace thus affording providers the benefit of scale. In addition, most service providers also have been fortunate over the last few years to have forex tailwinds with the dollar to rupee or the pound or Euro to rupee. But the rupee depreciation can’t go on forever and may well be reversed as India puts its house in order.
Certainly there are growth areas in the market today: automation, cloud and as a service. And providers have the possibility of changing pricing algorithms from FTE-based deals to transactional outcome-based deals. However, those techniques are uncertain, difficult and, taken collectively, may not be sufficient to offset the downward pricing pressure on a provider’s core business.