Guide to Usage-Based vs. Subscription-Based Pricing in B2B Models

3 min read
17 August 2023

Pricing is more than just a number on a tag—it's an intricate strategy influencing business trajectory and customer relationships. As businesses ponder adopting either a usage-based or subscription-based pricing model, it's crucial to understand the implications of each, especially in the distinct environments of business and consumer customers. 

Usage-Based Pricing  

Also referred to as a pay-as-you-go or consumption model. This model can resonate with a market segment that values fairness and flexibility. Essentially, you're charged for what you consume—no more, no less. Such transparent pricing can increase initial adoption but might face the challenge of retaining customers if they use your product or service less over time. Furthermore, businesses must be prepared with robust technology to track usage and ensure accurate billing. 

Subscription-Based Pricing 

Subscriptions offer a predictable and consistent billing cycle. Customers opt for this when they prioritize convenience over flexibility. While this can result in steady revenue streams for businesses, there's a latent risk: the perceived value must remain high, or customers may feel trapped, leading to potential churn. 

Moving to recurring models requires thought and planning  

In the business-to-business (B2B) context, the complexities multiply. Here, relationships tend to be long-term, with significant stakes. 

B2B usage models require contract clarity—defining 'usage', addressing potential rate changes, and handling overages. While such models can be seen as equitable, ensuring accurate and undisputed billing is pivotal, especially in regulated sectors. Such models might also necessitate a deeper rapport with clients to ensure perceptions of being overcharged don't erode trust. Some of the processes that need to be considered are: 

  • Renewals: Renewal discussions might center around changing consumption patterns, ensuring that if a client's usage has grown, they are still on the most cost-efficient plan. Renewals need to be planned in advance to minimize the risk of churn. 
  • Revenue Volatility: Your earnings can fluctuate based on customer consumption, demanding more rigorous financial forecasting. 
  • Sales Compensation: This can become far more complex and challenging, especially when moving the sales team from one model to another. Sometimes this can only happen over an extended period to ensure fairness. 
  • Billing: Billing becomes more intricate, as it must accurately reflect usage and associated fluctuations. Regular audits and client checkpoints, and billing transparency can prevent help billing issues.
  • Business Risk: The primary risk is revenue unpredictability and recognition, which require good data and robust accounting practices, especially with clients whose consumption patterns vary widely. 

On the other hand, subscription-based pricing is often favored for its stability in B2B engagements. Contracts under this model must guarantee consistent service levels and have a clear framework for renewals and terminations. But it's not just about the contract; it's about ensuring value. Businesses must be agile enough to adapt to evolving client needs and offer levels of customization without diluting profitability. 

  • Billing: Simpler, predictable, but needs mechanisms to handle add-ons or customizations
  • Renewals: Discussions usually pertain to service enhancements or the potential shift to higher or lower subscription tiers
  • Complacency: A steady revenue stream may overshadow the need for continuous service improvement or innovation.
  • Contractual Limitations: Long-term commitments might hinder the ability to adapt quickly to market changes or to re-evaluate pricing structures

In both sectors, there's the tempting allure of hybrid models, which blend the benefits of both pricing strategies. They offer flexibility but demand intricate management to balance the pros and cons. 

In the B2B setting, the choice between usage-based and subscription-based pricing transcends financial considerations. It profoundly impacts business processes and shapes the client experience. A strategic approach, coupled with a keen understanding of both models' implications on operations, client relationships, and financial forecasting, is imperative.  

The decision between usage-based and subscription-based pricing is not one-size-fits-all. Consider your customer's preferences and behaviors, the efficiency of your internal processes, and the risks you're willing to manage. Ultimately, the suitable model should align with your business objectives while also catering to your clientele's evolving needs and preferences. Ensure ongoing evaluations and adapt as the market dynamics shift, keeping your business and client relationships thriving. 


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