SaaS founders find it challenging to choose the most appropriate pricing model. It's not only because balancing value and revenue is hard, but also because pricing is part of the product. It influences everything: from your target audience to your budget projections.
Who is your target audience? Do they see the benefits versus price the same way you do? Your pricing model will influence your marketing strategy. It will also affect your customer journey map. You will need to think when it's time to offer your users an upgrade and when it's a good time to upsell. Finally, a SaaS pricing model influences your gross profit. How soon will you get payments? How much money will you need to invest in marketing? How much will you need to spend to cover operational costs? If you choose the wrong pricing model, it may stunt your product's growth.
Many SaaS companies we've worked with to design their products struggle to find the right pricing model. That's why we wrote this article. We want to help people like them understand the difference between the most popular pricing models and make an informed decision based on the industry's best practices.
7 Types of SaaS Pricing Models
We have analyzed seven of the most common SaaS pricing models on the market. Let’s see which models Zoom, Zapier, Zendesk, TextMagic, Active Campaign, PreCog use to charge their clients.
One of the most common models to price a SaaS product is Freemium. You let your customers use your software for free offering them a basic set of features. In other words, you let your users see what your service is capable of without making them pay for it. To go to the next level and get the most experience of your SaaS they will need to upgrade to a paid plan. Freemium is not used as a single pricing model on the market and is usually combined with Per Feature or Tiered Pricing (will cover them further).
Zoom is a good example of a well-integrated Freemium pricing model. The most popular video and audio communication SaaS platform is widely used not only because it has an awesome set of features but also because it offers a Basic Personal Meeting plan. You can sign up for free and get access to an unlimited number of 1 to 1 and group meetings on Zoom platform with additional video conferencing features (screen sharing, recording). This plan is quite popular among single-users and small teams.
- Usually, it costs a pretty penny to attract customers to a business. Freemium pricing model will help you acquire leads faster and cut marketing costs.
- You will build a big customer database. Collecting emails of Freemium users will help you further interact with them, test your marketing funnels, and convert them to use your additional features or sign up to one of your paid plans.
- Awesome tools with useful free features become viral very fast among users. It nurtures word-of-mouth marketing and PR.
- Freemium plan is a viable playground to test your SaaS features on different buyer personas.
- Serving an unlimited number of freemium users can affect your financial, operational, and time resources.
- You may struggle to qualify your customers and establish the value of your service. What used to be free at the beginning, hardly becomes paid in the future. People like freebies and will try to get the most of them.
- Flat Rate
It is a simple pricing model. You have one price for one product with the same features offered to all of your customers. The only choice you give is to charge monthly or annually to use your SaaS product.
One of our clients, Precog implements a Flat Rate pricing model. Precog is a data preparation solution that simplifies the process of data analysis. It provides software for letting business teams, as well as data engineers, access any data regardless of source, size, or structure and turn it into analytics-ready tables in minutes. The customer is only offered to choose between Monthly or Yearly subscription plan, no trials, no complex pricing structure.
- 3Es - easy to communicate, easy to market, and easy to manage.
- Communicating value. Choices are good but people sometimes struggle to make decisions. Flat rate pricing offers one option and a clear end result for everyone.
- Allocating marketing resources. You concentrate on one product and build clear funnels to promote and sell it.
- Managing revenue. You can automate all your financial operations and build an accurate financial strategy.
- The Flat rate model limits the diversity of buyer personas you can attract. For example, if you price your product for the enterprise market, that price might be too high for mid-sized businesses.
- Upsell and scale is not your story. In other words, it deprives you of additional revenue streams and decreases LTV (Lifetime Value), as your customer can overgrow your SaaS.
- Acquisition becomes a lifetime battle. You will have to invest a lot in ads to find your audience.
Usage-based Pricing Model is pretty clear and fair for your customers. They pay only for the volume they use. An alternative name is “pay as you go”. It is like a regular utility bill with a counter but for SaaS companies. You can charge for the number of transactions, requests, data used, scheduled posts, issued invoices, calls, messages. It works well with Tiered and Freemium pricing models.
Usages Based pricing model was the best option for our good client TextMagic. It is an all-in-one text messaging service that has been successfully helping small businesses around the world do mobile marketing. They offer to create a free account and use all features. You only pay for the number of outbound text messages (sent from personal or business email, virtual, or existing mobile number). Inbound messages are free of charge. So by the end of the billing period, TextMagic customers only pay their bills.
- A transparent financial model helps you avoid miscommunication with your clients and makes them responsible for charges.
- Price is not the key criterion for your customers. The price for usage is usually low. You can attract your first clients pretty fast.
- A wide audience. Usage-Based pricing fits all business sizes, as a result, your market share can be pretty high from startups to huge corporations.
- Your business growth becomes highly dependent on your customers. The scale is only possible if your clients’ business grows.
- Unpredictable revenue. MRR (monthly recurring revenue) or ARR (annually recurring revenue) are fluctuating metrics for your SaaS product. It will be difficult to forecast and manage them.
One type of “pay as you go” pricing strategy is based on the number of users actively or passively operating your SaaS platform. There are two types of this pricing model: user-based and active-user based. You charge clients either for the total number of signed up users or for only for active users. With a user-based pricing model every time they create an account and assign it to an employee, they have to pay a monthly fee. Active user-based is more convenient for your clients as you only charge them when their accounts are used (employee is logged in, makes calls, checks reports, schedules posts, etc.). They do not have to keep track of inactive users (those who do not work anymore or on a sabbatical vacation). The user-based pricing model can be combined with a Feature-Based or Tiered one.
Zendesk, a CRM (Customer relationship management) system to manage customer relationships and contacts databases, uses an Active User-Based pricing model. They charge per active agent on a monthly or annual basis. Besides charging for a number of accounts, Zendesk also offers to choose between different tiers and features. You can choose the Essential plan and pay $5 per month per agent who will be able to communicate with customers via emails and social media messengers, keep the history of communication, create clients’ cards, and use widgets. Or you may pick Team plan and pay $19 per agent/monthly, and in addition to all Essential features provide access to dashboards and integrate additional apps for each active agent.
Eleken worked with Clientjoy, a client experience platform for freelancers and agencies that allows them to build sales funnels for potential clients, prepare proposals, track the project stages, issue invoices quickly and easily. They implemented a clear User-Based SaaS pricing model and also created different tiers to serve customers of different-size. Features are the same for each plan, the numbers of users differ only. If you are a Solopreneur, then the Basic plan is your best option, if you run a small agency or work as a team of three professionals, you may choose the Plus plan.
- It is easy to get your head around the User-Based pricing model for your clients as they pay for the number of accounts/people who need access to the SaaS platform.
- You can gain control over RRM (Recurring Revenue Management) and forecast revenue based on the number of users.
- Upsell is not an option if you choose to charge per User. Unless you actually combine it with multiple pricing models, add tiers, or offer additional features.
- Cheating is possible. Very often users share their account information with other people instead of adding them as users. Log in abuse significantly decreases product value.
If you offer a wide range of features, then your best option would be to stick to the Feature-based pricing model. You can combine this model with Tiered pricing and create multiple plans with a set of features for different customers.
ActiveCampaign, a platform for marketing automation processes, email marketing, and customer support, uses a Feature-based pricing model. Their customers can upgrade as they scale their business or need additional features. Active Campaign also integrates user-based and usage-based pricing models. You can choose the Lite plan for $9/mo (provided with a yearly subscription) and send an unlimited number of emails (newsletters, forms), provide chat and email support to your clients for 3 users. If you also need to communicate with your Facebook audience, to manage your content and leads, to integrate other apps and grant access to a SaaS platform for more than 3 users, your better option is Plus plan which is $49/mo.
- Customers pay only for relevant functionality and can choose from clear offers. You build several plans for businesses of different sizes (small, medium, big) and suggest choosing the one which fits their needs.
- When you have multiple predetermined plans you can divide your audience and adapt your marketing and communication strategy to each of the groups.
- You will need to work with buyer personas meticulously to understand which features can be combined together in a way that benefits their business at the different growth stages.
- Customer acquisition is tightly bonded to your plans. If you don’t combine features in relevant plans you won’t hit the target and lose the lead. It is obvious when a client can’t find what he needs, he/she chooses your competitor.
Tiered Pricing model combines all the possible features of your SaaS in predefined packages and allows your customer to choose what better suits his or her needs. You create from two to five plans at a specific price with a set of functions for each. With the Tiered Pricing model, you serve B2C (business to customer) and B2B (business to business of different sizes). It is usually combined with Freemium or Feature-Based Saas Pricing Models.
Zapier is an online tool that connects apps and atomizes repeated and time-consuming tasks. They offer to choose among tiers that are developed for different types of customers (Starters, Professionals, Teams, Companies). What is even more interesting, they combined the Tiered Pricing model with Feature-based and Usage-based and Freemium.
- Increased market share (B2C and B2B) due to a bigger audience: individuals, small businesses, and enterprises.
- High Lifetime Value (LTV) because you can offer more useful features to your customers as they scale. They will be loyal to your business, prolong their subscription, and do not consider shifting to your competitor.
- Qualified database of clients to upsell and interact with for further development and SaaS growth.
- You will need to spend a lot of financial and time resources forefront to run detailed research of your targeted audience to carefully combine features in tiers.
The better you know your product the optimal pricing model you will be able to choose. For some market players, it is difficult to fit all functionality into one pricing model. Therefore, they mix a few models to sell their products to different people. With a blended pricing model, gains are pretty clear, but losses are great as well. You have to manage your Pricing as separate Products and engage immensely in controlling and forecasting (if it is possible) your revenue streams.
Vimeo, a streaming platform, is hitting that road. They combine Feature-, Usage-, User-based, Tiered, and Freemium pricing models to get the most of what they can offer to their clients. Despite it is a bit unclear from their pricing on a website but you can try a plan for 30 days for free or start with Vimeo Basic plan - Freemium pricing model. Then they offer different tiers (Plus, Pro, Business, Premium) with predetermined sets of features for each package. We can see Tiered and Feature-based pricing models combined here. Each of the plans also offers different storage to your business size and number of users who can access the platform and work with videos. Pretty awesome!
The key takeaways:
- You can not copy-paste the pricing model of your SaaS competitor. Even one different feature you offer may influence the choice of pricing model. Put on the table all that you can offer to your customer and see how you can deliver your market value, meet customer needs, and make your business profitable long-term.
- If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. Your SaaS Pricing Model directly influences your total revenue. There are important metrics that you have to work with to understand whether this model fits your SaaS business or not. We have mentioned LTV (Lifetime value - the amount of money which you can receive from customers over their usage of your service) and CAC (Customer Acquisition Cost - how much will you need to invest to attract clients). Churn ratio (percentage of revenue you lose due to subscription cancellations or downgrades) and Expansion MRR (earnings from upsells) are also connected to the type of pricing model.
- The SaaS pricing model is not a rigid choice for your business. You may change it as your service develops additional features or scales on the market.