Puppet Sex, Negotiations and Economic Incentives

There’s a movie from the creators of South Park called ‘Team America: World Police’. All of the “actors” are marionettes. I’m not going to get into the politics of the movie. I just wanted to talk about one scene. In this scene, the love story subplot of the movie comes to a head:

Lisa: Promise me you’ll never die.
Gary Johnston: You know I can’t promise that.
Lisa: If you did that, I would make love to you right now.
Gary Johnston: <awestruck> I promise I’ll never die.

That scene always cracks me up. Not only because of the marionettes, but because of the obvious incentive Gary has to simply tell Lisa what she wants to hear, regardless of the reality of the situation.

Now that I have your attention, I’d like to tell you about a similar situation I ran into last weekend. We were thinking about switching credit card processing providers for Awardable. Currently we use Amazon Flexible Payment Services, but I had heard very good things about Braintree. Navigating to their site, I couldn’t find a price list. Strange. So I filled out the ‘Contact Us’ link hoping to be emailed a price list.

A short time later, a representative from Braintree contacted me via email:

Hi Griffin,
Thank you for contacting us. Can you share some additional details about your business processing needs including what product/service you are selling and current or expected monthly processing volume?

I responded:

Could you give me some more information about your pricing structure?

Which I thought was strange. Every other merchant solution we’ve investigated ( Authorize.Net, Google Checkout, Paypal, Amazon FPS, etc.. ) has their price list, by tiers, on their product website. Why would Braintree be different?

Hi Griffin,
Thank you for the quick response. I would be happy to send you pricing but I need you to answer the questions in my previous email before I send pricing. (Can you share some additional details about your business processing needs including what product/service you are selling and current or expected monthly processing volume?)

Hmm, strange response and not at all what I was expecting.

Sorry, not sure why you need to know that. Every other credit card processing solution has their prices on their site, including pricing per tiers based on volume. I’m a little leery about a service that needs to be tailored per customer.

At this point, I’m not really interested in Braintree anymore. It seems like they’re either going to be too expensive for us or there’s going to be some other catch. Then comes this response:

Hi Griffin,
I am sorry to hear that. There are hundreds of different interchange rates that Visa/all other cards charge. So I don’t know what my cost is until I know what you sell, how you sell it, and your volumes. Volume is also important because I can give you lower pricing if your volume is higher. The other reason we ask for information is we need to know if you are even compatible with our company. There are industries like the adult industry that we simply can’t work with. I would like to know if we are compatible before we start sending pricing and other information so I don’t waste your time. I do need that information to proceed.

The part about adult services sounds plausible, but still, why not just put that on your site? It’s not like you’re going to be confused about if you sell porn.Also, the part about interchange rates seems a little off. Every other merchant has figured this out except for Braintree. Either they’re banking on screwing over the smaller volume clients or they just aren’t big enough to beat the other services I mentioned above.

No problem. I just have a hunch that from your questions we wouldn’t have the volume to get your competitive rates. No matter, well stick with Amazon, Auth.net, google and the like.

He ends with this:

Hi Griffin,
Our rates are very competitive, and we do bring on many new merchants. I just need to understand what I am pricing before I price it. I will close things out on my end, but if you decide you would like to see what we offer please let me know.

What does this have to with incentives? Well, from my POV, the rep made two critical errors.

First, he’s made it pretty clear that their prices are based on volume. More volume == lower prices. But what about if you don’t know the volume? As a new merchant, I would have to guess. However, if they want a quote to base my rates off of, isn’t it in my best interest to be wildly optimistic about our expected volume in order to get the lowest quote? Since we’re so new, it’s just a guess anyway and if I’m guessing, why would I low ball my guess when it will result in higher rates from them? In this case, he created the incentive for me to tell him what he wanted to hear.

Second, he never explains why other companies can put list their prices up front but Braintree can’t. If he needs a expected volume guess and a services overview, I’m sure he’s just throwing those into a spreadsheet. He’s not going to treat me differently for any reason. If that’s the case, why not just formalize the spreadsheet and toss it online? What are they gaining by adding the bottleneck of a salesman? If we come in under the expected volume, I’m assuming there’s a penalty. If so, then they’re rates must be formalized, so why hide them?