9 Tips on improving your Gross Margin Percentage? – CEO Reflections #8

Updated August 20, 2022 by Carl Lindberg

Most business leaders have been there – the dreaded situation when your gross margin is dropping without you knowing exactly why this is happening. I will go through some of the more important drivers behind your gross margin in this blog post. The aim is to provide you with some guidance and ideas for where to look for problems as well as for opportunities in your gross margin. The below ideas can be used to improve your gross margin percentage, and they can also be an inspiration for analyzing a dropping gross margin in order to find the root cause behind the drops.

Gross Margin Percentage defined

Loosely defined, the gross margin is the difference between your net sales and your cost of goods sold. This gives us two major factors to work with, i.e. income and costs. In my experience, one of these is commonly forgotten. In some companies, there is an absurd focus on the costs but not that much on the revenue side of things. In other organizations it seems to be the opposite: revenue is the only thing in the spotlight. I will try to approach this in a more balanced way in this post. I will focus primarily on the gross margin percentage here, i.e. it will not be too much talk about volumes.
The Gross Margin Percentage is the percentage of your net sales amount that is left after the cost of goods sold has been removed. Example: 100 (Sales price) – 60 (Cost of Goods Sold) = 40 (Gross Margin). Your Gross Margin Percentage is then 40/100=40%.

Improve your gross margin percentage – 5 tips to increase revenue

Here we go, here are five ideas on how to increase the net sales number and improve the gross margin percentage from a revenue standpoint. On the income side, there are several things to work with. Selling additional units at the same price will increase your gross margin in money, while the gross margin percentage will stay the same. In our list, we will focus on items that actually grow the gross margin percentage.

Improving the revenue side contributes to improving your gross margin percentage.

1. Increase your prices or lower your discounts

Sounds simple enough: Increase your prices!
If only management and leadership spent as much time on price increases as they did on cost savings. Increasing the prices is often forgotten according to my experience. Pricing in itself is also a topic wide enough for one or several books (in fact, I have read a few already), but let us stay simple again.

Always consider how to motivate a price increase and try to assess what a price increase can lead to. No need to increase the price by 10% if it means you will not sell anything – that’s hardly an improvement, right?

Consider annual price increases, at least at inflation rate levels. Watch your competition, consider your value proposition, and set a price adjustment in a thought-through way.

Lowering your discounts will serve the same purpose. Sometimes this is easier since a discount reduction is not necessarily perceived as a price increase although it pushes the net sales price upwards.

2. Product Mix: Focus on the products with the highest Gross margin

If you, like most companies do, have several different products for sale, then please consider the product mix and the data of each product. If these products are interchangeable alternatives, you might want to make sure that your sales force has enough knowledge on what makes the most money for the company. In the example below, it is best for the company if you sell the cheapest product since that gives the highest gross margin both in percentage as well as in absolute money. It is not uncommon for salespeople to strive for selling as much as possible, but sometimes that is not the best thing to do financially.

ProductSales PriceCost Gross MarginGross Margin, %
Product A100703030%
Product B90454550%
Product C80305062,5%

3. Use value-based pricing rather than a cost pricing approach

Make sure you are pricing right, factoring in the customers’ willingness to pay and the value of the product or service sold. In example 1 above, it is very likely that product A could justify a higher sales price than 100. If product C sells at 80 with a cost at 30, product A should be valued higher than 100 with its’ cost at 70, otherwise, something is wrong. Perhaps it is more robust and long-lasting – this would be an argument for a higher price of course! Again, pricing is a huge topic that deserves its own blog post sometime in the future.

4. Options & Upgrades: Add some extra cream on top!

Sometimes it can be much easier to focus on selling extra options or features when the basic core of the deal has already started to materialize. This opens up a lot of psychological tricks and negotiation tactics to be the topic of entire books. Let us keep it simple in this blog post. Let us say someone is buying a piece of machinery, let’s say a computer. The basic computer itself is likely the bulk of the cost and the most comparable and hence most price competitive part of your offering. Is there a chance you can package your products differently in order to increase the gross margin % on your entire sale?

Sales PriceCostGross MarginGM, %
Laptop bag100208080%
Extra cables80206080%
Training material/online course2011995%

5. Product content: Reduce content without dropping the price

Lower the content of the product but keep the price at the same level – a de facto price increase in the end. This could mean removing an additional warranty, deliver an electrical product without a charger, reduce the portion size in a food item, or something similar. This method is widely used but can also be seen as unethical if you try to “sneak” in this change. Some food manufacturers reduce the package sizing in such a sneaky way that no one notices. This leaves people with the notion that they are getting the same volume as before at the same price point. Consider this carefully and if you do this, do it in a good way or you might get a hit on your customer loyalty.

Improve your gross margin percentage – reduce costs

This is a bit more straight forward in my opinion. Perhaps that’s why it seems to get more attention from managers and leaders out there. Reduce the costs without resulting in a reason to reduce the sales price. (I.e. do not impact lifetime, quality, or performance of the product in such a way that it has less perceived value. If that happens, it could prompt a price reduction and the gross margin percentage improvement would be gone).

Cost reductions are tangible, consequences are easier to assess. Essentially, you know what you get compared to sales price increases which is a very difficult guessing game. Our four ideas on how to improve the gross margin percentage by reducing costs are as follows..

1. Reduce raw material and components costs

Sourcing is a vast field of expertise, so I am not planning on covering it all here since this is more of an idea stimulation article than anything else. So, what should you do?

  • Negotiate with your suppliers to lower the prices. Demand price reductions.
  • Perhaps you can buy higher quantities at the same time? This could mean a lower cost per unit.
  • Have alternate suppliers to increase competition and play them out against each other. (Remember, suppliers also have to live and have a sustainable business. Pushing them too far means they will suffer or stop selling to you.)

2. Reduce consumption of material and components

Can you cut your material to reduce waste? Can you use 4 bolts instead of eight to keep that top lid in place? All this will lead to reduced costs and an improved gross margin percentage.

3. Save on labor cost to improve the GM percentage

Is it possible to adapt your manufacturing process so that you can get more out of every working hour? Batching? More systematic approach? Could you use your high cost and high skilled labor specifically for those tasks they are absolutely required for? Perhaps by hiring a few more low-skilled people you can free up the high-skilled ones and remove a bottleneck. Adding resources to lower the costs seems counterproductive but it can still mean your cost per unit can go down, as long as you can sell more of course. If you can’t sell more, then perhaps you need to re-balance anyway, but downwards. Refer to the example in the table below. If you reduce the cost per unit and retain the same or a higher sales price, your gross margin percentage will improve.

 High skilled workers, 20/hourLow skilled workers, 10/hourOutputCost per unit
Start case448 units/hour15/unit
Add low skill labor4612 units/hour11,7/unit
Reduce high skill and increase low skill labor358 units/hour13,75/unit

4. Improve Gross Margin percentage by lowering freight costs

Can you order components once a week instead of small deliveries every day? This could save you on shipping costs. Can you pack your outgoing deliveries in a better way? Perhaps by improving packaging routines and material you can fit another unit on that half pallet you send out – this can result in lower shipping costs which in turn would improve your gross margin percentage.

Saving time and money on your cost side is a good way to improve your gross margin percentage..

Conclusions on improving your gross margin percentage

As you can see, there are many ways of increasing your revenue or reducing your costs – both areas contribute to an improvement in gross margin percentage. These are not the only ones, of course, it’s merely a spontaneous selection on my part.
Please, do not underestimate the difficulty in increasing your sales price in a smart and low-risk way. Depending on your industry, this ranges from easy to extremely difficult. I do recommend some further reading and training on pricing on the way.

Do you have any additional suggestions to this shortlist of GM improvement ideas? Please comment? Do you have a good or bad experience from deploying any of the above? Tell us more in the comment section. Looking forward to hearing from you!

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