Getting your slice of the cake isn't as easy as you may have thought!

Come again? I can hear you say. Its one of the main objectives for the first call isn’t it? Find out what the client wants to buy, find out how much he wants to buy it for, then sell it to him. Simple.

True, and that advice can be good advice, but on the condition that you know the client well, and that in having done a good job for them in the past, you have built up a large level of trust.

The consultative sell

The two call sell (by Dough Clough, from at least 15 years ago!) tells us the purpose of the first call in a two call, or consultative approach, is to establish trust and rapport, and to identify a need opportunity or want on the client’s behalf. The idea being having provided a solution to the problem identified in the first call, and leveraging the trust you built, you are able to close the sale on the second call.

One problem. You can develop rapport for sure. It’s a pretty poor sales person that can’t do that. If they can’t build rapport, its unlikely the organisation they are selling for would have given them a job in the first place.

No, the problem is the trust bit. I have long-standing friends I don’t fully trust! And sales people, at least in this country, are generally regarded, lets say, in a cautious manner. You build trust over time, not in a first call. You’ll certainly develop enough trust to be allowed to continue to communicate, but that’s it. For the rest of the relationship you are being weighed and measured and assessed. The better you do, and the better results you get, the more the trust develops.

Trust in me, just in me! 

So given they don’t trust you, at least not nearly as quickly as most sales people would like to think, why on earth do you think they would give you a genuine answer to the question ‘how much money do you have to spend?’

Think of the sorts of situations you might encounter that question yourself.

Buying a used car? The nice and friendly sales person approaches and asks if they can help you. Promising start! If you progress far enough to tell them you are looking to buy a car, they invariably ask you for a budget right? Your response?

You underestimate how much you tell them you are willing to pay. Why? Because you don’t want to get ripped off. This pattern is repeated anytime you are looking to buy something. The hi-fi store, TV shop, computer shop. In fact anytime anyone asks you how much you have to spend, you’ll not give them the ‘full amount’. Rather some sort of first advance, to ensure you aren’t fully committed, and to ensure you don’t position yourself as some sort of mug.

Why do we expect our clients to do anything different to what we do ourselves? Unless, as I have said, they fully trust that you are there to do a great job for them and are there to solve a problem. Unless they trust you are with them in complete partnership. But this only comes in time.

Selling for how much they’ve got, not how much it costs

There is another problem with this. And in some ways it may be considered a far bigger issue. Sales people appear to be consumed with coming in on budget. Fair enough, but what if the clients problem costs more than they’ve said they have to spend to solve?

Too many sales people simply make it fit. Despite their reputation as hard edge commercial machines designed to maximise profit, most are too ready to provide whatever the product required at whatever the price the client ‘set’ when giving the budget in the first place.

Weird isn’t it? These paragons of commerce, so paranoid that the client won’t buy they are consumed by not over pricing.

The trust gap

Yet at the same time the clients are pretty sure that they are getting caught out! I’ve always found this very frustrating, this lack of trust on both parts. The sales person doesn’t trust the client will see the value in what they sell, and the client doesn’t trust that the sales person has their best interests at heart. This trust gap can only be over come over time as the sales person demonstrates their motivations are ‘honourable’ and the client that they value the advice they are getting.

So how do we solve the problem? Its simple really. Price consistently and transparently at all times. And offer the client whatever it takes to solve their problem, not what you think they can afford. (Or what they told you they can afford)

You get what you pay for

It’s a fundamental truth of the universe that you can’t get high quality at low price. Cheap things are, well, cheap. And quality comes at a cost. So don’t be afraid of asking for what your product is worth. Or at least not second guessing what the client has to spend when constructing a solution to their problem.

It’s the only way to go. Take a good brief, find out what the problem is, and provide a solution at a transparent and consistent pricing point.

It’s what you would expect yourself. You’d expect to be told how much something costs right? You’d expect to pay a fair price, and you’d expect the organisation benefiting from the sale to make a profit. Thats fair enough, that’s the way the world works. So why all this agonising over how much to charge, or what level to pitch?

It will cost whatever it costs. And if they don’t believe you, or can’t afford it, they won’t buy it.

It’s just like magic 

Having found out how much the solution to their problems will cost, most people then go about justifying it. Thats right, we convince ourselves that the thing we need, or even better, want, is so worthwhile, that its worth the cash that’s being asked for. We do it all the time when it comes to stuff we buy.

Think how different it feels to buy rather than sell? That panic that maybe the thing you want isn’t in stock, or that you might have to wait for it to be ordered in (or is that just me!) And having set yourself a price limit or budget, how you go about convincing yourself that you can go that extra pound, or tenner, or thousand pound or whatever is relevant.

But when clients are doing the buying, we act like they are aliens with alien motivations! What are they thinking we ask? We know exactly what. It’s exactly what we ourselves think when we are buying!

Like with so many other things when it comes to selling, the only way to go is to be honest, up front and authentic. Tell it like it is, price it as it costs. Stand by your solution and what you have asked for. If you have done your job, and the clients see that this is the case, you may even find them justifying the cost to themselves, without your intervention!

What do you think? Let me know in the comments section below.

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11 thoughts on “Why asking for the clients budget is almost always the wrong thing to do

  1. Interesting. Agree that in a perfect world people buy from people they completely trust and everyone is happy. But it’s much more nuanced than that.
    My job involves helping people win bids. One of the ways we do that is to make films. We also make lots of other films which would come under the banner of ‘corporate video’.
    We tend to be low price – we give them what we think they want at a low price for video.
    But a friend was brought in on a corporate a while ago as editor. He cut the 9 minute film and the production company liked it. “Great. Now, how are we going to make it look like it cost £70,000?”

    Now I tell that story not to make the obvious point that the company were being, well, insert your own word. But, that the client LOVED their £70k video which by the time they saw it was drenched in graphics, layering, cool trick grading and a soundtrack written by Will.I.am and remixed by Mark Ronson. I made that bit up….

    So who is the fool? Me saying I would do it for a tenth of the price? Were the production company right that they would love their expensive video? I dunno.

    Also I asked a client how much he had to spend last week. it was higher than I would have quoted, but I still put in pretty much the same price.

    Not convinced, but intrigued.

    1. hi Bill! There’s a couple of points there. First, for me the operative phrase is ‘we give them what we think they want at a low price for video’. The point being of course, that you are deciding for the client. I appreciate that’s just the way you put it, but I wonder how close to the truth that actually is!
      Why not answer their brief, tell them how much that would cost, and then go from there?
      It’s hugely unlikely that given the amount of work you’ve put in to get to that point, that you would completely lose your position with the client if you under estimate or even over estimate your price. You’re likely to get one of three answers, yes no, or maybe – then take it from there
      The other thing about the fact a client surprised you with how much they said they had to spend,mabsolutely adds weight to the arguement. We should never assume what the budget is or how much the client can afford. Better to just stick to your rigorous and stringent pricing policy. You will no doubt ‘lose out’ on occasion, but you’ll win on others, and I think you’ll find it will all balance out!

  2. Definitely all about their trust in you; the main thing they buy because that’s all they have to go on at that point. If / when you ask someone for their budget, what you get is a “score” for how well your pitch has done so far; “How’m I doing?” “About £2 grand”. Great stuff Tony, as ever.

  3. Without wanting to bog this down in a specific. My issue is that I can make a 3 minute film for £1500 – £150,000
    I had a competitor who works for a large company a lot bemoaning the fact they had gone to a new company for a film, and they were charging 5 to 10 times more for the ‘same’ film.

    Maybe the truth is, the Corporate Video world is bonkers….

    1. Do you know what Bill? You may be right!

      With that sort of sale, you are particularly prone to this issue of sales people being better qualified than the client, leading to mismatches in understanding and creating the value proposition for the client

      This leads to the very inconsistency of approach I’m talking about. This in turn leads to problems with the delineation of your various products and a general mistrust of the industry. This feeling of unease can cause hesitation at the purchase decision phase

      Most people gather information from various sources before making a purchase decision, and if there are widely fluctuating prices being thrown about, its no wonder theres not more people buying the product!

      most other business cannot trade this way, we wouldn’t accept such a lack of transparency from our suppliers. If one person can do it for £1500 and some one else would quote £150,000 (I know you were just making an example) theres no wonder there would be a lack of trust from the client base. Even given we all understand the more we pay the higher the quality we will receive, we can’t understand why there might be such a difference. We feel some one some where is trying to catch us out

      who do we trust?

      1. Good post Tony!

        Well, I’m often in the same boat with “gristpresent”, and it is as he said ” I can make a 3 minute film for £1500 – £150,000″. Lets caricature the statement with real example: a Chanel No 5′ TV commercial of few years ago, it costed $42 Mil, featured Nicole Kidman and directed by Baz Luhrman.

        Imagine you were a video producer asked to provide a quote 🙂 Well, I guess in this particular case it didn’t go like that, I believe they knew pretty well what they wanted and they went straight to the producer.

        OK, but in real life often when asked for a quote, a client will give you an example of a similar video / project and as they often think, it’s of the similar length, both feature trucks and both have few interviews included and voiceover, the price can still be sooo different.

        One shot, that might not be important to client, a helicopter view of a passing truck, can cost more that a complete production of a similarly structured video, and of the same length. Or a company truck driven around with showing major Australian cities in the background.

        It is a very specific industry and asking a ball park budget is probably quite logical.

        Mio

  4. I totally agree with the fact that asking a budget number is not the way to go right out of the gate! I think that you evaluate the need and offer the best suggestion for the reasonable price. Then the client will tell you if it is within their budget or not. Then you scale back from there…

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