How To Talk Price With Clients

Posted on November 21st, 2023 to Uncategorized

If you’re a subject-matter expert who loves your work but hates to talk price with clients, you’re not alone.

Price is always a loaded topic, especially for subject-matter experts who offer more than a set of deliverables in their engagements.

Take a former client we’ll call Sarah.

Sarah, a seasoned marketing professional turned founder, faced a day of meetings. The first one with a prospective client was especially important. 

The potential partnership promised exciting opportunities and business growth. But Sarah knew that after she asked all the right questions and uncovered the scope of work, she’d have to bring up the budget.

This wasn’t Sarah’s first pricing talk but she couldn’t help but feel a sense of anxiety.

I set the scene to illustrate that pricing is one of the most uncomfortable topics for almost every business owner.

So in this post, I’ll walk you through creative and effective strategies to talk price with clients so you can expertly confront the challenges posed by budget objections. 

Through real-world scenarios and scripted responses, you’ll discover how to turn these hurdles into stepping stones towards closing deals.

So, grab a notebook, and let’s get into it.

Initiate the Budget Conversation

Sarah had done her homework on the client, asked the right questions, uncovered tensions, and reflected back their needs. Now came time to do the daunting but necessary work of initiating the budget conversation.

While you may be tempted to skip this step, especially if the client avoids it, it’s in your best interest to have a realistic expectation of what they’re willing to pay.

I advised Sarah to keep it simple and position the conversation as a benefit for her prospect.

Here’s a simple script that is proven to work:

“Ahead of booking our next steps, let’s be sure we’re on the same page about budget. To save you time, I want to make sure we’re creating a solution that’s in alignment with your resources. Do you have a budget in mind for this project?”

With these words, Sarah subtly conveyed her intention — to streamline the process, respect their time, and ensure their investment aligns seamlessly with their goals. 

This approach also frames it as a helpful and collaborative step, setting the tone for a productive conversation.

Now, I suspect you may be thinking: “But what do I say when the inevitable, ‘I don’t have a budget’ response comes?”

In the next section, we’ll delve into how to address common objections related to budget, ensuring you’re well-prepared.

Sticky Sales Point #1: “We don’t have a budget.”

As you bring up the budget discussion, the client hesitates and admits, “We don’t have a budget in mind.” 

It’s a common response that can leave even seasoned sales professionals wondering how to proceed. 

After all, creating a proposal without budget alignment is like embarking on a treasure hunt without a map — you might put in a ton of effort creating the proposal, only to come up empty-handed.

However, this response isn’t necessarily a dead end. In fact, it often signifies that the prospect needs to be educated about their options. 

So, respond with empathy and a strategic approach:

“I understand — many of our clients don’t start out with precise budgets for this type of work. Rather than sending a bunch of options that won’t work for you, let’s discuss a comfortable budget range for us to work within.

Given what I’ve heard so far, my hunch is that the budget will fall somewhere between $30,000 and $50,000 — will that work for you?”

In this response, you invite the prospect to narrow down a comfortable investment range and communicate your starting point.

By doing so, you not only simplify the decision-making process for the client but also gain valuable insight into their expectations and financial capabilities.

This strategic approach not only helps the prospect feel heard and understood but also sets the stage for a more productive budget discussion. 

But what about when they do have a budget, and you don’t fit into it?! 

Up next: you’re too expensive. 

Sticky Sales Point #2: “You’re too expensive.”

Those words sting, don’t they? 

Especially when you’ve taken so much care in calculating your pricing based on your level of expertise, service and the value you provide.

And while hearing that you’re expensive can feel personal – it’s not. 

One of a few things may be going on: 

  • You haven’t communicated your value in a way the customer can understand it.
  • They’re an under-educated buyer who doesn’t understand the market and/or hasn’t hired out this work before.
  • They’re not an ideal client. 

To suss out what’s going on, I suggest you let their comment become the start of a conversation, rather than the end. 

Respond by sharing some empathy for them, then follow up with a question. 

Depending on where the conversation goes, be ready to educate them about pricing in the market. You can also share a story or two about how you deliver value above and beyond the investment. 

Here’s a sample response when you hear “You’re too expensive”.

“Thank you for sharing your concern. We are priced higher than some of our competitors, but I want to be sure you’re comparing apples to apples. Can you share to what or to whom you’re comparing our prices?”  

If you sell services your buyers haven’t purchased before, be mindful that they may not have any idea what your services should cost. 

In this case, the best approach is to show up as an educator. You might ask:

“Have you purchased this type of service before?”

If the answer is no, you can shift into educator mode, outlining the competitive landscape, the range of pricing they can expect to find, how you’re priced within the range and why. 

This type of honesty can go a long way to winning over a hesitant buyer. 

In the final section, we’ll explore how to respond when the prospect requests a discount with finesse and integrity.

Sticky Sales Point #3: “Can you offer a discount?”

Early on in my sales career, I learned that once a customer has been given a discount, they’re not likely to ever pay full price. 

Further, all businesses — but especially small ones — should be prioritizing pricing integrity (where one customer isn’t getting a better deal than the one down the street). 

And while some buyers just like to get a deal, sometimes asking for a discount indicates a bigger, underlying issue putting your deal at risk, such as internal misalignment or competing priorities. 

So, if a buyer inquires about the discount, first pause. Then, take a breath. Finally, use these words: “Tell me more about wanting a discount.

This simple, open-ended question allows you to understand the why behind the ask, which will help you know where to go next. 

However, regardless of what they say, I’d caution against honoring a discount without reducing the scope.

Response: “I understand that budgets are tight, and if you need to reduce the investment by 20%, we can look at reducing the scope accordingly by putting [insert scope item] on hold until your next fiscal. How does that sound?”  

If your buyer is simply looking for a deal, they’ll likely back off, saying, “No, no – we need everything in the scope!” 

If they continue to push, you might need to hold your ground, reiterating the value they’ll receive for their investment. 

Sometimes being willing to walk away is the best approach — remember, not everyone is your ideal client. 

How To Talk Price With Clients

Sales calls require thorough preparation for various questions, especially from prospects unfamiliar with your business or services.

The scripts above will be useful and I recommend adding your own language and style when using them in your sales conversations.

The key with all sales calls is to lead the discussion, including around budget.

Remember to frame it as a benefit to your prospect. 

If they don’t have a budget, respond empathetically. Suggest discussing a range so you can gauge their comfort level.

Addressing objections like “You’re too expensive” or “Do you offer discounts?” can lead to a productive dialogue and save you time on a client that might not be the right fit for you.

This blog post was inspired by a recent Sales Roundtable Discussion, a free monthly session for founders with subject-matter expertise. Join the next one here.

If you’d like a custom sales playbook for your business — including scripts for all sales scenarios — read about my program here. 

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