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About Vickie Sullivan

Vickie Sullivan is internationally recognized as the top market strategist for thought leaders, professional speakers and B2B professional service firms. Specializing in brand and message strategies in crowded markets, she has helped thousands of talented people outsmart their competition since 1987.

Written by: Vickie Sullivan  |  January 30, 2013

Big Problem, Small Budget: Helping Buyers Bend on Price

Originally published for RainToday.com

You’re talking with a potential client who understands they have a problem.  They know the problem is important, and they are willing to work with an outside firm to find a solution.  They love your approach and appear ready to buy.  Looks like a slam dunk doesn’t it?  And it is until…the prospect realizes the solution they need is bigger than their budget.

What you do next will determine if the buyer is willing to expand their investment or run for the hills.  Here are two ways to help them get over the shock and move forward into uncharted territory.

How Budgets Are Born

Every buyer has an idea of what they are willing to spend to get what they need.  The problem is that figure is not based on reality; it’s based on their comfort zone.  Their expectation goes something like this:  well, I have $xxx to spend on this initiative.  Therefore, the solution will cost the same amount.

To make matters worse, this amount gets set in stone.  How?  By comparing past experiences with colleagues (who often have a completely different set of circumstances) or by having a few conversations with low-cost vendors.  The result:  their budget doesn’t take into account what needs to happen to make the initiative work.

Before they let that idea go, prospects need to discover two things:

  1. The impact of the bigger investment
  2. If that result is really worth taking the money from another area

Our job is to help them clarify the benefits of moving forward.  Then the buyer can make an informed decision.

Show Them the Future

When we ask the prospect to take a bigger risk, they need reassurances that this is not a lateral move.  They must convince themselves that the additional investment will be worthwhile.  And the best way to show it is worthwhile is with a small sample of their future with you.

This approach is risky, but it’s worth it for the right client.  Do the extra work and give the client a taste of what they are going to receive as part of the relationship.  This will help them let go of their preconceptions and grab onto your brass ring.  It lowers the risk and increases the reward to making the bigger change.

I will use an experience I had as a buyer as an example.  I needed help with my website.  My first conversation with the third website designer was very clear:  I do not need a major overhaul.  I just paid for a web design.  I know it’s not perfect, so I just need someone to tweak it and make it great.  I was adamant about this.  I spent my budget on a designer who didn’t perform, and I felt burned.  This wasn’t going to happen to me again.  The designer said, “Sure, no problem.  I’ll have my team take a look at your site, give you specific feedback on what needs to be done, and then we’ll talk p rice.”  Fair enough.

In the second sales conversation, her team gave me the feedback she promised.  They discovered there were bigger problems with the site than I thought.  I got the logic, and I still wouldn’t budget from my budget.  Why?  While I understood the site was much worse than I thought, I couldn’t see the impact of making the overhaul.  There was nothing that enticed me to let go of what I had and pay for a vague promise of something better.

What happened next was priceless.  The designer did the extra work of making not one, not two, but three mock-ups of the home page.  The first two versions took my current design and fixed the problems.  I liked them a lot.  The third design showed me what I could get “if I let go of the previous design.”  That version left me speechless.  Want to guess which option I chose?  I couldn’t ditch the previous work fast enough.

Moral of the story:  Clearly show your prospects the potential, and they will let go of what they have.

Take Little Steps Forward

Another option is to cut the project into phases.  This makes the most sense when your impact still adds value on a smaller scale.  It’s the best of both worlds:  you’re still in the buyer’s comfort zone but still adding value.  This approach also lowers the risk and builds trust with the buyer.

I do this all the time.  For buyers who think they are ready to play a bigger game but don’t want to go all in, I will suggest a simpler market assessment.  This will give them not only the feasibility of their plans but also a detailed heads-up on what it would take to do a full-scale thought leadership launch.  If the initial analysis shows promise, I’ll rebate part of the fee back into the next phase.  If not, at least the buyer has an out.  They leave more educated about their plans and can proceed accordingly.

Be aware:  This option carries a risk for both parties.  If the buyer has the same expectations as the larger project, your contribution will not be met with enthusiasm.  I handle that with a short trip to the dark side by saying, “Just so we’re on the same page, you realize that you are NOT getting [enter list here].”  If the client hesitates, I’m outta there fast.  The last thing you want is inflated expectations.

Is It Worth the Risk?

Working with a buyer who needs more than they budgeted is a high-risk proposition.  Do the extra work, and the client can take your ideas and run.  If you start too low, you risk creating an unhappy client.  The key question to ask:  is this client worth it?  I answer that question with benchmarks.  I know whom I work best with and why.  If the client meets my criteria, I’m willing to go the extra mile.  After all, I know they can’t flesh out the strategy like I can.

And if they don’t qualify, that’s OK, too.  I feel good leaving folks in a more educated place than I found them.  Who knows when they will come back or if they’ll tell their colleagues, “Hey, I ended up not working with her, but I bet she can help you.”

Filed Under: Experts, Market Strategy, Sales


About Vickie Sullivan

Vickie Sullivan is internationally recognized as the top market strategist for thought leaders, professional speakers and B2B professional service firms. Specializing in brand and message strategies in crowded markets, she has helped thousands of talented people outsmart their competition since 1987.