“What’s in your budget?”

I have been looking for a local videographer to hire for a few projects I’m working on. I met with a guy the other day over coffee. He was smart, creative, warm and seemed very devoted to his craft and his career. So, I returned to my office, sent him some raw footage and explained what I needed. And then, with one sentence, he was dead to me.

When someone asks me “What do you have in your budget for this project?”, I want to shriek with disappointment. That one question rips away any trust and respect that’s being built. When someone leads with this question, I perceive it as a wholly self-serving tactic. But even if they don’t lead with it, I never want anyone to ask me this question.

When someone asks me what I have in my budget, this is what I hear them saying:

  1. I will charge you as much as I can get away with.
  2. I value revenue over relationships.
  3. I don’t have confidence in my ability and will work for as much as you will pay.

I know what you may be thinking:

  • I ask that question all the time.
  • It’s called qualifying the prospect.
  • I learned this years ago.
  • It’s smart business.
  • I don’t have time to waste on people who can’t pay my fees.
  • It puts me in the power position, able to negotiate as much as possible.

I get it. I do. There are many books written on the art of negotiating and how to get the most blood out of every turnip. Thing is, I’m not a turnip and I don’t want to work with people who are out for blood. I want to partner with people who are passionate and confident about the value they can add to my business. But more than that, I want to work with people I trust and respect. And if they are a lot of fun in the process, I am their customer for life.

The other thing is, my perspective here is not the exception, it’s the mindset of the masses. Sales today has not only changed due to e-commerce. Sales has changed because consumers are smarter and have been exposed to all the tired sales methods of the 1990s. Add to that, buyers can expect more today because they have access to so many options. The consumers of today are in the power position. We must accept this. Personally, I don’t have a lot of respect for bargaining. Even though it’s an unavoidable reality, negotiating ploys erode trust.

I met a business owner in a social setting recently. We were chatting about his business and mine. He offered to send me a link to a class that he offers, and it came with a price tag of $139. That’s certainly a fair price for learning relevant skills. When I looked into the details, I decided it was not what I need for my business right now and so I thanked him and declined. He emailed me back and offered the same class for $59. What???? So, he was happy to let me pay more than twice that, but when I declined, he decided he would rather have $59 than $0. Trust and respect gone. And even worse, that’s the type of slick maneuver that brands salespeople as unethical and untrustworthy. Those gambits are old, tired and need to be completely eliminated along with pagers and fax machines.

Negotiation tactics certainly can work. They work for turn and burn sales. Master negotiators are known as the pros who can “sell ice to Eskimos.” What we never stop to realize when we tout this old adage is that since Eskimos don’t need ice, eventually they will resent the purchase and write-off the seller forever. Negotiating tactics do not build trusting relationships. They don’t build loyal fans. They don’t build lifelong customers.

Rather than asking questions that point to price, ask questions that speak to your prospect’s aspirations and vision. Respect their viewpoint and be able to articulate your value. Define your distinction and attach a price to it. If you are just getting started, you may have to start low to earn credibility and proof of your value. If you actually are willing to work for whatever someone can pay, or even offer pro-bono work to grow your portfolio, then state exactly that.

Be honest and forthright. Don’t try to brand yourself as more than who and what you are. It takes courage to stay honest and transparent, but it pays off for years to come.

Want to learn more about authentic sales in today’s market?
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“What’s in your budget?”

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