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Selling Skills - How to Handle the Dreaded Question "What's The Price?"

By Stuart Ayling
Posted Monday, January 31, 2005

I've written previously about how to attract customers and how to manage the sales process. But one thorny issue keeps popping up for my clients… what should they do when a potential customer asks "How much will it cost?" as one of their opening lines.

This focus on price is often a clue to indicate the prospective client may lack knowledge about what you really do. After all, if you were to engage someone else to do your work, you'd want to know more about them than just the price. Sounds obvious doesn't it.

So... why do clients ask "How much will it cost?" before they really know what you can do? In my experience across many types of businesses, I've found that it's usually because they simply don't know what else to ask. So they focus on something they understand - price.

But how do you get around the price without seeming like you're avoiding an answer?

Go on the offensive. Investigate the situation. Use your expert knowledge to uncover what your client really needs. And do it quickly… this is not the time for your life story.

When confronted with a question about the price you must be prepared to drop your defences and make sure your answer will really help the client. (Note: giving an inaccurate off-the-cuff reply or estimate may seem to relieve the tension, but will rarely help anyone make an informed decision.)

In some cases, if you use a menu pricing approach (offering set prices for fixed tasks) this may not be much of an issue. But for the multitude of service providers where price is a function of the complexity of the job, then how you answer this question sets up the future relationship with the client.

So when asked "How much will it cost?", try a response along the following lines…

Example 1:
"For the type of project you've mentioned the price will depend upon a few factors. Can I ask you some questions to give me a better idea of what you're looking for?"

Example 2:
"When you look at (insert what you do for clients) there's a wide range of possibilities. Some businesses go for a top-of-the-range result, with all the bells and whistles, special features, and custom built add-ons. Other firms only need a standard (insert product/outcome) which usually costs a lot less. Can you tell me a bit more about why you want (the product/outcome)?"

Example 3:
"Many people ask us "How much per square metre will it cost?" But it's really misleading to use an 'average' figure. It depends upon the scope of work you're looking at doing. Is it a (insert type/scale of service/outcome) you're looking for?"

Example 4:
"Even though we usually charge by the hour, the total price will depend on how much of the work we do, and how much you can do with your staff. Can I ask a couple of questions to clarify a few more details of what you're trying to achieve?"

As you can see, the idea is to create an opportunity for you to find out more about the client and what they really need. Use your professional experience to ask insightful questions, and explain why it's important you know the answers.

Plan your approach.

Think about your pricing, write down what you need to say or ask, and practice with a friend or colleague. So when you face a real client you'll be comfortable with how to handle your response.

In some cases the client may need to go away and get further information before they come back to you for a price. Fantastic! You're on the path to building rapport and generating trust with this client. Often the price ends up being a lot less important than the client first thought.

Even better, you're not going to be caught in the situation of giving out a 'ball park' figure, only to have the client proceed with the job, (which often includes more than they first mentioned), and then say to you "But you said it would only cost X?"

The questions you pose when asked about the price begin to form the basis of your agreement with the client. The scope of the project starts to be defined. Often the client will contact you with little knowledge of what they actually need. They only know their problem or situation - and they rely on your guidance.

In a nutshell:

1) Respond positively.

2) Present the "big picture" of possible outcomes.

3) Ask questions to clarify the specifics of this enquiry.

4) Be the expert who can educate the client about making the right decision.

5) Present your price in relation to the "big picture" you have painted.

In this way you can demonstrate your professionalism and interest in the clients wellbeing.

Still wondering whether you should mention a price?

Certainly - go ahead. As long as you have a clear understanding of what you are basing the price on. You really want to avoid guesswork.

And remember… to get a clear understanding you may have to:

> Conduct an on-site visit.

> Meet with the client in person.

> Undertake a needs assessment interview or questionnaire. Over the phone or in person.

> Speak with the client on another occasion after you have more information.

When it comes to price, take a professional approach. Don't shoot from the hip.

(c) 2005 Marketing Nous Pty Ltd

About the Author
Stuart Ayling runs Marketing Nous, an Australasian marketing consultancy that specialises in marketing for service businesses. He helps clients to improve their marketing tactics, attract more clients, and increase revenue. Stuart also offers telephone consultations and runs regular marketing seminars. For additional marketing resources, including Stuart's popular monthly newsletter, visit his web site at (http://www.marketingnous.com.au).