How Much Is That Doggie? (Issue 471)

In which we are reminded to answer questions with questions and to delay quoting a price until we know what we're being asked to quote.

Does this sound familiar?

“I need ___. (A loan, a computer network, a training program, whatever.) I’m talking to several firms about it. One has already been in and given me a quote. What I want to know is, how much would you charge to provide that?” In other words, “How much is that doggie in the window?”

First, why do buyers ask this question and do they know it’s a goofy question?

In general, they know it’s goofy and they ask because they hope the answers they hear will simplify their buying processes. If potential providers say their fees are typically $X and a buyer wants to limit her budget to half of $X, she’s likely to take those potential providers off her list. At her peril, as it turns out, because cheapest is not always best or most cost effective.

How can we respond?

1. Start With The Reassuring Back Pedal.

First, we tell the buyers that we’re delighted they asked, that what they’ve asked is well within our capabilities, that we’d be happy to discuss the matter further, that each situation is different, and blah blah blah.

The fact that they asked the question this way may indicate that they don’t have their acts together, that their specifications are not complete, that they aren’t really clear about how they’ll make a decision, etc. etc. We need to generate a little space. So, we back pedal, spreading reassurances like flower petals on a path.

2. Answer their question with MULTIPLE questions.

Psychiatrists have earned a reputation for answering a question with a question. “Doc, what does this mean?” draws the response, “What do YOU think it means?” And, for this we pay $140 an hour and this is alright with everybody?

Yes, yes, a hundred times, yes. In any environment other than retail or pure commodity-sold-on-price selling, we follow the Reassuring Back Pedal with questions. Some example “What do YOU think it means” questions:

  • When you say you’re looking for ___, tell me a bit more about what that looks like?
  • What’s prompting you to do this work now?
  • What do you have in place now? How are things working now?
  • What other approaches have you tried until now?
  • What are you seeking to change from your current set up?
  • What do you think will be important about the solutions or providers you choose?
  • What outcomes will be different after you do this compared to before?
  • How will you assess the difference?

The trick here is knowing where to focus our questions to determine whether we can show incremental value (a change in a customer’s business operating conditions) of our company’s products or services compared with other companies’ offerings. If we can’t, our customers will seek “apples to apples” comparisons of our products with others, then brutally reduce our selling prices.

3. Interject perspective.

As we listen to prospects’ or customers’ answers and develop a sense of their experience and thinking, we interject some of our own experience. We do this in order to:

  • Establish our credibility.
  • Test whether the buyers are willing to consider alternatives.
  • Prompt buyers to ask themselves or us more questions to clarify their situations.
  • Tease out ideas other potential providers may have offered.
  • Identify points of view that the buyers may find more helpful than those they’ve heard so far.

“Perspective Injections” can sound like:

  • We’re seeing this issue/request more and more frequently. Some of the challenges we’re seeing our clients face are X, Y, and Z. How have those factored into your thinking?
  • One of the ways we’ve looked at this same issue is… That’s a little different from what you asked for a moment ago. How do you think something like that could work?
  • When we’ve done this in the past, we’ve noticed X. Tell me how that looks from your view.

If, at the end of some or all of this, the buyers say, “You know, I appreciate everything you’ve asked and said, and I just really want to know, what’s your price to do X?” you have to decide: Do you want to offer a response at that point?

If “yes,” offer it with conditions that provide wriggle room as more facts come out. For example, “If you want us to do only X, then our price is likely to be in a range between $X and $Y. However, we’ve typically found that our clients also need A, B, and C. Your situation may be different and we’ll need to look at that.”

If “no,” we can say, “I need a few days to think about this, would that be alright with you?” or, even better, “There are so many elements that go in to helping you get the result you described, I really can’t quote ‘a price” by telephone like this. We are very interested in continuing discussion with you and, if you’d like, let’s set up a time during which we can talk through all of the elements and I can suggest some ideas and price ranges you’ll find helpful.”

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