You could get it for less

If you’re pricing right for your outstanding work, it will sound expensive to others.

After all, they’re not used to buying outstanding work.

This means that the moment you tell them the price, it will probably feel uncomfortable, both to you and to them.

It helps to remember that yes, it’s true, they could find another way to do this.

Maybe they could get some graduate students to do it for free.

Or find someone who’s just starting who is desperate for the work.

Someone on a website, somewhere, who does piece work at a seemingly-cheap hourly rate.

Or someone who can do just enough to make the problem go away, but who won’t fundamentally move things forward.

All those options are possible.

But for this work, at this standard, delivered in this way, it will cost this.

And it will be a bargain.

What’s it worth

At some point in every negotiation, the conversation turns to price.

Sometimes this is straightforward. It’s been discussed all along and you are formalizing what everyone expects.

And sometimes, a new prospect will come at you with some version of, “We really want to do this, we just can’t make it happen at this price. Could you do it for less?”

Can you?

Well yes, you always can do it for less.

But should you?

There might be good reasons to do it for less. The work is interesting and important and will allow you to grow. It will open new doors for you and your firm. You have available resources (time, people) that otherwise would lay dormant.

But if the price you’ve offered is one you’ve been paid before, and if clients keep coming back for more and referring new people to you, this means that, at the price you initially offered, the one you’ve been asked to lower, your work is a bargain: you’ve been delivering a lot more value than the price you’re charging.

What’s challenging is how uncomfortable  the “can you do it for less” moment is. The tension in the silence that follows this question makes you want to make the discomfort go away, which you can do by negotiating against yourself.

“Maybe,” you think, “this time I’m wrong.”  “Maybe, this time, my work isn’t worth it.”  “Maybe this client will get away and……..”

And what, exactly?

And there will be another client tomorrow. This client will see what you’re worth, be willing to pay that amount and, in doing so, will get be getting a bargain relative to what you’ll deliver.

Don’t uncut yourself, and certainly don’t apologizing for asking for what you deserve.

Instead, you might offer: “I’m confident that at the price we’re discussing, you will get more than you’re paying for.”

Then, when she ultimately say yes, it’s up to you to do something magical, which is exactly where you want to be.

Not just whether, how

One way to end a sales meeting is with the big push.  You’ve done the work, you’ve made the pitch, you go to close the sale.

Before that moment, and in the meetings preceding that meeting, you’re having a different conversation.

And it IS supposed to be a conversation.  That means questions are very often the answer.  One of the biggest mistake people make in trying to make a sale is the rush to get out your “whole story:” your job is to make a pitch, and you’d better say everything you need to say the clock runs out on your meeting.

Of course the problem with that is that you can’t solve someone’s problem if you never bother to find out in the first place what their problem is.

The other day I was stopped cold by a great question I’ve never asked so directly (but wished I had):

“What factors are most important for you in making this decision?”

So simple, but I’d never actually paused to ask that clear, direct, transparent, non-threatening, and quite objective question.

I wouldn’t do it in every situation – this question can, if not asked in the right way, put your prospect in a “head” rather than “gut” or “heart” space in terms of her decision-making, which might not always be the right thing to do.

But if you’re in a complex, relationship-based, multi-faceted decision-making situation, asking directly how the decision is going to be made is probably going to help most of the time.

Simple, direct, actionable

You can choose to do one of two things:

  1. Try to convince new people that they want to help you.
  2. Give people who are already convinced they want to help you a useful job to do.

The first one feels a lot more like productive work, because you’re churning away and shouting from the rooftops.

The second one will likely have more impact in the long run.

The toughest sale

Here’s a riddle: all good product sales are not about the product, they’re about the story about the product, right?   (Method soap tells a story about the kind of hip, environmentally conscious, non-ostentatious but still a little bit fancy consumer you are;  there’s a whole ethos and culture and world outlook story that surrounds each iPhone (and, soon, iTouch) ; JetBlue sells an attitude about flying along with free TV.)

What about selling something that has no product?  That seems hard to do.  In fact, it seems so hard to do that if you could find someone who knew how to do that, you’d know that they were pretty darn good at their job – probably better at selling that someone who has a product AND a story to sell, right?

Selling philanthropy seems to me to be a product-free sale.  It’s the pure sale of an idea, of an ethos, of who you can be.

So the riddle is: if philanthropy is a product-free sale, why aren’t the people selling philanthropy the best salespeople around?

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Which side of the table?

Which side of the table do you want to be on?  If you are in any sort of client-facing, relationship-driven, or advisory role, you can orient yourself one of two ways: “across the table” or on the “same side of the table.”

The “across the table” strategy is the purview of the expert, and is adeptly practiced by many (but definitely not all) management consulting firms, bankers, expert witnesses and gurus.  Its hallmarks are complex financial models and the use of terminology and frameworks and abbreviations that demonstrate domain expertise and separation.   The examples the expert cites are hallmark successes to illustrate the broader theory, and the desired result is to affirm her client’s fears while leaving him with a vague, warm sense that the expert knows what she’s talking about and that he’s in good hands.  The strategy is working when meetings give the sense that the expert cannot be easily replaced, and as a result she is hired for the next job.  This strategy works best with clients with limited time and experience, in politicized environments, and where managing risk and covering your bases is important.

The “same side of the table” strategy dispenses with most of the bells and whistles of the expert.  The adviser establishes credibility by laying her cards on the table, explaining her motives and her desired outcomes.  In the pitch, failures are cited as often as successes, and the advisor wants, literally and figuratively, to find herself on the same side of the table as the person being advised.  Terminology is simple, there are lots of appeals to common sense and shared experience, and the advisor’s aim is to share the tools she uses with the client, to make herself dispensable.  This too, importantly, can often result in the adviser being hired again.

The first strategy is the dominant one, and it can be hugely effective because we’ve been trained over the years (starting in kindergarten and moving on from there) that someone out there knows more than we do and that we can buy expertise from others, because their expertise outweighs the fact that they understand our situation far less well than we do.  And, from the expert’s seat, it’s accepted that a little slight of hand and obfuscation is a small price to pay for the overall betterment of the client’s situation.

Switching to the “same side of the table” takes years of unlearning the burned-in, rewarded traits of low-level smokescreen, dressed-up financial models and frameworks, and the intellectual laziness that complexity can paper over.  But pulling this off is, among other things, the difference between your average conference presentation and a TED talk (transcendence comes when a marine biologist explains the fastest appendage in the world in a way that millions can understand it).

Crossing this chasm is worth the leap, but make no mistake that it is a leap, and in the transition you’ll often stumble and find yourself get caught in the middle.  That’s OK, it’s a sign of progress.


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