Most of us who work in service-based professions encounter client budget cluelessness on a regular basis, and it goes something like this…
You’re talking with a prospect and you finally get to the point where you need to discuss cost and budget. You broach the topic by saying, “So what were you thinking of a budget?”
And the client says something like, “Oh, we have no idea what this should cost. We were just hoping you could give us an estimate based on what we discussed.”
First, this is usually a white lie, mainly because most people have a fairly specific number in mind of what they would like to pay. Of course, invariably it’s massively low for the event they have just described. But they are under the impression that this process is like buying a car and the first person who blurts out a number loses.
What they don’t realize is that their budget is really the driver for what they can do with their event. Whether it’s a wedding, corporate event, birthday party, reunion, mixer, fundraiser or other type of event, the budget determines how much they can do and how elaborate the decor, food, drink, etc., can be.
So how do you lead a recalcitrant prospect toward setting a budget for their event? Just follow the 4 time-tested steps of budget negotiation.
1. Engage in framing
First, you frame the budget by saying something like this…
“Well, I’ve done weddings that cost as much as $$$$$ and as little as $$, and from what you described you aren’t going to be at the low end. And I don’t want to work up an estimate that gives you a heart attack. So if I showed you an estimate for $$$$, would that keep your heart at a safe rate?”
This will give you an idea if what you have stated was near their unspoken number or not and if they are serious about hiring you. If they blanch and say they may be having a coronary on the spot, ask them what they were thinking. If they still refuse to offer a number, then they’re not serious about hiring you and you should thank them for their time and move on.
2. Establish a range
At this point, if your prospect still has a steady pulse, start narrowing down the range you initially offered until you are within a range that the prospect is comfortable with and that you feel confident is enough to take care of the event or wedding they just described to you. Just make sure that the high end of the range is higher than you would actually put in their estimate/quote (more on this in a minute); in essence, leave yourself some cushion in both directions (high and low).
3. Set priorities
Before you part, ask the client what particular parts of the event or wedding, if any, they would like to devote more of the budget to. Sometimes clients want a really nice dessert table, or elaborate decor, or a high-end cake, or a big audio-visual setup, so make sure to ask.
Also, if they have any specific instructions or requests – ones that might have a large impact on the event / wedding budget – now is the time to find those out. All this information will enable you to tell them ahead of time if they need to raise their budget or if you can accommodate them with the budget range you discussed.
4. Develop the estimate
After learning from them the parameters of the wedding or event itself and the budget, now you have the information you need you put together a proposal.
When creating a proposal and estimate, I always make sure the price comes out in the higher end of the range that you mentioned but not at the top. People usually expect the estimate to be a bit higher than they wish, but they will also feel relieved that it isn’t at the top of the range (this feeling of relief will work in your favor).
Make sure to provide details as to how you arrived at your final number so that the prospect can see the value in what you are offering them. In addition, if you have case studies (with pictures) of similar weddings or events at similar price points, make sure to show those to the prospect to give them an even better idea of what they will be buying.
A big challenge in selling a service is that you are essentially selling the invisible (also the name of a fantastic book by Harry Beckwith on selling a service … highly recommended), so any opportunity you have in making the invisible more tangible will work in your favor.
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