You’ve completed your discovery process with your consulting prospect, gained agreement to your Context Document and submitted a killer proposal for a high-value consulting project. One that should, by all rights, be irresistible. Money in the bank.
The morning for your proposal review arrives and your prospect’s first words are, “I love your proposal, but the fees are way too high. I don’t have this much budgeted.” What’s the perfect response?
This scenario is irritatingly common for all consultants. It’s also one of the questions in my eight-point, Same Rain Bigger Drops diagnostic, so if you’ve heard it before and know the answer, consider this article confirmation of your negotiating savvy.
Before I reveal the perfect rejoinder, I’d like you to take a moment and write down your response. Yeah, I know you’re not really going to, so at least take a moment and think of your reply to the fee objection. While you’re doing that, I’ll tell you a brief story.
One balmy, summer Sunday, I happened upon a tag sale and was drawn in by the display of flotsam. Amidst the usual assortment of Barbie dolls, chipped plates and stinky clothes lay an electric pole saw. For those unacquainted with this device, I use a pole saw to lop off tree branches in a futile attempt to shut down the squirrel discotheque located next to my chimney.
The tag on the pole saw read $20, an excellent price which I was happy to pay. When I approached the homeowner with my find, he anticipated my objection (though I had none) and said, “It’s $20, but that’s negotiable… how about $15?” My look of surprise must have been misinterpreted as a look of skepticism because, without missing a beat, he continued, “I’d take $10 for it… how about $5?” Worst. Negotiator. Ever.
I think we can agree that Saw-man’s approach, was not the perfect response. But now you’ve had a moment to compose your response to the fee objection. What was it?
Common responses tend to be some tactful, more cleverly worded versions of…
The Insta-Trade: “Okay, what would you like to take out from the scope?”
The Justification: “Perhaps I was unclear on the value of this project. Shall we review it?”
The Appeal to Reason: “This fee gives you a 10-to-1 ROI.”
The Bad Cop: “Are you out of your mind? This fee is totally reasonable.”
The Good Cop: “Can you tell me more about the budget concern?”
The Bribe: “What if I throw in a case of Manischewitz? Or Robitussen? Same thing, really.”
Of those common responses, the Good Cop is the best; however, it’s far from perfect. The perfect response is actually the same one you should employ regardless of your prospect’s objection. It is…
The Strategic Delay:
“Got it. You have a concern about fees. What else?”
The Strategic Delay serves multiple purposes: First, it prevents you from becoming defensive, which is the natural-but-wholly-unhelpful stance we often fall into during negotiations. “What else” provides you time to take deep breaths and consider how you want to handle fees if, in fact, the concern persists.
Second, the Strategic Delay allows you to gather the entire lineup of your prospect’s objections. I’ve found that clients rarely need every objection to be met and sometimes the fee objection stems from habit or policy.
In some cases, acquiescing to minor requests may be sufficient to win the project. In other cases, the client may be so appreciative of you managing a more substantial concern (“Yes, we can include Albuquerque in the project”) that the fee objection is dropped.
The Strategic Delay is a ticket to higher close rates, happier clients and a better income.
Which response did you use the last time you heard the fee objection? Are you willing to try the Strategic Delay? Please share your experiences and thoughts below.
Text and images are © 2023 David A. Fields, all rights reserved.