Determining budget w/out asking

Client to me: “How do you determine your client’s budget without asking?”

Me: “Why wouldn’t you just ask?”

Now it’s pretty unceremonious and artless to just ask, I get it. But this is business, isn’t it? Money is involved, and there’s nothing weird about that.

In many cases, being direct will come with a big surprise: you’re much more likely to get an answer. And you’re especially more likely to get the specific information you’re seeking if the other person knows what it is (i.e. what the budget is).

Here’s how I ask:

“Just curious – do you have a specific budget allocated for this project?”

Sometimes you’ll get pushback, and that’s fine. We’ve all been taught not to be the first one to throw out a number. As a follow up question, you could ask something simple like:

“Has there been a range you’ve discussed internally then? A ballpark number is fine.”

And if they won’t be the first one to throw out a number – and some won’t – you can take the opportunity to say something like “my projects are typically at least $X – should we keep talking?”

Budget questions come with a small but significant caveat. Even if your client divulges the exact budget they have in mind, that doesn’t mean their stated budget is the upper limit of what they’re willing to pay.

Your client has a budget in mind for the original solution they thought they needed. If you offer more value beyond that, there’s the possibility that they’re willing to pay more. If you’re able to clearly demonstrate that value, they’ll get excited.

But their budget might be firm, too. There may be no room to discuss upping the budget for a multitude of reasons. Ideally, you’ll have an open and honest discussion with your client about why you think their budget is too low – or too high…remember the whole serve don’t sell thing?!? – and that they should be open to making an adjustment to their original thinking.

Through that process, you’ll work together to nail down a budget that works for everyone.

And a final, unrelated client quote:

“I prefer the direct approach.”

Amen.

-Liston

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