Chapter 10: Are You Afraid To Ask About Their Budget?

Of course you are.  Well, maybe afraid is the wrong word.  Maybe apprehensive is a better word.  Or cautious.  Maybe we can just keep thinking up words so we run out of time and can’t ask our prospect all those squishy questions about his budget.

Why is it so difficult to ask our prospect questions about the project’s budget?

Talking about money, in any kind discussion, business or otherwise, tends to make us feel very uncomfortable.  But not having an understanding of the budget can lead to false assumptions (see Chapter 8 and Chapter 9) and waste both your and your prospect’s time. It is important to realize that the budget needs to be discussed up front and early.

Early in my sales career, I was so excited to be talking to an interested prospect that I forged ahead at full speed, asking about everything except the budget.  “I better not ask about money at this point,” I reasoned to myself.  “She’ll be so impressed with my proposal that it won’t matter what what my competitors price is.”

Let’s look at the assumptions I typically made.  Besides the 13 (yes, 13!) assumptions discussed in the previous two chapters, I typically increased the odds against myself by assuming that:  1, there was a budget;  2, there was a budget with enough funds for the project;  3, there were more funds than I was assuming;  4, project funding was only coming from one budget…and so on and so on.

Did unspoken budget questions stop me?

It didn’t even slow me down.  Many hours, and then many more would go into my glorious proposals.  Company history, corporate organization charts, staff backgrounds, charts, graphs, drawings, all printed out and bound into an inch thick booklet, dripping with fresh ink – customers were impressed with the sheer weight, if not the content.

As I would thump the proposal down on my prospects desk, all those assumptions would rear their ugly heads.  Bypassing all that carefully crafted prose, those detailed charts and graphs, and going straight to the last page with the pricing, I would hear one of two things:

“Wow.  This is way over our budget.”


“Wow.  This is way cheaper than I thought.”

Neither of those statements is what a salesperson wants to hear.  Not once did I hear, “Wow.  This price is exactly what I expected.”  Sadly, this problem is typical with not only most junior salespeople, but with quite a few senior salespeople as well.

It may be uncomfortable for you to ask questions about their budget, but if you have established trust (Chapter 7) and expertise (Chapter 3), you can accomplish this in a way that is acceptable to your prospect and furthers the sales and qualification process.

This is an important part of any business-to-business sale, and it is critical to any large, complex, or technical sale.  We will be spending quite a bit of time honing in on tactics to enable a mutually beneficial discussion on budgets and assumptions.  Otherwise, you are wasting time, killing trees, and annoying your boss.

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  1. Maybe it’s the entire approach to the prospect that needs to be looked at.

    Create a powerful sales process in 6 easy steps

    I created, relate to and follow the points below because they are absolutely essential in the selling process and it has helped my clients up their close rates noticeably: It allows you to get both a close and the cash to pay for the sale.

    Please think about and then try applying these 6 simple points to get more closes and the funding to pay for buying the solution from you:

    Two principles guide the selling process, whether in letters, emails, or in person.

    If you remember theses two axioms, your sales reach outs will come out as grabbers and connectors and the prospects interested buyers plus each step of the process will go your way including budgeting and gaining the order.

    sales axiom #1
    People do things for their reasons, not yours

    sales axiom #2
    Imagine the prospect has a sign on their forehead that says “so what!”.

    Knowing those two laws of selling, each sales person will learn what is important to their targets and then transliterate their messages into playing to their prospects issues and concerns and especially their buying motives.

    The very first phrase that you start the selling with must accomplish that and then you build from there.

    Then, there’s this:

    Remember, “I’m interested” is not a synonym for a sales opportunity

    When you hear the words I need and a description of what’s needed do you immediately start to design and quote or sell If you do, at the end of the sales process, you often hear:
    “Great Idea but It’s too expensive”, don’t you!

    Can you really afford to waste time selling with the outcome being sorry, not enough budget

    In addition to the 2 axioms I teach, Up front and immediate qualification of things like cost vs. budget is a must for any sales process. Its the reality check that can get you a sale or let you scale down the expectations of your prospect so they can get a solution at their budgetary level.

    Yes, I did say up front as in way before you even start to sell, as in the first call!
    Up front qualification for budget availability, how to get cash obligated and availability, the evaluation and buying process, how things get bought and who needs to be involved to get to yes.

    Its all done in about 1 minute on the very first sales approach call and its results tell you if

    –you have a prospect—have money available to buy—and even if you should continue with the selling process because there is a reasonable chance for a sale if you do.

    Here are some steps for helping you make a sales approach doing this that works:

    1. First off, do some research and understand the target company, especially how and why your product or solution can help.

    2. Next, make a short 30 second commercial based on your findings that can quickly and succinctly say what you do, create a reason for listening, relate pertinent issues, benefits and problems solved and let you ask if its something that the prospect needs or would adopt.

    —that’s up front qualification.

    3. Next find and define who would be right to hear that commercial at the highest level of responsibility and authority, relate to it and give you a true assessment of need/value on the spot.

    4. Then make the phone call to that person and use the 30 second commercial.

    After the commercial, ask for and qualify the possibility of need or value for what you have explained from the person you are speaking with.

    Ask it this way Is this an idea that can benefit you and your company

    5. If yes ask how, why, reason, problems solved, impact.
    This creates a link between you and the person that you have called for the sales process to begin that, if pursued properly, you have the basis of selling value/ROI and not cost and you know it has possibilities to yield a sale based on those criterion.

    Actually, that’s the basis of a solid sale- Perceived value and or ROI, not cost!

    6. If no, or you get a weak maybe, stop selling, say thanks and move on to the next prospect.

    Don’t waste sales time on this one. Yes its OK to say Thanks for your time and your honesty. I can see that our solution isn’t applicable to you and then ask Do you know of a colleague that could use my solution and you might get a great prospect to call. Even an introduction.

    7. If yes, ask about and learn the process for moving forward and facilitating the outcome being a funded PO.

    Ask If we do have a worthwhile solution for you, who along with you would need to be involved in evaluating, adopting and purchasing your concept

    That teaches you who to approach beyond your initial contact and does not insult the person you are speaking to. Even more important, since your idea or solution has already been acknowledged as worthwhile by the prospect. using this question also lets you ask them for help in moving forward.

    You will get that inside help or as we call them in sales the inside CHAMPION who can sponsor you and your idea/solution up the ladder, a very valuable inside ally in any sales process.

    Remember, don’t say who is the decision maker. It’s an insulting question because it says to your suspect you are a peon so tell me who to go to. WRONG!!

    That “peon” is the gate keeper and can help move you forward or kill a sale because they are usually the resident expert that the decision maker consults for value.

    8. Get Budget qualification up front Get it qualified immediately in this first call. After the 30 second commercial gets receptivity or the caller has finished telling you what they want to buy, in either the proactive or reactive situation, state a rough cost right then to your suspect for the solution and ask if there is a budget for implementing the concept if it’s a worthwhile idea.

    Yes, I did say bring up budget and possible cost right away and yes it violates every sales rule that you have learned.

    Don’t even think of continuing the sales process without knowing the answer to this budget and budget process in call # 1 because the answer you get reveals the time and process needed to get the sale and your prospects perception of how much they think your solution should cost.

    It lets you measure if it’s worth your time v the ultimate sales value as well.

    Don’t be afraid of this question so early in the process.—It tells you if you can proceed with your idea.—It also lets you ask and understand what the company’s usual process for evaluating and ultimately purchasing your idea is.

    That’s a clear road map to a financial yes, the key to the PO so get it and work it. That’s also true when you get a call from a potential customer telling you that they are going to by a specific solution just like yours.

    Frankly, End users rarely have a handle on real costs nor have they correctly obligated enough budget so do not spin your wheels without qualifying need v probable cost and available budget.

    Incidentally, doing so lets you advise them re their budget inadequacy and its an opportunity to sell a starter system using the available budget.

    Remember, people do things for their reasons, not yours. So instead of deciding that you know a prospect needs your service and trying to ram it through, follow the steps above, use the 30 second commercial up front and you will avoid chasing rainbows that do not become sales.

    Tangible Results for you:

    Because you are working with solidly qualified prospects who have or will spend the $ for your solution—you will up your close rate—reduce the time it takes to get the sale.

    More income faster from more sales That’s a great equation for business development types isn’t it!

    Neil Licht
    Sales Trainer, Instructor and 25 year sales industry veteran

  2. Nicely (and completely!) put Neil. Thanks for the great comments – the budget process is an important reality check essential to the qualifying process.

  1. Chapter 14: Is Your Customer Lying To You? | Client Centric Sales

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