This post is part of our Weekly Tips series.

I recently failed to follow the advice that Charlie and I offer in The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook about talking price. I hate it when that happens. And while I don’t like admitting it much either, it’s therapeutic to do so … and potentially helpful for you. So here I am.

Here’s what we say (distilled from the book): For many in business talking about price is at best awkward; at worst a disaster.

You believe in your product or service, but put off talking price as long as possible. You hesitate, you stammer. You shy away from bringing it up, especially early on when estimates are uncertain, and customers may be ill-informed. You hope they will be so dazzled by you that price doesn’t even matter. (You’re not supposed to mention price anyway until the customer has understood the value, right?)

We suggest that amounts to mental torture of customers. Who wants to be subjected to an excruciating monologue, while increasingly dreading the final answer, culminating in having to say no to a salesperson because you honestly cannot afford them? No one we know!

In the book, we go on to suggest that one of the antidotes to price anxiety (theirs and yours) is to talk about price early on.

Here’s what I recently did instead: I dipped my toe in the water and then ran away from the pool.

Early in an exploratory video call with a possible new client who maybe wanted to hire me as a speaker, I made an indirect reference to our “all-in” daily fees for keynotes and workshops. Then I changed the subject and cleverly asked a question about their business.

I didn’t overtly stutter or stammer, but I sure did deflect.

Sometime later in the call, the client circled back to price and said, “So … what are those fees you mentioned?”

Do you see what happened there? I put the onus on her to bring up the potentially difficult topic.

No surprise the number I quoted wasn’t terribly well received. I had a hunch going in that our fees would be out of range for their organization. And rather than deal with that hunch more effectively, I reasoned it away during our pre-call email exchanges, all the while entertaining self-aggrandizing and self-justifying thoughts like, “Well, if my fee is a problem for them, perhaps they’re just not used to this caliber of work.” (Blech.)

Here’s what I wish I had done: In hindsight, I wish I had mentioned those all-in daily fees and then immediately followed with, “And I bet you’re wondering what those fees are.” We could have addressed it right then.

But you know what? I could have done even better. If I had a do-over, I’d say something before the call, when via email we were exploring the possibility of working together. Charlie and I even provided a sample script in The Fieldbook that I could have borrowed and edited, so that it went something like this:

“At the risk of raising price before we’ve talked about design or context or value, let me just make sure neither of us—mainly me!—is potentially embarrassed here. My speaking fees are XYZ. Is that radically different from what you’re expecting? I just want to make sure we’re all working in the same region on the likely cost.”

The real lesson in all of this: The big issue underlying all of this was my own discomfort throughout our exchanges, up to and including the call. Rather than deal with all of that, I rationalized, I defended (to myself), and I side-stepped.

The result: Yucky feelings for me for sure, and likely the same for them.

Next time I’ll borrow a page or two from my own book.

Make It Real

This week, think about a recent time when you didn’t handle price as swiftly and effectively as you should have. What would your do-over sound like?

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Speaking of price, read more about how bad thinking can lead you to discount your prices, from our friends at Trusted Advisor Associates, or discover the truth about losing on price in Chapter 15 of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook.

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Andrea Howe

As the founder of The Get Real Project, I am the steward of our vision and our service offerings, as well as a workshop leader and keynote speaker. Above all else, I am an entrepreneur on a mission: to kick conventional business wisdom to the curb and transform how people work together as a result. I am also the co-author, with Charles H. Green, of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook (Wiley, 2012).