Hero image of Brian McCauley, ProSales columnist

In sales, we’ve always felt that price should not come up too early in a sales conversation. The age-old wisdom was don’t give a price until you’ve been able to discuss your product and service offering, or you run the risk of a customer making the buying decision based solely on price. We all know this can get tricky when customers ask for a price on the front end of sales discussions. We want to try to avoid it, but what do you do in this situation? You must answer the question – you can try saying “the price is the best part, that’s why I save it for last,” or “the price is kind of like dessert…it’s real tasty, but needs to be saved for after the meal,” but that’s probably not going to work.

When a customer brings up price early in a discussion, it does not necessarily mean they are price shopping. The customer is asking for information they need in order to make the proper buying decision. A valuable question to ask yourself is what else does the customer need to know in order to make the proper buying decision?

What other value contributors are there for contractors in products and services they buy through building materials distribution other than price? Value contributors, such as inventory, trucks, people, equipment, programs, internal processes, locations, lead times, time saving features, job management tools, product warranties, service capabilities, etc. Of those contributors, which tend to matter most for your local contractor base? Do you know? Or do you make assumptions? Knowing what it is you do for customers that keeps them coming back is very important information for salespeople. Ask them and look for patterns or dynamic differentiators in your offering and be prepared to present those 3-4 compelling features and benefits of your service platform succinctly when asked for a price early in the sales discussion.

Another important consideration is how contrastable you, your company, and the products are to your competitors’ offerings in the eye of your customers or prospects. You could say that many of the value contributors in the previous paragraph are the ante into the building materials distribution game. To be in the distribution business you need inventory, trucks, people, and equipment. All of your competitors have this base level of a service platform. How are you different, and how do you communicate the differences? Buyers need to be able to see clear differences between options in order to make quick decisions. When we as salespeople can not clearly and concisely communicate to a customer or prospect how our complete offering is different from other options available to them, it slows the buyer’s decision-making process. This inability to contrast differences also places a premium on the price of different offerings. I know price is always important in sales situations, but if a customer or prospect can’t clearly see any differences in their choices, then price becomes the only differentiator, and that is not a good place for a salesperson to be in.

Now back to the earlier question of how to respond when a buyer asks for your price early in the discussion. Perhaps a better way to respond would be: “You need a lot of information in order to make a sound decision on this purchase, and price is certainly an important piece of that. But there are also 3-4 other items that are important for you to consider as well, when making this decision. Now my price is $XX on this product, but I’d also like to share with you details on the other 3-4 items that contractors just like you, all over this market tell me they needed to know in order to make the best decision possible for their company.”

Be Different. Think Different. Communicate Different.