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Barbara Breckenfeld
marketing coach & consultant
Mountlake Terrace, Washington
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When someone says they don't have the money . . .

When someone tells you they don’t have the money to do something, it can mean many different things. This applies to all relationships, not only to prospective clients and customers. How can we understand their meaning and respond appropriately?
Written Feb 15, 2011, read 4509 times since then.
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When someone tells you they don’t have the money to do something, it can mean many different things. This applies to all relationships, not only to prospective clients and customers.

They might mean, “I don’t have as much money as I used to, and that makes me afraid even though I still have enough.” Or, “I can’t pay the mortgage and my credit cards are maxed out. There is no cash.” Or they could be saying, “If I understood the value of your offering, it would become a priority, but so far it isn’t.”

How can we understand their meaning more clearly and know how to respond appropriately?

Remember that their statement may or may not be saying, “No.” Since you aren’t sure, a follow up question is appropriate, and will keep the conversation going.

Don’t give energy to a ‘woe is me’ story. That reinforces their fear and feeling like a victim. Approaching them with open-hearted understanding lets them know that you are on their side.

Personal and cultural context are also at play. You may already know that this person doesn’t say “No” clearly, or that they always say “No” first to buy themselves time to think something through. Consider where you are. Some regions or cultures avoid direct communication, while others are defined by an in-your-face approach.

What follow up questions you ask will be determined by all of these factors. Even if you are pretty sure they mean “No”, if they have not clearly said “No”, you may ask them for clarity with respect and gentleness. This keeps it in the realm of a conversation, a dance of a growing relationship, rather than a pushy sales job, but this is exactly where many of us stop short. We are so worried about being pushy, we fail to ask for more details. We forget that we can ask in ways that validate the connection between you and your prospect.

Here are several follow up questions you might ask:

“Would you like me to check back with you about this in the future?”

“Do you have any questions or concerns about this that I could answer right now?”

“Is there something I could do or add that would make this work for you right now?”

Depending upon your situation and your philosophy, you might ask:

“What could you afford to pay?”

“Would a payment plan make this possible for you?”

Although open ended questions (vs. yes/no) invite more conversation, in my experience, any question leads to more discussion and an opportunity for further connection.

Whether you are talking with a potential client or discussing whether to go out for dinner with a friend, you are seeking to enroll the other person into your program, even if the program is called “let’s agree on a way to have dinner that works for both of us.”

A few years ago, many people spent money on things because they wanted to appear successful. I don’t wish anyone economic hardship, but I hope we are past that now. Today, as many of us are making more measured spending decisions, we are given many opportunities to engage with people in more authentic ways. As you interact with your prospects and colleagues, you give them a preview of what it could be like to work with you. Like they say: marketing = communication and communication = marketing.

Learn more about the author, Barbara Breckenfeld.

Comment on this article

  • Custom WordPress & Print Design for Small Business 
Seattle, Washington 
Sheila  Hoffman
    Posted by Sheila Hoffman, Seattle, Washington | Mar 01, 2011

    As usual, insightful and helpful Barbara. Thank you for a great reminder in these economically challenging times.

  • QuickBooks And Xero Outsourced Contractors Bookkeeping Services 
Lynnwood, Washington 
Randal DeHart, PMP, QPA
    Posted by Randal DeHart, PMP, QPA, Lynnwood, Washington | Mar 01, 2011

    Barbara,

    Good insights

    Warm Regards,

    Randal

  • marketing coach & consultant 
Mountlake Terrace, Washington 
Barbara Breckenfeld
    Posted by Barbara Breckenfeld, Mountlake Terrace, Washington | Mar 02, 2011

    Thanks for your kind words, Sheila & Randal. Wishing you all the best in your businesses.

  • Business Consultant 
Torrance, California 
Carolyn Ziel
    Posted by Carolyn Ziel, Torrance, California | Mar 02, 2011

    Great Article Barbara! Thanks for sharing... No is many times a "yes" in disguise and continuing the questions, being curious, keeps the dialouge open! : ) Thanks.

  • Life, Prosperity, and Small Business Coach. Author. Speaker. Trainer. Singer/Songwriter. 
Seattle, Washington 
Kate Phillips
    Posted by Kate Phillips, Seattle, Washington | Mar 02, 2011

    Excellent article, Barbara! You are spot on, "I don't have the money" can mean so many different things, from "No thanks" to "I feel afraid because my cashflow or stock portfolio or home equity isn't what it used to be" to "I'd love to work with you, if I could figure out how to afford it."

    I often work with people who feel financially stressed, and I've discovered what a subjective thing that is. It can mean "I'm down to my last $250k" for some people, for others, it means they are living unemployment check to unemployment check. Financial stress actually does affect people of all income and net worth levels in very similar ways.

    I like the new pic, too.

  • marketing coach & consultant 
Mountlake Terrace, Washington 
Barbara Breckenfeld
    Posted by Barbara Breckenfeld, Mountlake Terrace, Washington | Mar 02, 2011

    Carolyn - Thanks for your comment. Yes, being curious is a valuable skill!

    Kate - Thanks for adding your perspective.

    I agree, not only do people mean very different things when they say "I don't have the money," what they consider financial stress can mean many different things. Having that perspective allows us to engage with curiosity to understand what they actually mean.

  • QuickBooks ProAdvisor & Software Consultant 
Portland, Oregon 
Denise Loter-Koch
    Posted by Denise Loter-Koch, Portland, Oregon | Mar 02, 2011

    Thoughtful article Barbara.

  • Creative Entrepreneur Coach, Artist's Way Facilitator 
Seattle, Washington 
Victoria Dzenis
    Posted by Victoria Dzenis, Seattle, Washington | Mar 02, 2011

    Thank you for this Barbara! What a lovely & concise way to talk about the issue that many choose to shy away from. I've found that continuing the conversation by asking open-ended questions and offering options is so helpful.

    Thanks!

  • marketing coach & consultant 
Mountlake Terrace, Washington 
Barbara Breckenfeld
    Posted by Barbara Breckenfeld, Mountlake Terrace, Washington | Mar 02, 2011

    Denise & Victoria - Thanks for weighing in and adding to the discussion.

    Open-ended questions (the ones that don't have yes/no answers and lead to more revealing responses) are at the heart of practicing curiosity. Offering options is how we make it easy for someone to say yes to us (yes to the free offer, yes to a follow up conversation, yes to buy something).

  • Counselor, Teacher, Helping people live beautifully in a difficult world 
Seattle, Washington 
Miriam Dyak
    Posted by Miriam Dyak, Seattle, Washington | Mar 02, 2011

    Thank you for this, Barbara. Really helpful. Sometimes I ask, "If money were not a consideration (i.e. we take the money part of it off the table) is this something you would really want to do?" Money may simply be the first easiest way to put off making a decision or really considering what is being offered. For myself I think it helps to know if this is something I really want, really want now, really want in the future - without using money to stop my process of consideration.

  • marketing coach & consultant 
Mountlake Terrace, Washington 
Barbara Breckenfeld
    Posted by Barbara Breckenfeld, Mountlake Terrace, Washington | Mar 03, 2011

    Miriam - Thanks for sharing your perspective on money from inside your own decision making process.

  • SEO Consultant 
Jersey City, New Jersey 
Elvis Arias
    Posted by Elvis Arias, Jersey City, New Jersey | Mar 03, 2011

    great advice, a straight up NO is usually a calling for more detail

  • General Contractor/Remodeler 
Seattle, Washington 
Brad  Rodgers
    Posted by Brad Rodgers, Seattle, Washington | Mar 03, 2011

    I like the phrase " more measured spending decisions". Sounds more thoughtful and evokes a participation in choices one would make than the word " budget". As usual Barbara, a very thoughtful and timely article. BjR

  • marketing coach & consultant 
Mountlake Terrace, Washington 
Barbara Breckenfeld
    Posted by Barbara Breckenfeld, Mountlake Terrace, Washington | Mar 03, 2011

    Elvis - Great point. If you are engaged enough to be talking about the cost of a business activity, you are invested enough to expect more information.

    Brad - Thanks for your comment. I agree that 'budget' is a lot like 'diet' and has a certain punitive connotation. What I am seeing is that people are spending, just less money and more carefully = measured.

  • Holistic Business Coach 
Portland, Oregon 
Taylor Ellwood
    Posted by Taylor Ellwood, Portland, Oregon | Mar 04, 2011

    Good article Barbara,

    I find that when people tell me their concerned about cost that it can also be helpful to offer a payment plan. This can help them feel they can afford it, while also helping you build a relationship with them.

  • Author, Speaker, Marketing Strategist 
West Bloomfield Township, Michigan 
Daron Powers
    Posted by Daron Powers, West Bloomfield Township, Michigan | Mar 04, 2011

    Good discussion.

    When someone says they don't have the money that may be a "smoke screen." What I like to ask is… "Supposing you had the money. Would you sign up today?"

    If they say "yes" it may actually be about the money. If they say "no" then it's cause for further open ended questions. "So there must be some other reason for concern…"

  • marketing coach & consultant 
Mountlake Terrace, Washington 
Barbara Breckenfeld
    Posted by Barbara Breckenfeld, Mountlake Terrace, Washington | Mar 04, 2011

    Taylor - Thanks for pointing out payment plans. Offering payment options really lets someone know that you want to work with them and are willing to meet them where they are.

    Daron - Glad you joined the discussion. For me, 'smoke screen' carries a connotation of intentionally trying to hide something. Sometimes people don't like to say an outright 'No' and try to make it softer. It also strikes me that if someone is hiding their true reasons, you have not yet built a relationship of trust with them, and so they do not want to reveal or discuss their true position. I agree that open ended questions are an essential way to build relationship and trust in that moment.

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