How much a homeowner is willing, or wants, to spend on a project is often the first thing a salesperson wants to know. It’s also the last thing the client wants to reveal.

You can work your way through a sale without knowing their budget. But if you don’t know that number, it’s most likely going to be their objection later in the process. (“Oh, that’s way more than we wanted to spend.”) You’re going to have to know what they plan to spend if you want them to write you a check. And sooner is better than later.

Money Pains

Homeowners don’t bring up budget or like to talk about it. That’s because they’re convinced that if they give you a number, you’re going to spend every dime. You have to find a way, at some point in the conversation, to comfortably raise the subject.

Occasionally you’ll come across prospects who will tell you: “We’re hoping to get these windows done for under $20,000.” That’s maybe one in 25 calls and usually you’re their second, third, or fourth estimate. They’re telling you that because they don’t want to spend another two hours in a sales presentation. They’re suffering from presentation fatigue.

Sooner is better but it usually doesn’t pay to jump the gun. Some salespeople start by asking: So, how much were you thinking about spending?

I wouldn’t ask that. Think about the last time you walked into a car dealership and the salesperson said: “How much do you want to spend?” Instantly your defenses are raised. You’re thinking: “I want to spend the least amount and get the most car I can.” And what you say is: “We’re just looking.”

So if the first thing you ask is how much they plan to spend, they’re going to think you’re asking that because you’ve got your commission check in mind. They might also be thinking that once you’ve found out how much they plan to spend you’re not going to be interested in their project.

Raising the Subject

Knowing when homeowners are ready to talk about budget is to some extent intuitive. It’s like knowing whether or not a kiss on the doorstep is appropriate on that first date. Information you gather in the home will give you an idea about what kind of spenders they are: the car they drive, the condition of the house, their furnishings. But it’s still just an idea — and a feeling.

Somehow you have to formulate what they’re prepared to spend for the product you sell. A lot of times contractors want a number. If you can get one, that’s fantastic. Realistically, you’re looking for a range to zero in on.

Test the waters by mentioning the prices of different projects as you’re moving through your portfolio. Be aware of body language as you throw out those numbers. They may even say: “That was [more than] [less than] we were thinking of spending.”

If they don’t say anything, you can show them a project, mention a number, and ask: Is that about what you were thinking of spending?

Manage for Type

Remember that each prospect is different. You could have a Type A personality who wants a price right now or someone who’s genuinely interested in finding out about the project, at which point the price might make sense. Consider the personality.

Why is it important? It dictates at what point you’re going to zero in on the budget. With Type A, I try to work on the same plane that they’re on. “It sounds like you’ve done a lot of research and have thought about this pretty deeply. You must have a budget in mind — that way we can look at some solutions based on what you feel comfortable spending, so that we’re not wasting your time.”

 With the meek, you can’t raise the subject of budget until you’ve built some kind of relationship and they feel you’re genuinely interested in their project. That might be about half-way through your presentation — or even later.

Trust = Money

Even if they profess to have no idea what it costs, people have talked it through before you got to their home. They have an idea, though it may be more of a hope than a reality. I was on a call not long ago for a deck job. The homeowner said: “We don’t know how much this is going to cost.” I said, “I’ve done a lot of similar projects and they came in at a range of around $30,000 to $40,000.” The homeowner responded: “We don’t want to spend any more than $25,000.” So of course he’d thought about it and had a number in mind, and now I had a number to work with.

You’ll know that it’s a good time to bring up the subject of budget when the homeowner starts talking about when we’re going to build this, or that we really like this. Like a first date, though, much of this process is intuitive. That’s why it’s so important to spend 60% to 70% of your time on the call asking questions and actually listening for the homeowner’s responses. If you’re talking, you won’t get much insight into where that client is in the process.

Where they give you ideas and ranges in numbers is the point where they feel you’re there to help them. That’s when they’re comfortable with you and your solutions. Most do it when they feel you’re truly there to help them. As with dating, the end result could be you’re married to them … for the two or three weeks it takes to  complete your project.

—Dennis Schaefer sold his Michigan outdoor living and deck company to his employees and is a remodeling and home improvement speaker, writer, and consultant. Reach him at me@dennisschaefer.com.