Win Without Pitching®: Thinking

I’ve written for years on the impact that three-option proposals can have on your closing ratio and your average selected price. Providing your clients with three or four different ways to engage you—at different price points—might be the simplest and fastest path to improving profit. 

The Power of Options, In Short

People imagine themselves as objective decision makers who go through life making decisions based on facts and truths, when in reality, most of the decisions they make are subjective and contextual. When we give a client options on how to engage us, at different price points, we change the question we are asking them to answer from “Is this proposal worth this money” to “Which of these is the best value?” The latter, contextual question is the one the human brain is wired to answer. 

Options increase the number of positive possible outcomes, they let you control the client’s decision-making context and, most importantly, they change the closing conversation dynamics from a zero sum “win/lose” to a more collaborative “let’s figure out what’s best for you.”

In short, multi-option proposals are game-changing.

Good, Better, Best…for Whom?

The term “Good, Better, Best pricing” is often applied to this three-option technique, but I see this label getting people into trouble. 

The lowest (but still valid) expression of the three-option approach is three different sized buckets of either inputs (time and materials) or outputs (deliverables). In this form, the cheap option (Good) includes a list of inputs or outputs, and the middle option (Better) contains everything included in “Good” plus some more, and the expensive option (Best) contains everything in “Better” and still more. 

In such examples, bringing judgment to the options by labeling them Good, Better, Best or Bronze, Silver, Gold isn’t a crime because the inputs or outputs being purchased don’t change, just the quantity. Whether it’s best for the client to select the most expensive option probably depends on your point of view. Certainly the client understands that it’s best for you!

But there are higher, more powerful and lucrative expressions of the three-option proposal, and in these other realms, any judgment imbued into the names is misplaced. 

“Three Different Ways to Engage Us”

The highest expression of a three-option proposal is three different ways of doing business together. For example, you might give the client the option of buying the inputs of time (e.g., a certain number of hours, days or sprints), the option of buying the output or deliverable (e.g., website, campaign or app) or the option of paying you to achieve the outcomes or value they seek (e.g., target of leads, brand sentiment, conversions or sales). 

In such a proposal, the labels of Good, Better and Best do not apply. The tradeoffs the client has to consider in choosing any of these options go far beyond the simple one of more or less money for more or less inputs or outputs. In the higher expressions of the three-option proposal the client has to think deeply about how much risk they want to take and how much they want to pay you to make some of that risk go away. There is no right or wrong decision here, only tradeoffs. 

Tradeoffs All The Way Down

The client has numerous tradeoffs to consider in a good three-option proposal, and no matter how good a sales person you might be, you are unlikely to uncover or understand all the tradeoffs the client needs to make. Therefore you have no business imposing a judgment on the client’s decision. 

Let’s list just some of the risks of which any client might want to take more or less: 

  • price and price certainty (not only “how much” but “can I be sure it’s only that much?”)
  • performance risk (what’s the likelihood that this will work?) 
  • time (theirs or that of their teammates)
  • career risk (promotion, reputational damage, firing) 

Every Option is a Good One

Any option you put forward should be a good one. Your job is not to sell one over the others. Your job is to explain the options and speak to some of the pros and cons of each—mapping out the obvious tradeoffs. Some tradeoffs, like career risk, are only overtly addressed when the client brings them up. They are real and will have weight in the decision making, but they are also personal to the client and unlikely to be shared.

Use Descriptive Names

If you agree that you shouldn’t be telling your clients how much career risk to take then you will agree that you shouldn’t be telling them that one option is better than the others. So eschew labels like Gold, Silver, Bronze and stick with naming the options based on what the client is buying, such as Diagnostic, Four-Week Sprint, Retainer, Performance Pay, 20% Increase in Conversion Rates, Website, Skin In The Game, Guaranteed 1st Page Ranking, First Phase Only, Comprehensive Engagement, Fast & Light, Concierge Service, etc. 

All of the above names are descriptive without being judgmental. Give your clients real options in your proposals and respect the tradeoffs they have to make.

Win more business at a lower cost of sale

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Blair Enns
Blair Enns is the Win Without Pitching founder and CEO and the author of The Win Without Pitching Manifesto and Pricing Creativity: A Guide to Profit Beyond the Billable Hour.
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