On this episode of THRIVE — sponsored by Workamajig — Kelly and Ilise Benun discuss the disconnect between the value of business services and the value of the person selling them. They give actionable steps to get more comfortable having the money conversation with prospects and clients.
Episode 107: Get Comfortable Talking About Money, with Ilise Benun
Kelly: So welcome to this latest episode of Thrive, your agency resource. If you are watching this on video, you'll notice some new scenery. I actually just moved into my new house last weekend. So really excited to welcome you in. Today, I'm actually also welcoming Ilise Benun. She is a marketing mentor to solopreneurs and small agencies, creative professionals, if you will. She's especially great at guiding those who are uncomfortable with having the money conversation. So that's what she's here to talk about today. Ilise, thank you so much for joining me. I'm so excited to have this conversation.
Ilise: Thank you for the invitation, Kelly. It's lovely to be here.
Kelly: So, we both work with agencies. We have both encountered all of the struggles and trials and tribulations of this thing that is sometimes seemingly insurmountable, right? Having conversations about money, for some reason, is really, really difficult. So, what does that typically look like? What are some of the common struggles that you've encountered with some of your clients?
Ilise: Well, the worst one, I would say, is when you just don't bring it up at all. People are so mortified by talking about money, because it's really psychological. There's a lot of emotional baggage that goes along with it, right? I'm sure you know all about that. And so often, people will get off a call or even begin a project sometimes without having talked about money. And it's crazy. So that's on one end of the spectrum. I think also, when people do manage to bring it up, they're so nervous. If they don't have enough practice at it, they will ask for a number and then keep talking and not let the prospect give the information or feel pressured to give a price right on the spot. So again, a lot of emotional and psychological elements that really just get in the way.
Kelly: Yeah, yeah, I see the same thing. And for me, because of the work that I do, which is kind of more on that emotional side. A lot of it comes from the relationship that we had with money based on how our parents sort of interacted with it or talked about it in the home. Yeah, really, really interesting. And it kind of also delves into this whole aspect of self worth and self value. So, it gets into a whole nother’ thing. But that is a whole different show. So today, we'll just focus on this.
Ilise: But actually, let's just say one thing. I personally think that the talking about money, the conversation about what your services are worth, or how they're valued by the prospect of the client has nothing to do with what our worth is as a person, right? As an individual intrinsically, which I don't even know if it exists, but if it does, it's totally subjective. And so, it seems like the first step often is to decouple or disconnect this, it's me and my work, from buying a service, it's business, so we got to figure out what the price is.
Kelly: Yeah, yeah. No, that's a great point. And that is the disconnection sort of like unraveling those things, because that's where it gets tricky, right? If we're bringing those things into our business, all of those things from, just younger, from a development standpoint, if we're bringing all of that in as the leader of the organization, of course, it's going to impact the business, right? If you start to question, oh, well, I'm not sure if this prospect is going to pay that, right. It's a story that you're creating, based on some self-limiting belief or some sense of a little bit less value than you should be getting. And so, exactly what you said, removing them or kind of, I think you said, decoupling them makes all the sense in the world. So, one of the things that you and I have talked about, is this idea that you have, or this concept that you put out, which I think is really fascinating, kind of fun to talk about. So, the way that you think about proposals, is you call it the proposal oreo strategy. So, can you talk a little bit about that? And maybe what like the first step, or the first cookie of that is?
Ilise: Yes. And I'll tee it up by saying that often a prospect because they don't usually want to talk about money either, by the way, right? Because they've got their own emotional baggage, their money, they're human to human too. And so sometimes they'll just say, oh, just send me a proposal. All right. And on the one hand, you might be relieved, because now you don't have to talk about money, you can figure out the price in your room, in your little office, and then put it in the proposal and send it off, and you never have to deal with it. But that is, of course, the worst thing to do.
Kelly: That's right.
Ilise: Right. So, one of the first things I say is when they say just send me a proposal, I think it actually means they don't want to talk about money, or they don't want to think about what is involved in coming up with talking about money, which is the first cookie that you referenced, right? And so, the first cookie of this proposal strategy, and the cream is the actual proposal, and you have to decide, are you going to do the proposal in the first place. You're not going to do it just because they say, send me a proposal, because we all know what happens. Often, you haven't talked about money yet. And so, whatever you quote, may be too high or too low for them. And then you never hear from them again. This is so common, and very discouraging, also. And so, this is what we're trying to avoid with the proposal oreo strategy.
Kelly: So, go into this qualifying conversation or discovery conversation.
Ilise: Okay. So that first cookie, as I like to call it, is the qualifying conversation. And then the qualifying conversation, and some people call it a discovery call, right? It's the in real time conversation that you must have with someone to assess whether or not they are an appropriate prospect for you, a good prospect for you. And so, we want to, of course, gather the information and the specs about the project, and especially what they think they need compared to what you may think they need.
Kelly: They're always different, always different.
Ilise: Always different. Right? So, there's that. And then there's also the second layer of questions, which I think about as a way to demonstrate your value, by asking really smart questions that highlight what you know about what you do, basically, because you're the expert, and what they don't know about what you do. And by asking these questions that you may not get answers to. And that's not the point of it. The point of it is for them to say, oh, this person or this agency knows the things we don't know, right? That's why we need them.
Kelly: Right. And you're also in that moment, sort of demonstrating your strategic thinking, which is actually what they're paying you for because you don't want to be in that commodity seat, right? You don't want to just be paid to be a production company or an execution firm. Right? So, it's really about that strategic thinking, if you're asking those really intelligent questions, which are mostly open-ended, and I'm sure you have a couple of examples. Yeah, just demonstrating that value.
Ilise: And the questions are actually very specific, often to the project and the industry and the client. But in general, the way I like to think about it is, you're kind of almost brainstorming with them about the project, right? You're sharing your ideas. You're using generosity as a marketing tool to show them how you think.
Kelly: I love that. I love that. That’s going to be the sound clip for this or the soundbite for this episode.
Kelly: I love it.
Ilise: Yeah. Because often people are very conscious about their ideas, and they don't want to give them away because they think that's the thing people are paying for. And yes, there's part of that. But again, the good clients, the people who are going to engage in this conversation, you are not the ones who are going to take your ideas and run with them.
Ilise: So, we've asked the questions about the project, we're asking smart questions that demonstrate our value, and then you take a bridge. You build a bridge to the money conversation.
Kelly: All inside of this discovery, I just want to highlight that, because so many people leave the discovery call without ever talking about money, which you mentioned at the top of the show, and we have to get more comfortable.
Kelly: So how do you kind of like transition into that money conversation?
Ilise: Well, it's really simple. You say, all right, I think we're ready for the money conversation. Are you ready to talk about money?
Kelly: Oh, I love that. Just go for it. Just put it right out there. Oh, I like that.
Ilise: Absolutely. And as a question because they may have more questions for you before you talk about money. But the point really is you want to lay the foundation of value and find out what they value so that you can make sure you're the one who can provide that value before you put any numbers on the table, because if you go directly to the money at the beginning of the conversation, they have no context for it. They have nothing to associate it with in their mind.
Kelly: Right, right. [Commercial] So going back for a second to what you just said. If you need to find out what they value, what's important to them, to me, that's like the missing piece in almost every single discovery call, right? We talk so much about features. We don't talk about impact. What is this? What would this signal to you personally or professionally? Right? Like what do you value? So, are there a couple of questions that you kind of baked into that section or part of the qualifying conversation with your clients?
Ilise: Well, one of them is a very clear question about what they're going to be making their decision on. Right? How important is price in this process? How important is whether or not we have the exact experience that you need? Or we know your industry so you can give them a multiple choice of things they could value rather than putting them on the spot and saying, what do you value? Because that's a tricky question for people to answer, right? But do you value the fact that we are quick and we turn things around quickly? And that's the thing that's most important about this project.
Kelly: There's also something that I like to do at the end of a discovery call, which most people say, okay, do you have any final question, not final, but like, do you have any additional questions for us? I think that also sometimes puts people on the spot that they have to think of some question. And, at the moment, you don't necessarily know that. So, what I like to do in situations like that is say, I'm sure that you probably will have some questions once you've digested this conversation. But for right now, are there any takeaways, like, has there been something that we've uncovered together through this conversation that you'll take with you? And I feel like it's a little bit more disarming than any questions. Right? So yeah, just another note to kind of add on to what other things for those listening and watching, if you're kind of taking notes and saying, here are some things I should add to my discovery call, maybe ending with something like that, as well.
Ilise: And actually, in one of your other podcasts, I can't remember who the woman was. She was not American. And she was talking about a proposal and a pitch that she had done that was very unusual. And she said one of the questions she asked was, do you have any concerns about working with us?
Kelly: Oh, that was the RFP?
Kelly: I know which one you're talking about. Yeah.
Ilise: And I thought that was a really interesting question, too. Because you want to know that, right? You want to know what they value and what they may be concerned about? And they may be able to tell you at that moment.
Kelly: But this is so interesting, right? We're talking about having or leaning into fairly uncomfortable, unconventional conversations, right? If you're not used to, if you're kind of just using a sheet for your discovery calls, this is really kind of thinking outside of the box, and you have to be receptive to whatever the answer is, if you're going to ask a question like that, right? If you have, do you have any concerns about working with me? I mean, you're asking that person to be honest. And you're also modeling the fact that honesty is valuable to you. That's a core value of your organization. Right? So, I think that's great. And thank you for bringing that up. Because I think adding that to like, listen, if we're going to have uncomfortable conversations, we might as well just tackle them all on. Right? Get them all out of the way.
Ilise: Absolutely. And I think it also means and this is why I think people don't jump into this because they don't have enough practice, right? And so, it really takes a lot of practice, and trust in yourself. And also, I won't, I'll just mention marketing, right? Because if you have plenty of irons in the fire, then you don't need any one particular project or conversation to go to any particular place.
Kelly: That's right. The way that I talk about that, actually, from a Buddhist perspective is having no attachment to any particular outcome. Right. And so, if you're thinking from the standpoint of, if you really need business, like if you are desperate for that new piece of business to come in, because you literally don't have more than a few months worth of cash in the bank, prospects feel that on the other side, right? So, to your point, marketing and having that nice full pipeline and being able to go through a really methodical process, a really intentional process to make sure that who you're bringing in from a client perspective that they're ideal clients for you.
Ilise: That you're vetting them basically.
Kelly: You're vetting them. I mean, they're vetting and interviewing you just as much as you should be. And I think we forget that sometimes.
Ilise: Yes. Absolutely. When we want it, especially.
Kelly: When we want it, we forget it. Yeah. Okay, so let's get back to the proposal Oreo strategy. Let's think about when we are talking about the proposal itself, that's the cream in the middle of the Oreo, and then the presentation of that proposal. We both agree, and I think a lot of people agree, you're not ever just sending out proposals. That is not something that anyone, any consultant or coach would ever advise. So, walk us through a little bit, what do you advise in terms of that presentation meeting.
Ilise: So, the idea and you have to plant the seed at the end of the discovery call, actually, to let them know, this is how we work. We're going to do a proposal for you. And then we're going to walk you through it so that we can answer any questions, respond to any objections, and gauge your readiness and hours to proceed to the next step. So, you plant that seed early on, and you might even say, and let's look at our calendars and schedule the conversation right now.
Kelly: That's it. That is the key. I always say you never leave any call without setting up the next one. Literally get out your calendars. Because if you leave it for afterwards, oh, we'll email you some availabilities, it just falls off. But if you get your calendars out right there, it's so much easier.
Ilise: And you also get them on board with this process, which they're not going to be familiar with because hardly anyone does it.
Kelly: Which is kind of crazy to me.
Kelly: Right. It feels very one on one. But yeah, maybe just not enough people talk about it. I don't know. But yeah, I think I've been kind of surprised that this is like a new thing to a lot of creative and technology agencies.
Ilise: Well, and the response I get is, oh, they're not going to want to get on the phone again. They don't have time to talk to me again.
Kelly: Of limiting beliefs.
Ilise: Yes, exactly. First of all, you don't know. And this is you saying this is how we do things. This is how we get to know each other, and you don't have to say this, but this is your trial run with the prospect to see, are they going to be a good client? Can they stick with the program?
Kelly: Right. It's little things, right? Like, if you make a commitment, it's like I say this, like it's like dating, right? If you make a commitment, and you have a date next Friday, and that date cancels Friday, an hour before the date, you are probably not going to go out with that person again, right? Like, there are little tiny yellow flags and orange flags and red flags throughout the process. What you want are green flags. You want a good relationship with these prospects, because you're going to essentially be in a relationship with them, in partnership with them for probably a pretty good amount of time, especially if you're offering retainer services, it could be years, right?
Ilise: And you can't build a relationship via email. I really don't think you can. You have to do it in real time with conversations and with some discomfort, that maybe you're going to force, actually you're going to create the friction. Most people are trying to avoid friction. I think friction is good. I want to put friction in between to make sure that we can get through this together so that we have a good relationship.
Kelly: Oh my god, Ilise, you're literally speaking my love language. I love that really healthy tension, right? It builds trust. If there's no tension and everything is puppy dogs, rainbows and unicorns, then it's not real. There has to be that little bit of tension. This is great. So, are there any recommendations that you would have for creative professionals as they're practicing getting more comfortable with these money conversations, whether it's in the presentation meeting, or separate and apart from that, just how they can improve upon that for themselves?
Ilise: Well, I think the first thing is to practice in low stakes environments. So, at the drugstore, no, not at the drugstore. With a vendor, with someone you're on the other side of the table with, right? You can practice the money conversation. It's the hump of getting into it. That is the hardest part, right? So even if you just practice saying, alright, let's talk about money to your partner, to the Uber driver, right? I mean to whoever you come into contact with.
Kelly: Yeah, I had a client recently that was basically having an in-person negotiation with an existing client. And they were renegotiating their rates, which is still pricing. It's still the money conversation, really uncomfortable, except there were so many things stacked in the favor of the client. But they were just uncomfortable. And what I advised and what they ended up doing very successfully, was to do some role playing amongst the people who would be at that negotiation, at that meeting with the client. And so, they recorded themselves, and then sent me the recording. And then I kind of gave some notes, and then they did it again, went really, really well. And they ended up doing so well in that negotiation. And that money conversation at the end of it was so comfortable for them that now that's translating into even more comfortable conversations with new prospects. So, practice really, really is so important here.
Ilise: The most important thing.
Kelly: Yeah. And you have a book that people can also look at from a recommendation standpoint. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Ilise: Yes. So, I actually have two books that might be relevant. Okay, the most recent is an e-book, it's called Worth It: How Getting Good at the Money Talk Pays Off. And that is available on my website. And then I also, I think about 10 years ago now, wrote The Creative Professional’s Guide to Money. And that is available also on Amazon.
Kelly: Okay, perfect. So, I will make sure that there are show notes included for your website and both of those books. So, anyone who is doing something while they're listening to this, and you can't get to it right away, show notes will include all of those links for you. Ilise, thank you so much for having this conversation with me today. I think it's going to be really, really valuable to a lot of people. And of course, if you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to Ilise. I'm sure she'd be happy to answer them for you.
Ilise: Absolutely. Thank you for the invitation, Kelly. I've really enjoyed it too.