By John Tabita

Sell Like a Third-Grader: How 2 + 2 Equals More Clients

By John Tabita

When I was in the web business, there was a magic number I kept bumping into. That number was 500. No, it wasn’t the number of clients I had, or how much I charged per hour, or how many hours a week I worked. It was how much money most prospects thought a website should cost. So what do you do if your starting price is three, four, or maybe even five times that?

Is $500 a lot of money? You can’t answer that outside the context of what you’re getting in return, can you? As a freelancer or business person trying to sell your services, you must put your price into its proper context. If you don’t, your prospects will.

Let me put it another way. When you quote someone a price, be it $500 or $5,000, he needs another number to compare that to. If you don’t provide one, he’ll come up with his own. Unfortunately, the number he uses will be something else he spends his hard-earned money on—like his mortgage or his car payment. When your prospect starts comparing your price to his other bills, you’ve probably already lost. In his mind, you’ve become just one more expense that’s going to take money out of his pocket.

The problem is, your prospect is focusing on loss—what he has to spend. You can circumvent that thinking process by providing a different number for him to think about … what he’s going to gain.



Return on investment, or ROI, is an equation that often doesn’t get introduced into the sales conversation. Yet, ROI is a just number derived from a simple mathematical formula. Let me use an actual example, and since I’m mathematically-challenged, I’ll keep it simple.

Suppose I’m considering a direct mail campaign for my web business. If my total cost for a stock image, plus printing and mailing 5,000 postcards is $1,500, and my average job is $900, then I need 1.66 jobs to break even:

$1,500 ÷ $900 = 1.66

Direct mail has a response rate of 1 – 3 percent. Let’s be conservative and use the lower number. That means, out of 5,000 postcards, l should get about 50 people to respond back. If I can close one out of every 10 people, that’s five jobs and a positive return on my investment. Again, simple third-grade math:

50 ÷ 10 = 5 x $900 = $4,500

I’d spend $1,500 all day long if it meant I’d make $4,500. You can also start out with how much revenue you want to bring in and do the math from the other direction. Once you use this formula with your prospects, all that’s left is his risk quotient: Are you willing to risk x to get y?

Mark Twain once said that there’s “lies, damn lies, and statistics.” Many of your prospects will feel the same when you start using numbers to make your case. “But it’s just theoretical!” I’ve heard that as often as I’ve heard, “That’s more money than my house payment!” But remind your prospect that he did the same thing when he went into business for himself. He looked at the market to determine how many customers or how much revenue he’d need, then deducted his overhead to see if he could earn enough money to make a living. He took a risk then. This is just one more risk in a series of risks he’s taken since starting his business. Is he willing to take it?

The Final Equation

It makes no logical sense to compare a business expense to your house payment, but keep in mind that people buy based on emotions, then justify it with logic. So it stands to reason that people also refuse to buy based on emotion, doesn’t it? And so the final equation is: Emotions + Logic = More Sales. You need to provide your prospect with both the emotional reasons to buy and the logical reasons to justify it to themselves. ROI is a great way to provide that logical hook for them to hang their hat on once you’ve left the building.

Image credit

The most important and interesting stories in tech. Straight to your inbox, daily. Get Versioning.
Login or Create Account to Comment
Login Create Account