Don't tell me what you value. Show me your budget.

"Don't tell me what you value. Show me your budget, and I'll tell you what you value." - Vice President Joe Biden's dad.

Most people like us agree on a lot of things. For example:

“Climate change is bad. We need to do something.”

“We care about company culture. It's important to help our employees level up so we can stay competitive.”

“Innovation is crucial. We want to be a market leader, and that means taking risks.”

But, interestingly, the minute you present a solution that will save the environment, improve culture, or prompt innovation... Everyone is suddenly nowhere to be found. It’s crickets and tumbleweed.

Or more often, it’s a response like this: “Yes, we love your idea. It’s just not the right time."

Saying you care costs nothing. It’s free for people to say they care, which is why we say we care about X, Y, Z so liberally. But when it comes down to it, we're only willing to make trade-offs for certain things. If you attach a price tag to caring, you're asking the customer to prioritize vis-a-vis other things.

That’s why you need to look at BEHAVIOR. What has this person said or done in the past that indicates their level of commitment to solving this problem? If they haven’t tried solving it, and don’t think it’s a huge problem, they won’t be committed enough to try your solution. It's merely a minor annoyance that they're willing to live with–not something they'll pay to solve.

Just because someone agrees with you and likes your product, doesn’t mean they’ll ever buy it. Why does this matter? As a change agent, it’s important for you to know when someone is blowing smoke at you. It's dangerous to pat yourself on the back thinking you're close to securing customers when they have no intent to purchase. These false flags are a drain on your time, bandwidth, and emotional labor.

I’ve seen enough sales conversations personally and helped enough clients to know this. I no longer give weight to what people say is important. You’ll know how important something is by the way people (a) behave and (b) spend their money.

Money, in this case, is a great proxy for value. Money is certainly not the end all, but it is a good indicator of your customer's worldview. For example:

(a) They might be willing to pay $5 for a drink at Starbucks, but refuse to pay $5 for a software app on iTunes they'll use everyday.

(b) They might be willing to spend $50,000 for a company off-site, but get "sticker shock" spending $10,000 for a workshop that'll increase productivity for years.

(c) They might say they care about clothing that's sustainably sourced, but reel at the idea of spending 20% more than they would at H&M.

When you're talking to customers or scoping the market need for your product, remember: Show me your budget. Talk about how the customer has invested in solving this problem in the past, how they've spent money on this topic, and what they're currently doing.

When you do this, you'll see how your customer prioritizes the problem you're solving–and therefore, how much they'll prioritize your solution.


Subscribe to get essays like this in your inbox 2x per week.

MarketingWes KaoMarketing