What border guards can teach you about answering your customers’ price questions

I like to travel and have traveled all over Canada, through the US, and through parts of Europe. As a result, I’ve encountered numerous border guards (and customs agents)… some were nice (and many were not so nice).

Here’s the deal with border guards: They don’t really care about the answers to your questions. What they want to do is pepper you with a bunch of questions — both expected questions and unexpected ones — to see what your reaction is.

That’s why you get the usual questions like “How long will you be in the country for?” and “What’s the purpose of your visit?” and then you get unusual ones like “What do you do for a living?” (and when I said I was a writer, they asked a follow up question: “Name some of your clients”) or the weirdest question that a friend of mine was asked: “Do you have a boyfriend or girlfriend in the country?”

Like human lie detectors, border guards judge you only partially on your answer but more importantly on HOW you answer. They’re watching to see how long it took you to come up with an answer and how weird your answer is… and if a follow-up question is asked, how detailed was your answer. (Presumably, someone who is lying to get into a country is only going to have a basic story… but when a border guard asks a detail-oriented follow-up question, that’s when the lie is likely to be revealed).

Your customers are like border guards when it comes to price. A customer who asks you about the price of a product doesn’t JUST care about the price of the product… they are (often unconsciously) judging HOW you answer.

They’re watching to see when you talk about price (in your marketing? in your sales efforts? just moments before the sale?) and they want to see what you say about price. They’re watching for price indicators in your marketing — on your website, in social media, and even in your conversation.

When I first started as an entrepreneur, I was embarrassed to talk about money. My answer to the price question was hesitant. Therefore, customers saw a lack of confidence and they knew there was room to bargain. Later, when I became more confident about my price, the bargaining disappeared. Objections about price tended to disappear, not necessarily because of higher prices but because of increased confidence in the delivery of the answer about price.

Here are some other ways that your customers are judging you by HOW you answer the price question…

  • A fast way to generate angry customers is to prominently advertise one price and then tack on additional costs afterward. (Is it any wonder that car salespeople are not always the most respected salespeople? Their industry is built on pricing practices that SEEM like bait-and-switch… even when they really aren’t).
  • When customers research the price and they see prices that vary wildly (such as the demand-driven prices in the airline industry) they can become price sensitive and even resentful that there is such a difference between the high-demand price and the low-demand price.
  • If your pricing strategies aren’t clear, your customer might have a hard time connecting the value they receive to the price you’re asking… and they might trust you less if it takes you a while to calculate a price.
  • If you talk about price and then get defensive and talk about the product’s benefits or, worse yet, about how you are better than your cheaper competitor, the potential buyer files that away as something to look further into to see if the value is as evident as you are making it out to be.
  • If you NEVER talk about price, the customer notices that the relationship is ticking ever closer to the transaction and they might get edgy — afraid that you’ll spring it on them. Or, like the local Weed Man franchise did with me, they called to see if I wanted my lawn treated. I asked for more information and they sent out a team to fertilize my lawn… and then sent me a bill. (Note: Never ever buy from Weed Man. Ever.).
  • On the other hand, if you talk about price too early, you might appear focused on the transaction rather than on serving the customer. (I don’t mean hide the price until later. It’s okay to mention it early because customers want to know… but just don’t make it a big deal early on).
  • If I’m shopping on a website for a product or service, I want to see a price and it will help me decide whether or not I want to buy. When I see something like “call us about a price” I am forced to decide whether I want to speak to a live person and I have to wonder whether the price is a little more flexible… and I have to wonder exactly how many “moving parts” are in the equation that make up the price. Is the person going to hard-sell me? Are they going to customize a solution? If you sell a customized solution that requires a handful of questions before delivering an answer, be clear about what you need from the potential customer before you can give them an answer… and if possible, give them a range ahead of time.

I feel like I’m just scratching the surface here — there are so many ways that your potential buyer is judging you when they ask about price.

Your potential buyer is a type of border guard… they are guarding their hard-earned money and they don’t want you at it. So they’ll adopt the same strategies that border guards adopt and they’ll ask you an innocent price question and watch carefully how you answer.

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