How to respond to “Sharpen Your Pencils” discount requests

Sent by Jonathan Stark on August 25th, 2016

Let’s assume you’ve provided a quote and your contact responds with a variation on one of the following:

“Ok... I guess you’ll be sharpening your pencil for us.”

“I need you to sharpen your pencils. Can you do that?”

“That’s higher than I expected, so let’s leave it for now and revisit when we’ve done a few more projects together, and we know it’ll be valuable.”

I’d never even heard the “sharpen your pencils” euphemism before but apparently it’s not uncommon outside the US. It’s such a perfect example of this type of request that I named the category after it :)

Sharpen Your Pencils - Client vaguely implies that you need to lower your price, but without directly asking for a discount.

Your Lines

In a case like this, you’re probably dealing with someone who routinely asks for discounts because they have learned that the vast majority of sellers will immediately grant one for no good reason.

Assuming that you have worked with the client to come to an agreement about the perceived value of the outcome, this behavior borders on insulting.

Historically, I have dealt with this in one of two ways:

1. Go Dark - I simply do not respond to the request. This sort of client behavior is a major red flag. If I’m busy enough, I won’t even dignify it with a response. If they spontaneously backpedal, I will rethink the red flag. Otherwise, they’re forgotten.

2. Sorry, no! - I politely, succinctly, and clearly say “Nope!” like so:

“Thanks for asking, but I just can’t make a business case for lowering my price. PLMK if you’re willing to move forward at the quoted amount.”

Alert readers will note that I used this line in a previous scenario. You’ll likely see it again in a future scenario. It’s my go-to reply when saying NO to a request for a discount. It’s a good one to practice and commit to memory :)


Do you have any questions on these lines? Just hit reply and let me know.


P.S. These lines are predicated on the notion that your quote is a fixed project bid, and NOT an estimate based on an hourly rate. If you’re not sure how to escape from hourly billing without losing money, you might want to read my book: Hourly Billing Is Nuts.

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