August 26, 2016

Reader question about my “business case” line

In two of my previous messages about how to respond to discount requests, I have suggested using the following line:

“Thanks for asking, but I just can’t make a business case for lowering my price.”

This is my default fallback for delivering a polite “No” without having to think too hard about it. 

List member Ant asked:

Can you explain your thinking behind this phrase? It’s not clear what that means, and I would worry the client would say the same. 

Happy to!


I’ll break down the key fragments:

“Thanks for asking”

Translation: “I’m not annoyed that you asked for a discount.”

It sets an upbeat tone for the rest of the message. I don’t want to come across as defensive.

“but I just can’t make”

Translation: “I spent time thinking about your request”

Even though I’m going to say no, I did give it some consideration. I don’t want to come across as dismissive. 

“a business case”

Translation: “You’re essentially asking for a personal favor”

The client did not give a compelling business reason to justify a discount. 

Overall Tone

In my original example, I purposely use “soft focus” words because that’s the way most of my clients communicate. You could create your own variant by rewording the fragments.

For example:

“Hey there! It’s totally cool that you asked for a discount. I re-crunched the numbers for you, but I still think my price is on point.” 


“Hi Bob, Regarding your discount request - I completely understand that this is a significant investment, and I did spend some time going back over the numbers. Still, I think the quoted price is justified given my level of involvement and the upside for your company.” 

Both of these communicate the same core message as my original, but in different language: 

A word of caution: if you want to compose your own variation of this line, keep it short (20-40 words max). If you respond with a long message, it comes across as defensive and needy. You don’t have to make a case, justify your position, or explain your reasoning. A polite No will suffice. 

Possible Client Responses

There are only three ways the client can respond to your polite No:

Yes and No need no further attention from a sales perspective. But what about that Maybe? 

If the client wants to keep talking about the discount after you have politely declined, you’re probably not going to get the gig, or if you do, you’ll regret it.

If you really want to try to salvage the sale, turn the question around and make the client justify in business terms why they deserve a discount.

Something like:

Client: “We really can’t move forward unless you give us that discount.”

You: “Why not?”

At which point, the client will most likely state some rationale that you can address with more specific lines that I’ve provided elsewhere (e.g., we haven’t got the money, we should get a bulk discount, your price isn’t the lowest, etc).



P.S. Friends don’t let friends bill by the hour -> Hourly Billing Is Nuts