Modern Selling: How to Ask a Customer About Their Budget

May 6, 2022
If you don’t get the answer after these three questions, no one else will either

This article originally appeared in the May 2022 issue of Security Business magazine. When sharing, don’t forget to mention Security Business magazine on LinkedIn and @SecBusinessMag on Twitter.

If you feel 100% positive about your relationship with a customer and comfortable with the conversation, then directly ask them: “What is your budget for this project?”

For the other 90% of the time, keep reading.

In the mid-1990s, I was trained to ask for the exact budget directly and unapologetically – and I did. I was young and unassuming, and it worked. Today, I would fail. There are a few reasons for this:

The commercial buying process has changed. Salespeople used to get an audience with decision-makers throughout the entire process, so if I offended someone during the qualifying stage because I was too aggressive asking about their budget, I had several more chances to win the sale. In today’s environment, decisions are made by committees behind closed doors. Many times, the discovery call is the only face time a salesperson gets. If I acted like I did 25 years ago, my contacts would discredit my company and me during the committee meeting because I probably would have made them uncomfortable with my direct questions.

People are much more sensitive today than they were in the 1990s (or ever). We used to be able to have candid and brutally honest conversations without getting offended. Sure, we might make someone angry or uncomfortable, but today, people feel the need to be defensive about everything. While asking a customer in 1995 about their budget might have received a response of “That’s none of your business. Just give me your best price” – at least I was still having a dialogue. Today, customers get emotionally hurt by such a direct question. Considering how the buying process has changed, I might not get another chance at winning the project.

Customers do not think they need salespeople anymore, so if you offend them with a direct question, they will simply get online and find someone else.

How to Indirectly Ask the Question

So, how do you ask about the budget? Indirectly with a series of the three questions below. Notice that the questions do not position them vs. you. There is no “your budget” or “my price.”

Question 1: When will a budget for this project be set? Notice how this question is not as sharp or direct as “How much did you budget for this project?” Their answer will help you start a dialogue that will lead to you knowing their budget. Most people will have a budget already.

Question 2: Before getting too far, would it be helpful for us to do a budgetary estimate to make sure we are in the ballpark? If they have not set a budget yet, then this offer will be a nice gesture that will help position you as their consultant. This question is setting up the next question, and it also serves as a back-up in case the next one fails.

Question 3: I should have just asked – that will make it easier for everyone…what is the budget? This question may or may not work, but that is ok. Obviously, if they have not set a budget yet, then this question doesn’t make sense; however, their answer to question 2 should get you talking. If they do not reveal the actual number, then once you have an idea, ask them if you are in the neighborhood. Something like: “Off the top of my head, I’m thinking the final number will come I about $65k - $75k. Am I in the ballpark?”

Chris Peterson is the founder and president of Vector Firm (, a sales consulting and training company built specifically for the security industry. Use "Security Business" as a coupon code to receive a 10% lifetime discount at To request more info about the company, visit