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The Best Reasons Not to Ask a Client About Their Ad Budget and What to Ask Instead

Mark Levy

By: Mark Levy
Revenue Development Resources, Inc.

Editor’s note: For help getting to yes with your accounts and solutions to your sales problems and client issues, call Mark at the MAB Free Sales Help line: 972.522.8570.

For many of us, one of the most important questions we were taught to ask in a customer needs analysis was “What is your ad budget?” And we were taught that if we asked that honestly that we’d get an honest answer. But submitted for your consideration, think about you. When you go to buy, say a car, the dealership often asks you what your budget is. Do YOU tell them? Or if you do tell them, do you lowball?

Well just between us, your clients might tell fabrications as well, so the odds of you getting a true picture are about as good as me trying to dunk a basketball. And at 5’4” it might happen, but the odds are not very good. So the first reason not to ask about an ad budget is the possibility that your clients and prospects may tell you, um, “falsehoods.” But there is another reason: most clients don’t have an ad budget. “Levy, are you nuts? Of course they do!” Well, let’s reframe that and say they don’t have an ad budget but they DO have money for client acquisition and retention…and THAT is the money we want.

So with that said, let’s look at 7 questions to ask instead of “what’s your ad budget,” then you decide if it makes sense for you. And by the way, I strongly suggest practicing asking these questions with a partner, and if possible, video yourself so you can see if you are comfortable asking them.

#1. “Ballpark, about how many people a week come in?” All you are looking for is a ball park. I have seen that many people give me more accurate numbers on a weekly basis than a monthly basis and I think you will too.

#2. “Ballpark, about how many people a week buy something?” If I know “ballpark” how many people a week come in, and “ballpark” how many people a week buy something, I now have the “ballpark” weekly closing ratio.

#3. “Ballpark, what is your average sale amount?” When you know the ballpark # of sales times the average sale, you now know the ballpark weekly gross sales!

#4. “Ballpark, how often do customers come back to buy in a year?” For some reason we tend to get fixated on bringing people in “the first time.” We sell ourselves short on this. If we can get Sparky to come back and buy from the client again, we need to take credit for this. Because if a customer spends $50 per transaction and buys 3 times in a year, the customer value is not $50, but $150. And over 3 years, it is $450!

#5. “Ballpark, what is the gross profit margin per sale?” Some folks might make this #4, but sometimes asking this right next to “average sale” makes people a little uneasy. So I tend to buffer this question with #4 in between. BUT you should have a “ballpark” of what gross profit margins are for the industry you are calling on, so Google it before you go in. And whatever you do, if you ask a client about gross margin, and they don’t want to tell you, remain calm and consider responding like this: “No problem. As I understand it, your industry has an average gross margin of about_____. Does that track close to yours?” It is important to “guess high” and watch the body language. Most probably they will say, “No, that’s high.” If so, pick the number halfway between what you just said and what you researched and say it like this: “Hmm, is ____ closer to what you see?” Odds are you will be pretty close but if not, go down a bit further. When you “get” to the number, you now have an indication of the gross profit per week (# sales x avg. sale x gross profit margin %).

#6. “Ballpark, how much have you invested, say, oh, monthly over that past 6 months to get to the kind of traffic / sales you’ve been seeing?” This is where you get your historical “budget” perspective. But the big difference is that it is based on what HAS been happening, not what the client wants to have happen going forward. And you are there to address what the client wants to have happen going forward!

#7. “Ballpark, how much more in sales would you like to do in a month?” This is your golden ticket to move ahead with asking for more money because you are addressing what the client wants to have happen, based on what the client had been doing to get where he/she is, but now it is based on what the client had been doing AND what the client wants to do in the future.

A couple things before we leave. You don’t need to say ”ballpark” for all of these questions, it is just meant to help you see you are looking for approximate answers that “make sense.” And when you get the answers to these questions, you will also know monthly gross sales per ad dollar and monthly dollar per prospect investment! As your MAB’s Helpline provider, we’ve put this in spreadsheet format for you so if you’d like a copy please email me at And if you have sales / leadership issues, please give me a call at 972.522.8570. Thanks to you MAB, there is no charge and we’d love to try to help!

My best,

Mark Levy, CRME
Revenue Development Resources, Inc.
National Speakers Association Member
“Growing People & Teams from Influence to Impact!

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