How to Address Consulting Client Objections When Negotiating a Contract

It is quite common for prospective clients to raise objections to what you put in your proposal.


Objections happen. Don't worry about it. It doesn't mean the deal is dead. Responding skillfully will increase the likelihood that you will get a contract with that prospective client and start to build a trusting, lasting relationship.

Prevention First

The best way to handle objections is to anticipate them and prevent them when you can. When you first engage a prospective client, listen and watch for signals that they may have objections to what you are proposing. Did they say anything that suggests they are sensitive about costs? Did they look uncertain when you described your approach? Did they push back when you talked about how long it may take to get the result they want? Sometimes it may be something completely surprising, but, if you pay attention to the verbal and nonverbal cues, you can often tell what they might object to once you give them the proposal.

If you can anticipate the objections, address them when you are meeting with them. Query them about what they may not be sure about or don’t like. You can ask them if they have budget or timing parameters. Ask probing questions to get a more detailed and nuanced understanding of what they want or what worries them. If possible, agree on the best way to address it in the proposal. For example, if they are price sensitive, you can tell them that you will present them with options for the scope so they can pick the one that fits within their budget and gives them the value they are seeking.

Also bake language into your proposal that helps them get past objections. Emphasize the value of what you’ve proposed doing for them and make a case for why what you are proposing gets them that value. And don’t assume they will remember everything you’ve discussed or won’t have second thoughts. Either of those could be why they raise objections.

What If That Doesn’t Work?

If you do all that, and they still raise objections, don’t panic. It’s not unusual. It doesn’t mean no. It just means that you need to negotiate with them.

The most difficult thing is often how to begin your response to prospective clients. What are the first things you say in response to their objections that set the conversation off on the right foot?

Let me make it easier for you!

First, you have to know what your primary goals in responding are. No matter what, when you respond to any of these situations, your goals are to show the prospective client that:

You care about them more than closing the deal

You understand them and their circumstances

If you don’t keep those two goals at the center of what you say and do, you could easily come across as manipulative, which can kill a deal and harm the relationship!

What Can You Say?

I’m going to share common objections that most consultants will hear from clients and what I have found works to begin the conversation. I’ll also share some tips for keeping the conversation productive and guard against things you want to avoid, such as being underpaid for your value.

Objection: When a prospective client says that they do not like something that you proposed.

What You Can Say: Once they tell you they don’t like something you proposed, you can say, “I’m happy to talk about what you didn’t like and revise the proposal if necessary. Tell me more about what you’d like to see in the proposal.”

When they describe what they object to, frame your responses to be about refining the proposal. This will help you avoid the prospective client reverting to a go/no-go decision about hiring you. You can say something like, “Thank you. That’s helpful. I can revise the proposal to reflect that.”

Then ask clarifying questions so you can get a thorough understanding of how to change the proposal. This will reduce the chances of having a repeat conversation.

If they have objections to something that you proposed that you think is important or critical to the success of the engagement, you can say, “Let me clarify why I put that in the proposal.” Then explain why this is an important element to keep in the proposal, including showing why it will get them the outcome they want based on your expertise and experience. Look for ways you can adjust what you proposed to do to reflect their feedback without sacrificing achieving the outcome.

If they have objections to the price, you can say, “I know the budget is important to you. I can certainly change the scope to get within your budget parameters.” Note that I am suggesting switching the word “price” to “budget” to avoid getting into a back and forth about your price, which usually involves them trying to get you to lower your price. Then either propose changes to the scope or tell them you can get back to them with options. Those options should emphasize the value they get. Tell them clearly what outcomes or results they will get for that price. If you did your homework on your price and you know it is right for the scope they want, stick to it.

If they push to get the same scope for a lower price, you can say, “My goal is to make sure you get the outcome(s) you need. I can propose a scope and price that can do that. I can also identify any implications of changing the scope so you have the information you need to make decisions.” Then either propose changes and identify those implications or tell them you can get back to them with options. Again, those options should emphasize the value they get.

In your responses, always tie the scope and price together. If they veer to talking about price only, bring scope back into the conversation and relink them.

You can also propose three different tiers of value with higher tiers offering more value and with a larger scope and higher price. That will give them options that fit their budget and can often result in them picking a higher tier that provides more value.

Objection: When a prospective client says that they want to clarify something you proposed

What You Can Say: Once they tell you they need clarification, you can say, “I’m happy to clarify anything in the proposal. What would you like me to clarify?” Then talk through the details of what they want clarified. Sometimes the prospective client does just want clarification. Oftentimes, when they are asking for clarification, it’s actually just their way of bringing objections. For example, if they ask, “Can you explain why the timeline is that duration?” assume they mean, “Why is this going to take so long?” Most of the time, it is safe to assume that a clarifying question is revealing an objection. So treat it as such.

Ask your own clarifying questions so you can get a thorough understanding of what is not clear to your prospective clients or to reveal if there is an objection lurking beneath the surface so you know how to respond.



Objection: When a prospective client says that they want to negotiate what you proposed

What You Can Say: Once they tell you they want to negotiate, you can say, “I’m happy to talk about anything in the proposal. What part of the proposal would you like to talk about?”

Notice that it says you are happy to talk about anything in the proposal, not negotiate anything in the proposal. That is because you do not want to signal that everything is negotiable, such as your price, a scope that will not enable them to achieve their desired outcomes, or an unrealistic timeline.

If they want changes to the scope, you can say, “Let’s go through the parts of the scope you want to discuss and see if there are changes that align with what will get you to your outcome.” Then talk through the details of what they want to change.

Again, ask clarifying questions so you can get a thorough understanding of what they want so you can propose alternatives that will satisfy them. Frame your responses relative to the outcome(s) they want to achieve and not the scope in isolation. For example, if they ask why there are 3 trainings instead of 1, tell them why the 3 are necessary for them to achieve their outcome and not just the content of the 3 trainings.

If they want changes to the scope that will make it difficult or impossible for you to help them achieve their outcomes, do not agree to those changes. Try to get them to make a better choice. You can say, “I have to be honest. I do not think that this is going to get you the outcomes you want. Let me suggest a few alternatives that are closer to what you are suggesting and will still get you where you want to go.” Then either propose alternatives or tell them you can get back to them. Those alternatives should clearly show how they will enable them to achieve their outcome(s).

As always, ask clarifying questions so you can get a thorough understanding of what they want and what is behind their desire to change the scope so you can propose alternatives that will satisfy them but still achieve their outcome(s).

If they are firm in what they want and you are firm in your belief that it is not right, it is better to say no to the engagement than to agree to something you know is not likely to work. Ultimately, your consulting business will thrive if it is built on having a reputation of excellence and success. So saying no protects your reputation as a sacred element of your consulting business success.

If they want to negotiate the price, you can ask, “If you have budget parameters you need to work within, I can certainly change the scope to get the price where you want it.” Then either propose changes to the scope or tell them you can get back to them with options. Those options should emphasize the value they get. Tell them clearly what outcomes or results they will get for that price.


If they push to get the same scope for a lower price, as previously stated, you can say, “My goal is to make sure you get the outcome(s) you need. I can propose a scope and price that can do that. I can also identify any implications of changing the scope so you have the information you need to make decisions.” Then either propose changes and identify those implications or tell them you can get back to them with options. Those options should emphasize the value they get.

This is where you will have to know that not all engagements are worth saying yes to. If they insist on paying you less than the value of the outcome they want or your value, walk away if you can. You don’t want to get in the habit of devaluing yourself and what you can do. And you don’t want to take valuable time out of your work life that could be filled by a client who pays you for your value.

If they want changes to the timeline, you can say, “Let’s talk about what will impact the timeline and see if there are changes that are workable and get you to your outcome.” Then talk through the details of what they want to change.

Ask clarifying questions so you can get a thorough understanding of what is truly impacting the timeline, including anything creating real urgency. That way you can propose alternatives that will work.

If they want changes to the timeline that will make it difficult or impossible for you to help them achieve their outcomes, do not agree to those changes. Try to get them to make a better choice. You can say, “I have to be honest. I do not think that you can achieve what you want to achieve in that timeframe. Let me suggest a few alternatives that are closer to what you are suggesting and will still get you where you want to go.” Then either propose alternatives or tell them you can get back to them. Those alternatives should clearly show how they will enable them to achieve their outcome(s).

Ask clarifying questions so you can get a thorough understanding of what they want so you can propose alternatives that will satisfy them but are realistic.


If they are firm in what they want and you are firm in your belief that it is not right, is better to say no to the engagement than to agree to something you know is not likely to work. Again, this is about building a reputation of excellence. You don’t want to earn a reputation in your market of not meeting deadlines or blowing timelines. Even if it isn’t your fault or you warned them, those perceptions will still attach to you.

End On a Good Note

At the end of the conversation, if you were able to get their agreement to move forward, thank them for working the details out with you and summarize what you will do next. If that includes a revised proposal, tell them the day you will get a revised proposal back to them. (The same or next day is best!)

Even if you don’t get the engagement, if you showed them that you cared about them more than closing the deal and you sought to gain a better understanding of who they are and what matters them to, you will have begun to form a positive relationship, which is what successful consulting businesses are based on.

Do You Need More Help Getting More Clients?

Schedule a time to chat with me here to see how I could help you.



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