Proposal Mistake #1: Focusing on What You’re Charging the Client

Here's a secret about writing effective proposals: your fee isn't as important as your clients would have you believe.

According to Harvard professor Gerald Zaltman, over 90% of purchasing decisions are based on emotional criteria.

This means there are a load of things OTHER than price that influence a client's buying decision.

Dr. Robert Cialdini explains why this is – it's psychologically difficult to separate the presentation of a product or service from the merits of that product or service itself.

The key to having an effective proposal ISN'T having the lowest fee.

What a relief.

So instead of focusing on price, what do we focus on?

The first thing to focus on is the emotional buying criteria of the client.

Here's a story to illustrate:

I was at my local tire dealer shopping for new tires for my Volvo V70.

Volvo V70

As I stood by the counter of the small shop and smelled the new rubber, the shop owner showed me his computer screen.

“I have three options for you,” he said.

My inner Ebenezer Scrooge was eyeing the cheap option.

Option 1 was a premium tire for $250 each.

Option 2 was a mid-grade tire for $160 each.

Option 3 was the cheap option at $89 each.

I gotta tell ya, my inner Ebenezer Scrooge was eyeing that cheap option.

“Which would be best for me?” I asked.

The owner looked out the window.

“Is that your Volvo?” he said.


“You must have kids, right?”


“You bought a Volvo because they're the safest cars around, right?”

I beamed a smile, smugly proud of my smart car-buying choices.

“I wouldn't go with less than the mid-grade tire.” he quipped.

Haha … what was I going to say to that?

This guy was a pro at selling tires — instantly he connected me with an emotional need more important than price … safety.

So …

What are the emotional needs of your clients?

If you're selling residential architecture it might be a feeling of recognition or status.
Even institutional buyers fall prey to their own psychology.

Figure out the emotional needs of your client and you'll unlock their mind, their heart, and their wallet.

Focus on influencing perception, not on reducing your fees.

Your competitors will wonder how you're doing it.



Enoch Bartlett Sears is the founder of the Architect Business Institute, Business of Architecture and co-founder of the Architect Marketing Institute. He helps architects become category leaders in their market. Enoch hosts the #1 rated interview podcast for architects, the Business of Architecture Show where prominent guests like M. Arthur Gensler, Jr. and Thom Mayne share tips and strategies for success in architecture.

6 Responses

  1. Great point, and I think that’s is the key. I suppose it’s not as easy as asking “What are your emotional needs?”

    1. John you’re right – it’s not THAT easy. But it is pretty easy – I use the “5 Why’s” – why do you say that? Why is that important to you? etc. Eventually you’ll reach the bottom of the rabbit hole with skillful questioning.

  2. You’re assessment and Dr. Cialdini’s work are viable, I see it consistently. Maybe you could expand on which emotions are the easiest to ascertain and examples on how to connect to them.

  3. This link does not work.

    In my experience clients that request a formal RFP process lean towards the fee as a deciding factor. Clients that approach the firm directly are more amenable to other considerations.

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