Business proposals

Pricing Your Work – The Rule of Threes

Pricing Your Work – The Rule of Threes

Pricing is always a challenge for start-ups, as well as for independent consultants heading out into the Brave New World for the first time.

There you are, in the heat of the sale.  You’ve done everything right so far.

You’ve reviewed the prospect’s challenges, identified the opportunities they want to capture, uncovered needs they didn’t know they had.  The prospect has reviewed your outline for moving forward, and has even taken ownership of it.  You’re putting the finishing touches on a solution that you really believe in.

Great.  Things are going great, and you’re client-focused.

But you’ve got that angst inside.  You want to get your fair price.

Of course you do.  That’s 100% reasonable!

While I always advocate giving your very best to customers and delivering beyond expectation, the reality is if you don’t get your fair price, you will not be happy.  You’ll get seller’s remorse.  Your work may suffer.  You may even seek other clients if, for nothing else, a better financial deal.

And that’s not good for you or the client.

So how do you get your fair price and at the same time help the client select the solution that best fits their needs?

Present three options.

Research shows that, when presented with three options priced incrementally, customers overwhelmingly choose the one priced in the middle.

It’s important, however, that the options are presented in ascending order of price — from least expensive to most.

When three options are presented in descending order — from most expensive to least — the least expensive option is selected more than half the time.

The psychology of this is too long for this post, but the lesson is important:


  • Create the ideal solution; design your product to perfectly suit the customer’s needs.
  • Price it in a way that you feel is fair, and in a way that will keep you motivated to deliver your best stuff.
  • Then create a smaller solution, with about 35% fewer bells and whistles, and price it about 25% cheaper.
  • Then create a larger solution, with about 35% more bells and whistles than the ideal one, and price it about 30% more expensive.
  • Present these options to the buyer in ascending order of price.


Note, you must believe in each solution, and you must be able to deliver each of them.  If not, adjust accordingly.

Once presented, you may still have some negotiating and problem-solving to do.  But… you will be in a stronger position to defend your pricing because the buyer will see that if she wants to pay less, she’ll probably get less.

She’ll probably discard the cheaper option for psychological reasons.  And she’ll probably not want to risk proposing the higher option internally if it’s a B2B environment.  Chances are she’ll go for the one in the middle, and that’s the one you believe is the right one, correct?

So the next time you need to price a proosal, don’t ask the client to compare just apples and oranges.  Build in a pear, a banana or a cherry, as long as it’s relevant.  Provide three solutions, and price the one you feel best about in the middle.

Giving buyer’s options makes them feel empowered.  And they should be.

And you should feel empowered… to earn a fair day’s pay!


Photo by Joe Lencioni, Shifting Pixel,