Client Objection: Minimum Time Commitment

Consultants who sell retainers often hear this.

I'd like to thank all of the readers who shared objections this week. There are many other topics to write about, so next week we're changing the subject. To close this series, here's a question from a consultant who offers UX advisory services to tech startups:

Hi Danilo, here's the context: Clients usually hire me on a 3 to 6-month retainer to work on strategy. Last week, as I presented alternatives to a prospect, he said: "I'm interested, but I don't want to commit to a multi-month contract. What can we do?

This is not the first time I hear this, but I don't know what's the best way to reply. And they can usually sense that I can't confidently respond to that, which makes me look like an amateur.

We don't have enough information to address this objection. There are many reasons why the prospect might not want to commit to a multi-month contract:

  • Maybe they're not sure you're really a fit.
  • Maybe because you charge by the month, and they want to invest less in UX.
  • Maybe because they have an internal policy of not hiring consultants on a retainer.

Whatever it is, you need to find it out. The key here is to shift from overcoming to understanding. And to do that, I'd use one of the negotiation techniques I teach consultants in my training workshops - mirroring.


Mirroring is a technique where you repeat the last 2-3 words or most critical piece of information the other person said. Simple and effective.

For example, if a prospect says, “Send me some information,” a mirror sounds like, “Some information?” (As if to say, “Tell me more.”)

This builds rapport with prospects because you’re showing that you’re listening, and paying attention to what they're sharing. When you mirror, prospects provide additional information.

So in your case, I'd simply ask: "Commit to a multi-month contract?"

Setting Realistic Expectations

Let's say they answer with: "Well, we don't want to be locked into a contract."

Once again, that can mean two different things. Maybe it's the contract. Maybe it's the terms of the contract. To find that out, you could simply say:

"Ok, I don't need to lock you into a contract. I think a contract protects both of us, but we don't need a formal contract."

If that's really the only objection, just make sure to protect yourself by asking for an upfront payment. This situation could happen but, frankly, it's rare.

What often happens when you're exploring a retainer (or complex implementation projects) is that the prospect will push for a solution in a shorter timeframe. "It's not the contract, is the duration. Can't we do it in a month, instead of three months?"

The important here is not to promise something that you're not confident you can deliver on. You're only setting yourself up for failure and stress.

If that's the case, here's what you can say:

"Well, I can't promise you something I know it's not going to work. Taking anything out of this solution also reduces the outcomes we're able to generate - if you'd like to explore what a smaller engagement would look like, I'm happy to do that with you. But to deliver the results that you've shared with me, the minimum time commitment is three months."

Be realistic with setting expectations.

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