How to Get Businesses to Share their Internal Budgets

Great question from a reader this week:

Businesses are notoriously secret about their budgets — so how do you even start the conversation or the process to get information about how they allocate their money?

As the reader rightfully pointed out, everything related to budgets is always hard to get. If you’re talking to public companies, annual reports can help give a lot of the answers (see Constant Contact’s annual report for example).

For private and/or smaller organizations, things to consider:

  • The more value you offer, the more chances people will share private information. For example, I just finished a round of customer discovery interviews with salespeople in large organizations. For the interviews, we collected data on length of sales cycles, technology spend, annual revenue per deal, per customer, company revenues, etc). Our incentive was that we would share back the insights as best practices (competitive intelligence). 95% of the participants answered all of our questions.
  • Non-management (non-executive) staff will generally be less worried about sharing insider information.
  • Often times, if you’re researching the technologies used, you don’t even have to ask for amounts. You can ask for the name of the tools used and do the research on your side or, if you’re researching budgets, you can ask for percentages (For example: how much of your marketing is invested in print advertising?). Ideally, you avoid the word ‘budget’ altogether.
  • Another thing that helps when you’re conducting interviews is to make it feel like the question is no big deal. You’re just running through a series of questions that everyone else you spoke with answered.

These are just a few ideas you can experiment with. I hope it helps answer some of your questions.

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