by Tom Reilly

“The real price of everything, what everything really costs to the man who wants to acquire it, is the toil and trouble of acquiring it.” Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations

Total cost is the real cost of any commodity. Price is a product feature that describes acquisition. Total cost includes acquisition, ownership, usage, and disposal. Price shoppers make product-feature decisions.

The professional salesperson must help buyers make total-cost decisions. Total-cost decisions affect the customer’s bottom line more than price decisions. Total-cost decisions give salespeople the opportunity to demonstrate how their end-to-end customer experience creates value for customers.

Total-cost decisions result in maximum value solutions.

If you intend to have a positive financial impact on the customer’s business, change the conversation. Help the customer understand that total cost is more important to them than acquisition price. You begin this conversation by asking questions that encourage customers to think about total cost. For example,

  • How long do you plan to own this?
  • Have you considered the energy costs of this decision?
  • How do you calculate the life-cycle costs for this project?
  • Have you performed a total cost analysis for this?

These are a few sample questions you can ask. Total cost is a conceptual sale because it requires the buyer to think differently. You are asking the price shopper to think bigger. You are challenging the price shopper to change the way that he or she typically looks at cost. You are asking this buyer to make a better buying decision.

Tom Reilly is literally the guy who wrote the book on Value-Added Selling, (McGraw-Hill). You many visit him online at

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