Maria Kelly and The Truth About Asking For What You’re Worth

By Mo Bunnell

Maria Kelly shares everything she’s learned over the years on developing client relationships at Sotheby’s and in her own consulting firm helping CEOs and bold leaders get unstuck. Find out about some key insights that will help you charge what you’re worth with confidence, how to communicate effectively in your client’s language and convey your value in a way that they will love, and one simple tactic that anyone can use to forge strong bonds with people and deepen their relationships.

Show Notes

Mo asks Maria Kelly: When did you realize that you really had to focus on business development and client relationships?

  • Maria’s career didn’t begin in client-facing roles but they were usually oriented around being helping and finding solutions for people. When she moved into more managerial roles, she was overseeing people who faced the client. It wasn’t until Maria went through the GrowBIG training where she realized that business development had been a part of her life the whole time, and her clients were her colleagues and the people she worked with.
  • Everyone who went through the GrowBIG training had the lightbulb moment where they realized that they could be doing business development differently. The ones that embraced the Snowball System started seeing results almost immediately and people took notice.
  • Maria started doing bi-weekly meetings specifically focused on business development and the various strategies of the Snowball System. The Give to Get was a particular favorite of the team.
  • One of the keys to Maria’s success with her team was in shifting them from retrospectives to thinking and planning for the future. Being proactive and changing the approach to being helpful allowed them to focus on the long-term view of their business.
  • For small businesses, they often struggle with many of the same issues that many professional service firms do. Entrepreneurs have to be able to step back from the execution and take some time to focus on the future and growth of the business they are working in.


Mo asks Maria Kelly: What is your personal definition of business development?

  • Business development is about creating opportunities and value for other people. Doing that together is what makes business development fun.
  • Often, people don’t see their own value and this is reflected in the general disdain for sales. You need to understand what value you bring to the table as a specialist and use that confidence in your skill to bring value to the other person.
  • A lot comes to your presentation and how you approach the client. When you are genuine in your intent to help and you believe in your offering, it comes through in how you communicate.
  • Email can be easily misconstrued and is a good example of how something can be taken differently depending on your language and other factors. Your client is a human being as well, and showing your human side builds connection.
  • Listen to your client before talking. Empathy is important in understanding where they are coming from and how they want to communicate with you.
  • To be able to communicate in all four ways of thinking, you first need to be aware of what your primary style is. From there you can be cognizant of how you communicate and be thoughtful of the other styles so you’re always speaking the client’s language.
  • Maria works with already successful CEOs and helps them grow further, and how that happens is deeply connected to each individual and the obstacles they face. Maria spends a lot of time getting to know the entire business as a whole so that she can help take the blinders off of the client.


Mo asks Maria Kelly: What is your favorite science, step, or story from the GrowBIG training or Snowball System?

  • One of the most useful things Maria learned from the GrowBIG training was the seven pricing principles. Living in Switzerland, she grew up in a culture that didn’t talk about money and she learned early on in her career that if she didn’t talk about money, she didn’t get the money.
  • Many business owners and professionals struggle with asking for what they are worth. When clients push back on the fees, those people don’t know how to respond because they don’t know how to articulate their value and justify their price.
  • There are seven common heuristic programs that people use when thinking about money. One of the most common is that your price is directly linked to the quality of your service. In other words, expensive equals good, and cheap equals bad.
  • If you’re upfront with the value you are bringing to the table and anchoring to that, no one is going to second guess what you charge.
  • With the idea of anchoring on value, you can talk about the result and the magnitude of the value of it and use that as a frame for whatever your fees are. Introduce early on what value you are bringing to the relationship, and your fees will seem small in comparison.
  • Most people expect to pay for a service, but when it comes to ourselves we often make assumptions about what other people will think about our own services to others. If someone is hiring you, they want the best. You have to lean into and be confident with your fees.
  • At the point you talk about the fees, if you have built up enough value and trust with the person, you will be more confident in your delivery. It’s not about sticking with the number no matter what, it’s about working together to find a solution and a price that fits all parties. Even if you can’t find an alternative, do your best to part on good terms.
  • If you can talk about the money with the same excitement and tone that you discuss the team, the scope of the project, and the details, you will feel consistent and confident and get better results.


Mo asks Maria Kelly: Tell us of a business development moment that you are really proud of.

  • One of Maria’s first clients, when she ventured out on her own, was someone she had worked with in the past. This client reached out to her specifically to work with her one on one just as Maria was taking some time off.
  • For years, Maria had been telling her team and her clients that they need to charge what they’re worth so when it came to pricing her services she knew she had to follow her own advice.
  • What’s the worst that can happen when you ask for what you’re worth? In the worst-case scenario, they say it’s too expensive and there’s room to negotiate. If Maria hadn’t risked asking for what she was worth, she could have been stuck with the negative emotions associated with being undervalued and the fee scale of her first client.


Mo asks Maria Kelly: If you could record a video around business development and give it to your younger self, what would it say?

  • The short answer would be to record Mo’s training. The longer answer is to start thinking about business development much earlier. Do not be afraid to reach out and ask for advice.
  • Over the last 12 months, Maria has read so many books that would have helped her tremendously when she was younger.
  • Highly skilled specialists often struggle with asking for advice, but it’s one of the most powerful things you can do to create bonds with people.
  • The more you communicate, the more things come your way. Asking people for advice makes people feel good, and other things can come up during the conversation that can change the way you think.
  • One of the ways that Maria had built relationships with clients was by asking them their advice on who she should hire and they loved the idea of having input. The worst that can happen is that the other person will thank you for thinking of them but they’re too busy to help.
  • Start with something small that doesn’t require too much of the other person, or by asking someone you are fairly confident will say yes no matter what. When you’re trying a new skill, start small and start safe.
  • If you have a business strategy that you aren’t sure of, reach out to your clients and run it by them first. It shows that you value them as a client and their opinion on what you do.
  • There are a lot more opportunities than you think that don’t fit into the traditional client opportunity conversation box. Just being human is a simple thing anyone can do. Unstructured moments used to happen naturally in the past, but it’s okay to go out of your way to try and create more of those moments.
  • Business development is a learnable skill, and the sooner you embrace it the more it will impact your career.
  • Embrace who you are and bring that to the business development table, because that is your strongest tool. Your authentic self is the foundation for all the other business development skills.

Mentioned in this Episode:

Maria Kelly on LinkedIn