Selling is easy. After all, sales simply come from building a good relationship with a client, giving the client what they want and watching the sales role in over time. The customer is always right so bend over backwards and give them what they want, right?
Unfortunately it is not so simple. The concept of keeping the customer happy all the time is one that makes most sales teams particularly unproductive. In sales we are so attuned to keeping the customer happy and bending over backwards to give them what they want that some have lost perspective. Even in the situation when our gut instinct as a sales person is to say “no” to a client, we do the opposite and try to accommodate the needs of the customer and cause all sorts of havoc internally or fail to make money on this customer? Why do we do this?
The reason is threefold.
Firstly, as sales people we’ve been taught some wrong things and it is difficult to get out of old habits.
- Since when is the customer always right?
- Since when do we always have to keep the customer happy?
- Since when do we have to respond to all Tenders?
Secondly, we are scared of the consequences of going back to the customer with a “no”.
- What will the customer do or say?
- What happens if we lose this customer?
And thirdly, most organisations don’t give the sales teams enough company, product, technical or cost information, let along empowerment, to make educated decisions.
Engage the client
Learning when and how to say “no” can be one of the most effective ways in improving an organisations productivity and performance. The trick is to understand when a situation requires us to say ”no” and how do we go about delivering this to the customer.
Learning when to say “no” is not easy and, is a broad subject on its own, and is situation specific so it can’t be covered in this piece. However, once you have worked out that you need to say “no” to a customer, the critical part is delivering this message so that you actually come out of this in a better position. There is a chance you could lose this customer and you need to be prepared for that possibility, however the likely worst outcome is that you just end up capitulating, having made no progress. In order to get a positive outcome when saying “no” consider following some of these steps below:
- Be very clear what the client request is and make no assumptions (if necessary seek more clarification).
- Be very confident that the request really is unreasonable. Depending on your role this may be because the request is technically too difficult to achieve; the request may be possible to achieve but would be too expensive and cost prohibitive; the margin is too thin and you would not make money at that price, etc.
- Make sure you have all the facts documented to justify your confidence in your belief that the request is unreasonable.
- Make an appointment with your customer and prepare to tell them face to face that you are saying “no” to their request.
- Go through the request with the customer followed by the facts that you have which make the request unreasonable. You may want to share the pressures you are facing and how this does stack up commercially.
- Explain to the customer that you are saying “no” to this specific request only and that you value their business and at all times your intention is to give them the best possible service. However, your intention is also always to make commercially sound decisions and to make sure that there are mutually beneficial outcomes. Your number one goal as a sales person is to deliver profitable sales to your organisation while providing value to the customer.
- Saying “no” is a result of your commercial discipline, your honesty, and your desire to help the client get the best possible solution for their problem. Unfortunately this will not always be your solution. You should ask your client to respect this.
The likely result of following this process is that the customer will hold you in higher regard than they did before and the relationship will be positively impacted not negatively. Ensure however that you always follow this up with a good understanding of what their next problem will be and how you will be in a better place to solve this problem under the right conditions.
Reap the rewards with The Art of Saying “No”
If the reaction from the client is negative (which will be rare) you either have a client relationship not worth having or the particular individual in your customer organisation is being a thorn in your side. If this is the case, you should look to find someone else in your customers business to work with or be your internal sponsor. If you do receive a negative reaction which results in you losing the client, the chances are this will be a positive outcome for your organisation. Not all clients are profitable and you have likely just found one of them.
The Art of Saying “no” is one of the hardest things we can learn in business, especially with clients, but NOT saying “no” can be commercially crippling and can lead to lower and lower productivity and profitability. It is critical that we get a good understanding of why, when and then how to say “no” to clients if we want to run successful productive businesses in highly competitive environments.