'No' Can Be the Beginning of a Beautiful Customer Relationship

Kathy Maixner

Most salespeople are encouraged to take whatever business is out there in a flat economy. The truth is this: If you begin a relationship with a new prospect in a one-down position, you’ll never regain ground. By saying “No” to unrealistic expectations and setting solid parameters right from the start, the relationship becomes reciprocal and respectful.

Day in and day out salespeople hear “no” from prospects and either move on or, if wise, create a strategy to convert “No” into “Yes.” What I’m referring to by telling the prospect “no” is to say “no” in those situations where stringent rules are laid out by unrealistic prospects or clients that almost always end in a downward spiral.

Turning down business is not easy. It’s normal – although not advisable – to cave on pricing issues or agree to provide more and more value without raising fees. Normal or not, I’m telling you to hold your ground.

When working with clients, the relationship has to be reciprocal. As with any good connection, one party can’t be in a subservient position. You can’t relinquish your power and forego what you know to be true: That what you provide is valuable and that you matter.

Don’t Be ‘The Discount Guy’

Too often salespeople concentrate solely on the sale. They believe the sale can come at any cost and that they can justify the means to achieve the end. If you work with prospects or clients who are only interested in “winning,” then someone has to lose. That someone is usually you. When you lose, you feel badly about yourself and discover your commission check is smaller than it could have been had you been dealing with a reputable prospect or client all along. Ultimately, you are positioning yourself to repeat your negative behaviors, because now these behaviors may not seem so bad. You begin to rationalize that business is business and hence position yourself to be known as the “low-cost solution provider.”

Some managers focus solely on the metrics. I learned the hard way that there is much more to a sale than the numbers – such as what behaviors or activities lead to healthy numbers. When I began to focus on behaviors as a prelude to results, my sales team found that they felt less imprisoned to do deals just to meet quota. The quality of the business they brought in improved tremendously.

How we tell a prospect or client “no” is important. If the requests made of us are unreasonable or unsustainable from a profitability standpoint, we must turn away. In turning away, we are saying to our prospect or client (and, most importantly, to ourselves) that this arrangement is not a reciprocal arrangement. We are defining when securing the business comes at too great of a price.

If a prospect makes an unreasonable request for a low price or sets high expectations for you to meet by expanding the originally agreed upon scope of work, it’s time for a discussion. Understand that you are being tested by your prospect to see how serious you are about the reciprocity you require. If you crumble on price or agree to provide extra services without additional compensation, you are failing. Your choices will always determine your outcomes.

When bringing in new business, be sure to heed to the following rules:

Clearly define in the service agreement or proposal what the scope of the work will include and won’t include so there are no misunderstandings.

Put in writing what your expectations are for your client under the current scope of work in order for the deliverables to be met. If your client can’t provide what you’re requesting, it’s time to talk about what you both believe are reasonable requests and if you want to move forward.

Be sure your can justify your costs and scope of services without being defensive. If your costs and what you are providing for those costs are fair and competitive, the conversation should be short.

Always look for a win-win solution that respects everyone involved. There is usually a middle-ground out there that all parties can live with. Once you provide services that your client appreciates, your value will far exceed any costs.

Most prospects and clients are fair and reputable. They draw salespeople to them like magnets because they understand the importance of long-term business relationships. Opposites may attract, but when pursuing new business, continue to discover those who have similar values and work ethics. You’ll sleep easier at night.

Kathy Maixner is Chief Outcome Strategist at The Maixner Group, a sales consultancy specializing in top-line growth.