The Virtues of Saying No

Antoni Girod

Published : 22 February 2017
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I must confess that I’m not a fan of Pokemon hunting. Without criticizing what I do not know about, let’s just say that it didn’t catch on with me. Running after these little virtual monsters seems a bit pointless to me. But why not after all! Aren’t there people who spend their free time hitting a ball?

On the other hand, I have a much more decided opinion about “yes-hunting”. You know, this strange OCD that has sellers checking your allegiance every thirty seconds by trying to make you say “yes” in hopes that it will influence your final answer – hopefully, a “yes” spoken just before signing the purchase order.

As a case in point, I recently had a conversation with an IT salesman who was supposed to help us fix a problem. Instead of dealing with the issue and proposing solutions – which I was manifestly keen to obtain–, this energetic person preferred to ask me: “Mr Caron, is solving this problem quickly an important issue for you?”. Well, game over! End of the conversation. Since I am polite, I did not lash out at him but I still had a moment’s hesitation. I had no hesitation seeking help from another service though. A service prioritizing its clients over these outdated techniques. Of course, it is important to seek out client adherence. And one can skilfully elicit a few yeses insofar as it is done with tact and does not devolve into absurdity. Generating yeses just for the sake of it does not help sellers and makes them lose credibility.

In fact, instead of teaching yes-hunting to sellers, it would be equally useful to remind them of the virtues of saying “no”. That’s right, “no” is not proscribed in sales. It can actually be a very positive word. In some cases, it may even be the word you need to utter.

Here are the first three steps to follow in order to make “no” your ally.

Putting the “no” on the table


This way of going about a business interview is particularly useful when faced with a non-requesting client. Putting the “no” on the table is primarily intended to give your clients a feeling of freedom, to leave them the choice about continuing the exchange or not. It makes them understand, whether implicitly or explicitly, that they are free to reject your value proposition at all times.

Not only will they be happy not to feel constrained by someone, but a teasing effect is also likely to reinforce their interest in the potential developments of the exchange.

Here are some examples of possible formulations taken from the latest edition of  Selling to Tough Customers:

  • I would like to show you some recent experiences and see if you find an interest in them that would warrant a further collaboration between our two companies.
  • I am going to give you some examples of recent interventions and we will see whether or not it is worth going further.
  • Based on I know about your company, I think we can help you and that’s why I’d like to show you some of our recent solutions. I could be missing the mark though so do not hesitate to tell me if that is the case.

Some readers may find the last formulation a bit too venturesome. But while saying “Do not hesitate to turn me down to your prospects may seem daring, it is the type of formulation that will create the feeling of freedom mentioned above. Besides, it is a great way of telling your clients that you are eager to make progress with them without making too much of a fuss about it. Life will go on, so keep it simple and avoid playing cat and mouse games.

Negotiating around the “no”


Let’s move from prospection to negotiation.

In this domain too, years of pushing the same concepts have had a negative impact. The quest for winner-winner deals is no doubt sound and legitimate. However, always negotiating for winner-winner outcomes makes us forget that the best introduction can simply be to say “no”.

For instance, starting a discussion based on uncertain premises is a very bad idea. When incisive buyers use the anchor technique, they no longer care about the winner-winner principle – think of people starting off by telling you they only work with their “partners”. Remember that the anchor technique works as follows: I announce a very low price and the more you agree to discuss around this price – the anchor – the more you make it a good reference point for what happens next. When dealing with an anchor, you first say “no” before discussing further.

Other example: When buyers challenge a particular condition, immediately consenting to discussing it is the best way to encourage them to ask for more. In negotiations, the quicker you say “yes”, the more the buyer’s appetite increases.

Finally, as a last example, avoid accepting early noes from the buyer. A “no” may just be intended as a posture, a protection or an initial resistance. It could actually mean: “Tell me why I should accept this condition…” Accepting the rejection of your proposal without defending it could weaken your offer and can make its level of attractiveness drop very fast.

Pushing the sale until the “no”


Now that we’ve covered prospection and negotiation, let’s conclude with closing.

How and when should you close the sale?

The client saying “no”, or rather “no thank you, that will be all”, is a good starting point to answer this question. It can serve as the cue sellers should wait for.

To illustrate this, let’s take a look at how things work in the retail industry. In theory, clients could buy all of a shop’s merchandise and empty its stock. They can do so for as long as money flows from their credit card. To assist them in this task, they will need salespeople offering them complementary products, not someone asking them “will that be all?” after they buy the first item.

In B2B too, “will that be all?” and its equivalents are far too common. Instead of trying to cash in a quick “yes”, let us push the sale as far as possible. The seller should not be the one to set the limits of the sale. The client should be left with the pleasure of saying “no” to our last offer. This will then be the sign that it is time to close the deal.

Of course, there are other ways of successfully using “no” in the context of business exchanges.

We will cover them in another article… unless you say “no”, that is!


Have a great sales day!

Antoni Girod



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