When Is It Better to Let the Customer Say “No”?

Business.com / Sales / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Classic sales advice guides your prospects to “yes.” But what if guiding them to “no” is better?

A word everyone hates to hear is no. It’s your mother saying you can’t stay up past your bedtime, your bank denying you a loan, your customer not buying what you want to sell them. “No” is negative and no one likes negativity.

But, as Bob Dylan put it, “There’s no success like failure, and failure is no success at all.”

When people tell you “no,” they are telling you what they don’t want. But they are also helping you understand what they might want instead. If, that is, you can get past the frustration of rejection to figure out what that is.

And just because you finally get the customer to say “yes” to something doesn’t mean you’re done. In fact, it means you haven’t finished yet. Until you know what the customer says “no” to, you haven’t fully explored additional options you might never have considered that can result in additional sales opportunities.

Related Article: Why Customers Say No to Upsells (And How to Fix It)

Don’t Stop at Yes. Go For No.

Does that sound like a good title for an inspirational sales motivational book? No, can’t use it. Someone already has (and you can use that particular “no” to think up a title of your own that’s maybe even better for your own book). 

Go For No; Book Title

Image via DocStock

"Go for No" by Richard Fenton and Andrea Waltz is a little different from most sales self-help tomes in that it presents its key concepts through a fictional character. Eric Bratton is a salesperson who wakes up in a house without knowing how he got there. He’s not there because of a heavy night of drinking celebrating a big sale. He’s being shown a future version of what he could become if he overcomes his fear of failure and turns a constant barrage of “no’s” into a strategy for success.

In sales, a certain amount of rejection is part of the territory. No one likes it. But customers don’t really enjoy telling you “no” either. The authors offer the example of a salesperson going up to customers to ask if they need any help and getting the response, “No thanks, just looking.” The natural response to this is to shrug your shoulders and let them look and hope they find something they might like. That’s taking “no” for an answer. 

SOLD sign

Instead, without being overbearing about it, a salesperson should try to engage without looking to sell anything. As co-author Andrea Waltz notes, “when the salesperson responded with kindness and enthusiasm, customers would often let their guard down and become more willing to engage with the salesperson that would lead to a sale.” Moreover, these customers are more likely to refer others to you because you are perceived as someone who

  1. Is not overly aggressive and
  2. Can handle negative responses and not get upset or overbearing (see a).

Related Article: 5 Scientific Ways to Secure a Sale

The authors emphasize that their approach is not about tolerating failure. Indeed, it promotes failure in the sense that you should always be probing, always soliciting “no” responses as a natural way of doing business. 

As coauthor Richard Fenton puts it, “The most common reaction top performers have when they hear ‘NO’ is not get up upset or get packin’...it’s to get curious! Because top performers understand that behind every ‘no’ is the information they need to get to YES.”

Other fundamental principles include:

  • Offer options. Do the math. The more things you offer customers that they can say “no” to, the more things they can possibly say “yes” to.
  • Don’t stop at “yes.” There might be other things your customers can say “yes” to you if don’t risk getting a few more “no’s” on the way.
  • Ask why. Knowing why customers does not want something leads you to a better understanding of what they do want.
  • Quantity over quality. That sounds counter intuitive, but this isn’t about the quality of your products or services, but rather the quality of the sales presentations. Fenton maintains that even the best, most skillful sales pitch can leave you empty handed with the wrong prospects. Instead of aiming for a bullseye every time, take the scatter shot approach. Again, do the math. One “no” to a great sales pitch may not get you anywhere. A quick and packaged sales pitch to a broader audience gets you a lot more “no’s,” but also a lot more opportunities.

By going for “no,” you aren’t courting increased rejection. You are finding a way to increase sales and satisfied business relationships in discovering what customers don’t want to give them what they do.


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