Say ‘no’ and challenge your clients more

The recipe is simple: the more value you offer a client, the more they’ll depend on you for your expertise and your services further down the line. Value sometimes means saying ‘no’, and this can go a long way in building long-standing relationships. This serves as a great reminder about not being afraid to lose business in the short-term to win in the long-term.

Being honest, upfront and sometimes saying ‘no’ shows that you have their best interests in mind. This honesty works well if you seek to challenge your clients more and if it’s done in a diplomatic and non-aggressive way. It’s about building trust and being authentic. Until you build that level of trust, you’re just another vendor and won’t be the first call your client makes.

Just  saying yes could cause you to over-promise, make mistakes, seem like a pushover and appear as though you’re only trying to sell them something. We all want our clients to like us but when we only say yes because we think it’s what they want to hear, we’re actually doing them a disservice.

Many top sales people  welcome the opportunity of saying ‘no’, particularly if asked to do something outside their sphere of expertise. These sales people report that stepping away, refusing to commit to something they know they cannot deliver, really builds their credibility. This in turn allows them to capture the right opportunity when it comes along.

Commercial teaching and educating a counterparty is key.  Do they understand the implications of what they’re asking? Are they asking the right questions?  Do they understand what is possible and the alternatives? This approach can be far better than just agreeing to everything.

Matt Dixon, author of The Challenger Sale, reinforces this with the findings in his study of more than 6,000 sales professionals. Those who challenged their customers were four times more likely to come out as top performers. Those who stuck to outdated sales approaches, represented only 7% of top performers.

Dixon’s study found that the majority of these top performing sales people fell into the ‘challenger’ profile and used similar techniques to engage clients:

  • Approached customers with insights about how they can save or make money.
  • Tailored their message to the customer’s specific needs.
  • Were assertive, pushing back when necessary and took control of the sale.

Templar’s Pierre Morgan-Davies explains: “Most of us are eager to please. Perhaps this has been ingrained in us since we were children and we were usually cajoled into helping and sharing.

This is essential for a family and a society to function and work toward common goals. It also fosters harmony, knowing that if you do something for others they will do something for you. It also increases the chance of being liked, usually a good thing.

Can we be too eager to please? Have you ever asked for directions and been sent in entirely the wrong direction? This may have been because the person you asked would rather appear to be helpful and risk sending you the wrong way.  This is particularly prevalent in some cultures when saying ‘no’ may be more likely to cause offense.

Far better than to say ‘yes’ and then under deliver to your clients. Instead of saying ‘yes’ and delivering poor service, try saying ‘no’, and following up with a recommendation of who they should go to. Being seen to turn business away for the good of the client builds trust, and recommending an alternative supplier builds reciprocity.

You also feel better because you’ve done the ‘right’ thing for the client.”

An equation for trust was explored in the book, The Trusted Advisor by David Maister, Charles Green and Robert Galford. It looks at a structure for building trust based on three building blocks – credibility, reliability and intimacy – with the key destroyer being self-orientation (not putting your counterparty first) .

Trust equation

  • Credibility – you’re seen as credible in what you say and do
  • Reliability – you follow through, they don’t worry that you won’t deliver
  • Intimacy – how well you know the person or people concerned

To only master these three isn’t enough if you don’t focus on the client and ‘park’ your self-interest. So if you want to build long-standing trusted relationships with your clients, challenge their thinking and don’t be afraid to say ‘no’.

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