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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Success and Leadership

No Means No

No Means No

No is not a word we like to hear. Not in our personal lives: “Would you like to go out to dinner with me?” “Do I have the investments to retire at 50?”  “Will you marry me?”  No, No, No.  Not what we want to hear. 

Nor do we like “no” in a business setting. In fact, we are so anti-no that much of conventional sales training focuses on overcoming objections. Sales training courses focus a great deal on how good salespeople respond to and move past objections. 

No is a Terrible Word (Or is It?)

One of the basic belief systems in selling is, “Don’t take no for an answer. Ask yourself, honestly—how do you feel when you say no to someone who won’t take no for an answer? Yes, that’s right; you hate it. Does this really sound like a promising basis for effective selling? 

Yet right this moment, a sales training class somewhere in the world is teaching sales professionals to never take no for an answer. There is a smooth, well-polished instructor in San Francisco, California, or Paris, France, responding to possible objections with creative ways to keep the decision process alive.  

This is not new; this is how the art of sales has been taught for many years. “Great sales professionals never take no for an answer,” the books say, and give tactics for handling objections, reframing questions, changing the subject, presumptive closes, and so on ad infinitum. 

Let’s be clear: the implicit objective in such approaches to selling, which is to say, most selling as usually taught, is to get the customer to do what the seller wants—even if it is not what the customer wants. Which is what is wrong with selling today. And why most selling that calls itself customer-focused is wrong and dishonest. 

Learn to Walk Away 

Let’s be clear: there is nothing wrong with understanding a client’s needs, matching your service or product to those needs, and working through objections and concerns while doing so. However, many of us believe we can coerce a prospect into buying based on sales skills and determination. This is where we fall off the track. 

When we work too hard to change decisions, we lose sight of the bigger picture. Successful salespeople are successful based on their network or industry reputation. Never forget that! And the network and reputation are always damaged by coercion and over-aggressiveness. 

Learn to walk away. Do it professionally and unequivocally. Recommend another firm that may be a better fit. Recommend a competitor. You will be more successful.  

Bidding on Blind RFPs 

A senior account manager, let’s call her Lisa, is well known in her company for always having a small pipeline, yet exceeding quota year after year. How does she explain it? She is very proud that she has never bid on a blind RFP (Request for Proposal). She analyzes every potential lead to determine if they should invest the firm’s resources to chase it. Since she spends so much time figuring out which deals to pursue, she has a much smaller total pipeline than his peers. However, her close ratio is always through the roof.  

Her clients and prospects respect her decisions not to compete. In fact, they often admit that the sale was wired and agree that it had been a long shot. 

And that’s not all. When Lisa doesn’t bid, she recommends a better fitting firm or gives some other guidance and insight to her client. She does this not only at early stages, but even when her firm is short-listed. If she feels her firm would not be able to truly shine doing the work, she will pass on the short-term benefits of another signed deal. She is prepared to fight the internal battle, sometimes all the way up to the executive offices because, as you know, most firms do not like to walk away from deals no matter the circumstances. 

You may think the Lisas of this world are naïve, or moralists, or do-gooders. But this Lisa not only beats quota consistently, she has the respect and admiration of her clients, her peers, and her management. 

Stalking and Other Bad Ideas 

Despite the evidence of Lisa and others like her, there are salespeople from some of the largest, most prestigious U.S. software companies who have come close to stalking or threatening a prospect after being informed they were not selected for a particular deal.  

Such reactions go beyond mere disappointment; they betray an inner belief that the salesperson is “justified” in “deserving” a sale, culminating in resentment and anger. Such people, again, are operating from the belief system that the object of selling is to get the customer to do what the seller wants—even if it is not what the customer wants.  

As humans, we all feel disappointed at a lost sale. But as evolved humans, we don’t let it turn to anger and other-directed resentment. We need a sales ethos that argues the same thing. We need a system of selling in which the object of selling is to get the customer what the customer wants.  

No Means No

Why Take No for an Answer

If a good salesperson is not someone who can turn a no into a yes, what is a good salesperson? It’s very simple. A good salesperson is one who knows early on when a No is a No and focuses his or her efforts on the potential yeses. 

It turns out no is not such a terrible word. It teaches us a great deal. No can help train us to become the type of salesperson we want to be: a salesperson with integrity, honesty, and truly productive relationships with clients.  

It helps us achieve one other important thing. Over the course of a career, no allows us to hit our full revenue production potential. It is an approach that will allow you to do right by your clients. while performing at the highest level possible within your sales career.  

This is not foolish goodwill. It is a solution that will take you away from the old sales approaches built around the us-versus-them mentality, to a new mindset that allows you to consistently build relationships and account momentum with your clients. So, try accepting a no, and see if it gets you a few more shots at yeses down the road.


Written by Mark Petruzzi.
Have you read?
Three Priorities for Small and Medium Businesses in 2023 by Ben Schreiner.
Equality between men and women in the workplace: will we ever achieve it by Riccardo Pandini.
Should Marketing Get a Free Pass on ROI by Jim Everhart.
Do You Get Triggered in Business by Sarah Cordiner.
The Ins and Outs of Creating a Purpose-Driven Company by Bryan Adams.


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Mark Petruzzi
Mark Petruzzi has worked in the enterprise and cloud software ecosystem for 25 years. He has held senior leadership positions at Oracle, UKG (Ultimate Software), HCL, Accenture, and Deloitte where he was instrumental in building both the Oracle and Ariba practices into the largest “Big Four” practice in their respective markets.

He has worked as a serial entrepreneur, founding, growing, and successfully exiting boutique consulting firms in the Salesforce, Oracle, and Peoplesoft ecosystems. More recently, Mark has turned his focus toward developing and executing innovative sales transformation as an expert board and leadership advisor for Genpact, BCI, 4L Data Intelligence, and a top-five global strategy consultancy. He is co-author of Selling the Cloud: A Playbook for Success in Cloud Software and Enterprise Sales.


Mark Petruzzi is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Connect with him through LinkedIn.