The Sales Management Specialists

Monday, 13 April 2015

When is it OK to say "No" to Your Clients?

 Is it ever OK for a sales person to say "No" to his/her client?


There are many sales articles and models out on the internet and in books, all of which have their advantages and disadvantages. When asked about good reading on their effectiveness in sales, I refer people to the Miller Heiman’s excellent book titled “The New Successful Large Account Management”.

For anyone who wants to become a successful salesperson, or is already in sales and wants to improve their skills, I highly recommend that you read this book. In Chapter 4, they describe an Account Management hierarchy that starts with being a commodity supplier competing solely on price, through to being a strategic advisor to your clients, where price discussions are rare.

As a sales person, where are you now in this hierarchy? Where do you want to be?


If like most of us, you would prefer to be on the strategic advisor end of the spectrum, rather than being the sales person who competes on price alone. There are a few things that you can do to achieve this, and the most important is to learn the art of politely but firmly saying “no” to your client.

But wait, isn’t the client always right?

The answer to this is a definitive no; they are not always right. To be a strategic sales advisor, you must challenge your client; challenge their ideas, their preconceptions, and their conclusions. If your client comes to you to buy a service that you feel is wrong for them, then say so. Challenge their thinking and don’t accept that because they are asking your company to deliver a particular service that this is what they need.

In discussion with a client recently, I was provided with some feedback about an RFQ sale made to them in the past where the client asked for a technical plan to be prepared. The client did not have a strategic plan that gave the delivery team any guidance on how to prepare a technical plan – they didn’t know the end goal. They were being paid to deliver this technical plan that could never be implemented. This was an example of sale made at the commodity end of the Miler Heiman scale; the deal was won on price, not on the value of the outcome of the study.

What this sale did is got the delivery team off-side, and as anyone in sales knows, never go there. If the delivery folks aren’t supportive of your sale, you’ll never be asked back by your client.

What a strategic sales advisor would have done is to say to the client “we do not want to spend your time and money preparing a technical plan without having an approved strategic plan to guide us”. They should then have gone on to help the client prepare this strategic plan, either using other resources from their delivery team, working with a partner or recommending another organisation to do this work.

Once the strategic plan was completed, it would be amazing if the client didn’t invite you back again to prepare the technical plan. This technical document would then give the client steps they should take to implement to realise all expected benefits.

What does this mean to you as a sales person? If you want to get past selling on price only, you need to think and act as a Strategic Advisor to your clients. By constructively saying no, you will become a far more useful and trusted resource to your client, which gets you out of the price only pack.

Want to know more? Have a read of Miller Heiman’s book “The New Successful Large Account Management”. “The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation” by Dixon and Adamson is also an excellent resource, as is this article: http://www.executiveboard.com/exbd/sales-service/challenger-sale/why-challenger/index.page.

As a final note, there are good and bad ways of saying “no” to your clients. A topic for another day…

About the Author
David Black is SalesDirector at Growth in Focus
David Black has more than 25 years sales and management experience. His expertise is within many industry sectors including Mining, Oil & Gas, Utilities, Finance and State and Federal Government sectors. David is skilled at facilitating and negotiating new business opportunities for his clients. Companies that David has held sales roles in include Denver Technology, Ajilon Australia, Datacom Systems and NEC.