My latest assignment for the CompuKol blog discussed How to say NO to prospective clients when doing business with them could be more trouble than value.
In addition to Googling the topic, I also posted requests for input on LinkedIn and Facebook. With all this information, I decided to put together a series on the issue beginning with my article:
Saying NO to a prospective client is not the Kiss of Death. Rather, what will certainly lead to some Dark Days is saying “yes” when you can’t deliver — or your gut has told you the potential customer and/or their project is not the right fit.
During difficult economic times like we have been experiencing for the last few years, we are inclined to take on everyone who comes through the door. It is not unprofessional to turn down work, but “How” you give the bad news requires care, integrity, and careful deliberation, and should not make you look like an amateur.
Given the power of Word-of-Mouth and the need to keep your business active in the Recommendation Chain, communication strategies — even when saying No — must be forward-looking and as positive as possible.
The continuing growth and force of social media in our business, as well as personal, lives has shown us the necessity for conversations to be sincere, transparent, respectful, and honest.
Five situations which may require a NO, and how you can deliver the bad news
1) If a prospect wants some skills or experience that you don’t have, don’t fake it. Instead, acknowledge your scope of practice and recommend a colleague:
“No, I’m sorry, I’m not a ———- , but I’ve worked with So-and-So who is. In fact, he/she has done this kind of work for me on time and within our budget.
Of course, this means that part of your business plan should be to build a referral system where you can provide leads to each another.
2) If the situation is a timing issue, this No can turn into a “Yes, but not at this time”:
“I would very much enjoy working with you, but I’m on deadline with two other projects at this time and would want to be able to focus my full attention on yours. If we could schedule it in three weeks, then I would be happy to support you.”
3) What happens, though, if your initial meeting with the prospect convinces your gut (or you’ve heard negative reports from associates) that a working relationship would present more stress than the compensation was worth? Here, again, remember “word-of-mouth” and be tactful. Surely you know of someone whose personality could more comfortably accommodate this client:
“Your project seems like a great challenge, and I know just the person who relishes those type of projects.”
See how important it is to build a team of referrals? (BTW, don’t think about using Response #2 for two reasons — (a) it isn’t sincere, i.e. you wouldn’t “enjoy working with you” and (b) what if the person was willing to wait?)
Oh, yes, be certain to keep your personal judgments out of the conversation.
One other thought, though: If the job is something you can do well, you might consider pricing it so high that the customer might choose another vendor. But if he/she sticks with you, then the dollars might make doing the job worth your while. However, collect a good chunk of it up front.
4) Perhaps it is purely the project that is not a good fit with your company’s image, vision, or mission. This is the perfect opportunity to be honest and forward-looking:
“After chatting with you, I feel certain that at some time in the future my organization could provide the services that your business can use, but this particular project is one that would conflict with our firm’s mission. However, A&B Company regularly handles these types of activities.
5) Finally, if your prospect has a sense of humor and is looking for the impossible, you can try this one:
“I have a pen, paper, and computer access, but I’m afraid I don’t have a magic wand and so I’m afraid the answer has to be NO for now.”
Identifying a potential client starts with an interview to make certain the relationship is right for both parties. As a business owner, your own needs must set the priorities, and even when you are hungry for business, you should turn down any customer that will require exhausting hours, extraordinary hassles, or undue stress. But even protecting yourself can preserve your business and possible future relationships with any particular client; simply make a concerted effort to network with colleagues in similar and associated businesses and build a referral team in which everyone comes out a winner.
Please add your own insights — and check out the other articles in the series: