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Consultative Selling: The High Art of Saying, “No” (Part 1)

Most salespersons would agree that saying “no” to the client is one of the most anxious moments in consultative selling. It’s a role-reversal of the worst kind, where the salesperson-turned-buyer feels compelled to refuse the suggestion (or demand?) of the client-turned-seller. Recognizing that he/she is on dangerous turf, the astute salesperson may try to get the “no” over with— or make a counter proposal— as quickly as possible. Ironically, that’s exactly the wrong way to go.

The basic truth that the salesperson must bear in mind is that there’s a world of difference between being told “no” and being rejected out of hand. Every one of us, both in our professional and personal lives, has faced the word “no” innumerable times. It’s frustrating, deflating and perhaps worrisome in the short term, but “it’s not the end of the universe as we know it.” Life goes on; rarely has permanent damage been done.

If, however, your client perceives that the “no” is not just specific to this particular situation but, instead, is a signal that you’re not truly empathetic, you’re not trying to work it out for him/her and you don’t really care— then it can, indeed, damage the client/team relationship, perhaps permanently. (Sadly, the client may see it this way regardless of your true commitment; it’s his/her subjective perception, after all.)

Two interrelated initial steps can signal your genuine support and empathy, even in the face of an unworkable, unacceptable client request:

  •  First, play back the client’s request, objectively paraphrased, before evaluating it. Acknowledge the importance of the general subject area. This shows that you were listening, that you understood— and implicitly respects and validates the client’s right to want this (even if it’s unrealistic). Don’t stop here!
  • Next, describe how positive and satisfying (you imagine) it would be for them if you could fully comply with their request. (Some people call this “sharing the fantasy.”)  If appropriate, you might say that, ideally, you could want this too, if you were in the client’s shoes. Just a few seconds of living their dream makes it absolutely clear that you “get it.”

A hypothetical example:  “You’ve said that you want us to be on call for you 24/7/365. I can imagine how reassuring and satisfying it would be to have our team ready at all times to respond instantaneously; that would be the epitome of client service.”

Now, there’s no question that you do honor and respect the request, and that your subsequent response will be your legitimate best shot at providing a satisfying solution. In our next blog, we’ll talk about saying “no” to this specific request and turning the conversation toward other ways of meeting the client’s underlying needs.

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