Last week’s blog discussed the all-important first step in saying “no” to the client: playing back his/her (unacceptable) request and even imagining aloud how satisfying it might be— from the client’s perspective— if the request could be granted. You indulged him/her in this way to assure that your genuine understanding, empathy and desire to meet the client’s needs would not go unnoticed amid the inevitable disappointment that declining the request will produce. Now, let’s talk about delivering the “no,” and about transitioning to the productive (and much more enjoyable) part of the dialog— your recommendation for getting the job done.
Again, always bear in mind that until you get to your counter-proposal, you are in a dangerous and negative “role reversal”: the client is trying to sell you an idea, and you are an unwilling “buyer.” Your primary goal is to get out of that situation quickly and smoothly, and to resume your role as a consultative salesperson.
To accomplish this, you should spend as little time as possible explaining the reasons behind your “no.” Don’t expend an extra word or an extra second beyond the minimum needed to make a strong, concise case for declining the request. The last thing you want to do is offer up a number of “targets” for your client to rebut in a protracted attempt to keep his/her request alive. Indeed, it will be ideal if you can segue directly from rationalizing your “no” into your counter-proposal for meeting the client’s need— get the client talking about what you have to offer, not about what he/she asked for. (Note that this is actually the opposite of consultative selling technique (!)— where you probe deeply into your client’s objections to your proposal, to assure that your subsequent response will be on-target and totally acceptable.)
Interestingly, there’s considerable debate about the best time in the dialog to deliver the “no.” Some suggest that you do it early; get it over with, and finish on the productive, forward-looking path you are recommending. Others believe that you should try to make your recommendation first, and end the conversation with the definitive “no,” which may now be more palatable to the client who (hopefully) already likes the sound of your counter-proposal. Either approach has its pros and cons; the circumstances and “climate” of the moment should influence your choice here.
Whichever sequencing you use, the lion’s share of the conversation should be a needs-driven discussion of your recommendation, in which you show the client that your solution will achieve his/her goals. After all, that’s what the client really wants; getting the desired outcome is more important than the authorship of the solution that gets us there.
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