How to Say No and Not Lose The Customer
By Ibby Smith Stofer
No matter who is asking, or what they are asking for, saying no is never easy!
Do you remember the saying “It’s not what you say but how you say it?”
This is great advice. Over the course of my career, I have seen how this old saying holds tried and true.
Throughout my career working with customers and sales representatives I often had to say no. At one point in my career I worked for one of the top medical device companies in the country. Due to my role, I was the person who discussed price concessions, free items, and terms and conditions. I had to make the tough decisions on what was, or was not, acceptable for the company. Some of these requests came from sales representatives and potential customers. In order to maintain and strengthen these relationships, I tried to keep the following tips in mind.
First, before you ever utter no, make sure you understand what the request is. When you are clear on what the request is and know why the request is necessary, you should restate it as you understand it. If you are understanding each other correctly then you can offer up a solution. It then is important to ask if the solution will work for them.
If you are in a situation where you cannot say yes, suggesting alternatives shows you truly want to reach an agreement with them. Sometimes it is as simple as offering a clear explanation as to why you are unable to say yes.
In the circumstance where there are multiple requests. It is important to review all of the requests and tell the person that you may not be able to meet all their needs. In my experience, I found it was helpful to ask them to prioritize their needs. Doing this let me know what was non-negotiable from their perspective. I would also take the time to prioritize the list of requests from my perspective.
After both parties took the time to prioritize their lists it is a good idea to meet again to review each list. During this meeting, it is important to remember that, it is not what you say, but rather how you say it that will determine the outcome.
An example would go something like this: “I would love to meet your request, however, it conflicts with the terms of our national agreement. Perhaps we could do this (an alternative) instead.” It shows your intent to help and demonstrates your integrity while still not agreeing to the request.
If you cannot help your customer and the alternative you offered does not work for them, express your sorrow of not being able to help, again the sincerity of your response matters.
As a reminder, there are also some things you should not do:
- First, do not assume that no is the only answer. By taking some time to think it through, you may find an alternative which can work for everyone.
- Don’t start offering a string of apologies, explanations, or excuses on why you can’t do what is being asked.
- It is better to say no early on than saying yes and later finding that you actually cannot do what was asked.
Good luck. Saying no and retaining valued relationships takes a lot of practice. Remember that sometimes we have to say no, and that is ok. What makes the difference is how we say it and a willingness to help find alternative solutions. Finding a win-win situation is possible if we work together.