Most of sales is concentrated on getting to ‘yes’, in fact there is a book with that exact title and many more that aim to achieve the same goal.
Over the years I’ve found that for many customers my job is not to get to ‘yes’ but to get to ‘no’. For some reason or other I discover during the pre-contract phase talks about some job or other that the fit between what they need and what I have to offer is sub-optimal. I probably could get them to ‘yes’ but I feel that this is wrong, both morally and that in the longer term it is a net negative. Convincing the other party that ‘no’ is the better option can be just as hard (and sometimes even harder) than getting them to ‘yes’.
More often than not there is another company or a relation that would be a much better fit. Whenever this happens I put the brakes on the negotiations (even if they want me to do the job very much, for whatever reason) and I try to connect them to the party that I think is best suited to handle the situation.
The funny thing is that instead of lost business because of lost sales this usually leads to more business!
How this works exactly is a mystery but I think it may work like this: if you’re confident enough to recognize that you can’t do everything then you’ve just given a bunch of free advice and you’ve used your connections to get the problem solved, even if it was indirect. That means that even if you didn’t solve the problem yourself you were instrumental in getting it solved and that is a positive experience. On top of that, you’ve shown that getting the problem solved in the best way for the customer matters more than lining your own pockets. Your relationship with your customer will be strengthened and your relationship with the party that you referred them to will be strengthened. Of course this does mean that whoever you refer has to be excellent at what they do.
Both the original customer and the party referred to will remember this and over time they will be back, either to return the favor with a referral or with another job that may be a better fit.
And if you had pushed for ‘yes’ chances are that your customer would sooner or later find out that the fit wasn’t a good one to begin with (and that you could have known, which is worse) which will lead to frustration on both sides.
Knowing when to say ‘No’ is at least as important as knowing when to push for ‘Yes’, and is a sign of confidence in your abilities, knowledge and limitations rather than a sign of weakness.