Jacques Mattheij

Technology, Coding and Business

Selling really does start at 'no'

There is a book called ‘the selling starts when the customer says no’. It’s been both lauded and trampled for a variety of reasons, but the core, that selling is a job that has a clear starting point, the point where you encounter an obstacle, is one that I believe is very true.

Plenty of times you come across people that have a great product and that have the potential to do very well for themselves but for some reason it does not take off.

When asked about this the answer quite frequently is that the leads are there but the end result of the sales conversation invariably is a ‘no’, they can’t seem to close the deal.

So they move on to the next lead, rinse, repeat. You can do this pretty much forever and it will look like you’re trying to sell ice-cream to Eskimos, but unless that is really the case, the problem is likely elsewhere.

When you see a pattern like that it’s really time to step on the brake and think for a bit, if a ‘no’ stops each and every sale dead cold and you know your product is good then you’re doing something absolutely wrong, what you’re more than likely doing wrong is to see a sales pitch as a one-way street. And that’s just simply not true. Every sales conversation gives you information, not just about the sale, but also about your product, and about your customer(s).

‘Real’ salespeople are not going to be dissuaded by a ‘no’. They use it to learn, to fine-tune their pitch and to try to understand why this particular customer gave them the ‘no’.

So they don’t consider the contact burned, they consider it a learning experience, something that should help them succeed the next time.

When you get that ‘no’ make sure you’re gracious about it. Try to understand exactly what it was that made the customer decline your offer, get them to tell you exactly what the breaking point was and what you could do about it to make them happy.

And then use that information to drive product development. Not by making promises in order to clinch the sale, that way leads directly to trouble, but by first improving your product and / or your sales documentation and your sales pitch. Then, when that’s all done (and not before) you’re ready to contact this prospect again, tell them you’ve taken their ‘no’ to heart and that you also heard their feedback and that you’ve used it to improve your product.

Maybe offer them a discount or free use to show that you are genuinely happy with the feedback they gave you, to make them feel appreciated for saying ‘no’ and helping you to move your product forward.

This will go a long way towards establishing a very good reputation with that particular contact and the word will definitely spread. Even if they still don’t buy your product, but chances are they actually will. Just because you listened.

Selling is a branch of customer service, and if you can’t take a ‘no’ then you are not in sales, then you are an ‘order taker’.

That may sound harsh, but really, think about it: if selling was as easy as picking up the phone and writing down some details anybody could do it. Sales people are on the front line of any organization and they are both the mouthpiece and the ears of a company. First to spot trends in the marketplace, first to see their customers switch to ‘brand y’ and so on. To be in sales and to be ‘just an outlet’ is really the wrong approach.

The ‘no’s will come anyway, a good salesperson is going to take them in stride and is going to see each and every one of the contacts they have with their customers as a means to both sell their product and to learn as much as they can about the situation the customer is in and to figure out what they can do to get that person to give them information they can use in order to serve this customer and all the others in a similar situation better.

If you approach it that way there will be ‘yes’ before long.

If you’re in a business-to-consumer situation or if you’re busy building web applications you may never hear the ‘no’ in person. You may want to make it possible for people to leave their virtual calling card and to enter a sweepstakes for a freebie if they tell you what they thought of your product, no holds barred. It’s a roundabout way of retrieving the information that you need anyway but someone that comes to your website, looks around and leaves is lost, better to try to engage them somehow and to make them a part of your ‘funnel’ at some point in the future. If you have a beta program you might want to use people that initially said ‘no’ to test drive new versions with a discount on the final version. As soon as someone has engaged like this you’re no longer in ‘no’ territory but edging towards ‘maybe’ or even ‘yes’.