Three things to KNOW, When you have to say NO

No company can be all things to all customers.

Therefore, you’ll have to say no and, if your company has a lot of unique customers, you will say no way more than you’ll say yes. To be an incredibly successful sales person, you have to be able to say no in a way that maintains CREDABILITY, VIABILITY and RELIABILITY for you and your company.

ACE the NO to win both now and in future opportunities because the door stays open even when the customer doesn’t get everything.


Show that you care about how the decision will affect your customer personally and commercially. Ask the customer how this will affect them. Call on your own business and/or personal experiences to truly show empathy.


Show that you clearly understand how your company’s decision will affect your customer’s company, both good and bad. The customer wants to confirm that you are viewing them and representing them with the right knowledge. A good tool is to recall past bad experiences with the customer or similar issues with other companies.


Above all else, clearly tell the customer no. Seems basic but even the most experienced senior executives, have difficulty saying no. Be specific on why your company made the decision. Customers have customers so they’ve been in your shoes and, while they may be angry, they will empathize with you if they fully understand the reasons for your decision.

A few years ago we were launching a new product that many partners wanted to include in their devices. It was something we hadn’t done before and we felt there was high risk to partners if we divided our engineering resources across too many devices so we chose to stick with the current device roadmap. Unfortunately, we had a long-time partner who didn’t have a device in the mix and wanted to be considered.

Given the prominence of the partner’s brand, we felt it prudent to at least have the discussion. All the stakeholders, at the highest levels in both companies, decided it would be appropriate to meet. The partner’s division President and his team scheduled a trip to Seattle for two weeks out.

As the days went by it became clear that we weren’t ready to add another device. We couldn’t guarantee the partner’s readiness for launch because we had no additional engineering resources to apply full time, to help the customer prepare.

A few of us had long-standing relationships with the EVP. I had just been interviewed by the Wall Street Journal, at his request, for an Op-Ed piece on his new role, so we decided it was most appropriate for me to deliver the no. This was on a Friday and he was due in Seattle on Monday, so I called him immediately.

He was in Asia so I called his mobile and left a voice mail. I asked him to call when he was awake and said that I thought he should cancel his trip to Seattle. I also emailed and texted him. He texted me that evening when I was at a baseball game. I texted back that I’d find a quiet place and call him back. (Note: It was Boston playing Seattle, which meant there really was no quiet place.) I found a spot in a stairwell where I had good reception and I made the call.


I started by telling him that after a lot of consideration we just didn’t believe that we could help them be successful with the upcoming launch. I told him about the engineering challenges and the uncertainties that come with that. The answer wouldn’t change by him coming to Seattle.


I reminded my partner of times in the past when we marched forward with products that neither of us were ready to launch and how badly that worked out for both companies. We also talked about their cost to build the device even without the complexities of dealing with software customization.


I asked him how this would affect him personally. He was new in role and I knew he would take heat over our decision. He shared some things I won’t share here but what he needed was a clear, credible way to explain this to his new team and his CEO. We spent the rest of the call building his speaking points.

(Note: You need to cover all components of ACE but the order and way you do it is situational.)

To be clear, the executive was still quite frustrated. However, after that 45-minute call he was comfortable that our decision was reasonable. He thanked me for keeping him from flying and we were able to maintain our relationship.

Every incredibly successful sales person learns how to say NO while maintaining CREDABILITY, VIABILITY and RELIABILITY. It’s a necessary skill.

Learning how to ACE the NO is one of the things you’ll learn from The Five Abilities™ sales methodology. Let us know if we can help.

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