When Saying “No” to a Customer Makes Sense

When saying no to a customer makes senseCustomers — even your very best customers — aren’t always right. That old adage can quickly take a company in the absolute wrong direction. Saying “no” to customers, when it makes sense, can keep your business tracking in the right direction.

Every organization wants to delight customers, deliver on promises, and add value at every touch point. Makes sense. Today’s customers have elevated expectations, and we better take good care of them because an alternative choice is usually just a click away.

However, there are certain kinds of customers and specific types of customer requests that threaten to pull a company down a path that doesn’t align with the strategic plan. You can’t let an isolated customer inquiry or incident pull you away from your core focus and philosophy.

Leadership needs to decide on a company’s core competencies and growth strategy. Not every customer (or customer request) will fit into your tightly defined niche and plan. It’s very common for customers to ask for support that extends beyond a company’s core capabilities. After all, more of a good thing is seemingly good for everyone, right? It actually depends. While it pays to stay open and consider new opportunities, it’s also important to take a step back and determine if a customer’s request is an opportunity or a distraction. So often, in the rush to grow forward I see it becoming the latter.

When a customer asks you to move in a direction that doesn’t align with your core business strengths and values, it can actually serve your long-term best interest to simply say no. It took me several years and some real suffering as an entrepreneur to learn this lesson. I was conditioned to say yes, make sales and make everyone else happy. That philosophy wasn’t good for me personally or the business. Today, a core part of our our growth plan is having the discipline to say no when opportunities simply don’t align or they show up way too soon.

The challenge, of course, is learning to say no without jeopardizing important customer relationships. It’s possible to say no and actually impact the relationship positively.

  1. Say no — and at the same time offer an alternate solution or recommendation. Customers appreciate the pass in lieu of a resource that’s better equipped to offer the right support. When you refer business to a more appropriate vendor, everyone wins: your customer gets the support they need, the referred company happily gets a new client, and you stay focused on your most successful work. You’ll also begin to build advocacy and typically those right-fit referrals will start coming back to you.

  2. Say no — and offer very solid rationale for why it’s in the best interest of the customer. Customers appreciate transparency, which builds trust and can serve to strengthen the long-term relationship. When you’re honest about what you’re capable of, you create realistic expectations. On the other hand, when you say yes and wing it, you create false expectations and will probably burn valuable time, resources and energy trying to deliver.

  3. Say no — and consider together what the best alternative option could be. So often, the customer wants you to listen, understand, and partner. Ask for more information. Listen closely. The “no” isn’t the relationship killer — it’s the context and delivery. Saying no but working diligently to arrive at the very best, mutually beneficial outcome is actually an opportunity to advance the partnership.

It’s tempting to chase every new opportunity and sale, but you’ll be better served by focusing specifically on opportunities that fit best. It’s up to you to define that niche. When it makes sense to say no, doing it the right way will also build stronger client partnerships and a business that’s better prepared to grow.

Ryan Estis & Associates is a training and development organization helping companies, leaders, sales people and individual contributors embrace change and achieve breakthrough performance in the new economy. We offer keynotes, live classroom training and online learning that blends interaction, energy and actionable content designed to elevate performance. Contact us for programming inquiries and assistance determining the curriculum that could best support your learning and development objectives.

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