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A Great Salesperson Says ‘NO’

Head in SandTo be a great sales person, there are two key things you must master – and they both involve just one simple word. NO.

That’s right, in my 13 years of sales and marketing experience, I’ve learned the key to great sales is not the word YES as you might imagine. The word NO can offer more financial gain in the long run, so I have trained sales account executives to never be afraid of it.

1. A true sales professional can never be afraid of hearing the word NO. As soon as they cringe at a prospective client saying NO, they begin a mental war with themselves. It’s difficult to maintain a positive attitude if you think of NO as a negative moment. You have to take the perspective that just one simple NO leads you closer to an eventual YES. 

I once made an index card with the word NO typed 10 rows across and 10 columns high. Each time a prospective client said ‘No, Thank You’ to my trainee’s cold call, they marked off one NO. I rewarded my sales reps for checking off every NO on the card. If they could fill all 100 NO’s on an index card, their reward came at the monthly regional meeting. The cards were dropped into a basket for a drawing. Why reward the NO’s?

Two reasons:
The first reason was clearly simple – motivation. Each card represented effort. I wanted to reward perseverance. It was an important tool to teach them how to transform the word NO from what society tells them is bad, to what a sales person knows is only a neutral two letters of the alphabet.. N… O. If you strip the word of it’s power, how can it harm you? 

The second reason for the 100 NO exercise was understated – and revealed only at the end of the project after results were turned in. I wanted each sales rep to visualize their close ratio (the rate at which you close sales). You can only learn your close ratio if you track your effort by recording success and “failure.” Most of the sales reps found that for every 10 calls they made, 1 person finally said YES. That 1 in 10 ratio helped them visualize their motivation on those long, calling days where the NO’s can feel like they are never-ending. It transformed their mentality on cold call days from emotional reactions of rejection, fear, or sadness to the thrill and excitement of statistics, numbers, and sales.

We’ve all heard “sales is just a numbers game” – but that phrase has to be more than a saying – it has to be a state of mind.
This is why I preach close ratios. A serious sales person knows their close ratio via outbound cold sales calls versus face to face sales meetings. Why? Because knowing their close ratio provides them with a percentage of their effectiveness. If out of 100 sales calls, 10 appointments are scheduled – that might be a great success ratio for one sales person within their industry. For another, they might judge success based on a 5 out of 10 ratio for all face to face sales appointments. There is no magic close ratio chart – each sales situation and industry is different; however with just a little bit of research, your particular products or services can develop a set standard that work well for you and your employees. 

2. The second lesson that every sales rep learns about the word NO usually comes with time and experience, but this Golden Rule is the hardest lesson to learn because a natural sales person usually discovers their hidden talent after their first big wheeling and dealing gig on the playground: “I’ll trade you my Snack Pack for your Lunchables today IF you bring me a Popsicle every day this month.” lol Those suave children who grow up trading and exchanging to their benefit end up CEOs, while that poor sucker who thought he got the good end of that begins dealing their way toward a sales career. It’s called short term gain. And it won’t take you far in the long run.

These types of salesmen and women bend over backwards to gain a new client’s trust, and in turn – those clients often open their wallet, ensuring the sales person gets a quick rush of commission running through their veins. As an adult, their networking name tag starts to bleed “The Yes Man” in bold black Sharpie marker.

My Golden Sales Rule: Telling a client NO can sometimes be the best thing – for you, for the company, and for the prospective client. Let me be clear, there are instances in which churn and burn tactics could be beneficial… but for the most part, I disagree with shortcut sales tricks up to 99% of the time. Got a client who wants to be special with late Net Terms for payment? Got a prospective client saying what kind of discount will you give me if I….? There’s always a handful looking for more than what you put on the table. Next time, don’t jump to be overly accommodating too quickly – that’s all. Sit back and think – does this benefit him more than me? 

Now wait, before you start shouting “the customer’s always right” at your computer screen, give me a moment to make my case. Customer service can utilize this phrase because it refers to a complaint – an instance in which your company might have done wrong. However, a sales person will not be successful if they adopt this anthem because they are speaking to PROSPECTIVE clients, not current clients. The best time to say NO is prior to them becoming your customer. If you can see the relationship or transaction is not going to be a win-win for both, nip it in the bud before it becomes a customer service problem later. Simply refer them to another provider, and move on toward your next sale.

Good, quality sales are all about EXPECTATIONS. Think about it this way – If a sales person has to learn to manage their expectations of how often they hear NO’s versus YES’s – then the exact same can be said for how often, they themselves utter NO’s versus YES’s too. The road goes both ways. If your sales person is out in the community low-balling your products or services on a regular basis, then you’re committing price suicide.

This Golden Rule of Sales can be reinforced by management to ensure sales reps feel comfortable when and how to say NO. Training and repetitive coaching can reinforce a set of red flags account executives listen for when speaking with a prospective client. For starters, customers more interested in price than service is one standard red flag. But many others exist. The best place to start is to look at your client list – who has been with you the longest? who has spent the most money over time as a repeat customer? who regularly refers their friends to you? THOSE are the kind of clients you want! (I can guess that as soon as you complete your list, the light bulb will go off—- none of them will be people who asked for big discounts, special terms, and lots of bells and whistles beyond your standard package offerings.)

Clients who base their sole decision on price are not the best long-term clients. Why? Because they do not value your product. They do not respect your service at the value you’ve determined. They want more for less, and once you give it to them the first time – there’s no going back. Their low expectation is already set. You can perform perfectly til the cows come home, and that client who felt the joy of a deep discount will always expect more than they paid for. They are also wooed away by the competition more easily because they never chose you based on a deep bond. They were more concerned about digging too deep into their pocketbook.

So the next time you are seeking a great salesperson, ask them two questions:

1. First ask: “How do you feel about the word NO?” If they answer with “feeling” words of rejection and disappointment, they might not be the best salesperson for your company. If their response is more light-hearted, and they say “it’s all a numbers game – you can’t get down because one person says no”, then they might have mastered their emotions to become a level-headed, well-motivated sales rep!

2. Next, ask “Have you ever had to say NO to a big deal?” If they haven’t, or if they cringe and blame management for blowing a big commission opportunity – they’re not right for you. However, if they smile and say “It happens all the time – some people just aren’t the right fit for what we offer” then you might have found yourself a quality sales rep who manages client expectations.

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