How to Say No to Your Customer

By Hope Eyre on Dec 3, 2014

If you would like to become an instant YouTube sensation, make a video on the most effective way for sellers to say no to customers, while maintaining or even enhancing their customer relationships.

You will be among the first.

I was recently writing a negotiations class for account executives from a consumer products manufacturer. One objective was to help the AE’s better handle customer requests while keeping their own business objectives, particularly profitability, as a top priority. In other words, helping them learn the right way to say no when necessary.

I wanted to illustrate the art of doing this professionally, strategically, graciously and without actually using the word “no.” Having the AE’s watch a well-scripted video exchange seemed like an ideal way to demonstrate the concept, so I went in search of something appropriate on YouTube.

YouTube can be terrifically valuable as a learning resource if you screen content carefully and avoid getting distracted by the proliferation of cat videos. I’ve used it for everything from watching Simon Sinek lectures to getting tutorials on advanced Excel formulas.

I assumed I’d have no trouble finding a good “how to say no” example. I was wrong.

Search for “saying no to clients” on YouTube and you’ll find videos for customer service training, English language assistance, time management and goal achievement along with the inevitable R-rated sophomoric humor.

Most of the videos that actually attempted to explore the topic seriously looked as if the makers of The Blair Witch Project had shot them. I found little that wasn’t thoroughly dreadful.

There is, however, no shortage of written advice on this topic, which is when I realized how truly difficult it is to say no to a customer. Easy to write about – difficult to do or even demonstrate on YouTube.

As sellers, we’re conditioned to say yes to customers in order to preserve the relationship. There is often an “at all costs” attitude and belief that keeping customers happy is the only way to prevent them from defecting to a competitor.

But is that reality, or is it a perception caused by the fear and insecurity of the seller?

Keeping customers happy is certainly a priority. Granting an automatic yes to their requests out of fear, however, is rarely in your best interest and may not be in theirs.

Here’s the problem with trying to please customers “at all costs:”

  • It impacts your company’s bottom line. Often we want to make investments in our customers, because we anticipate an ROI… but we want to do this after careful consideration of the benefits to both them and us.
  • Saying yes and then failing to deliver (because you couldn’t convince management to approve the request aftercommitting to the customer) does immense damage to your customer relationship; it leaches away your credibility, which is the currency that great customer relationships are built on.
  • Saying yes to every request trains your customer to take advantage of you and your inability to say no, which again will likely impact your company’s bottom line, as well as your job satisfaction.
  • Customers trying to handle an issue sometimes don’t understand the root cause of their problem and therefore request the wrong solution. Saying yes without conducting due diligence actually harms the client, because, while you’re giving them a solution to some problem, it isn’t to the one they actually have. The result remains an unhappy customer.

What was I hoping to find on a YouTube video? A seller who asks probing questions and is diligent about finding out what the customer’s root issue is, why they’ve made that particular request and how saying yes would impact both his company and the customer’s.

I was hoping to find a seller who said “no,” not by using the actual word, but by articulating well-researched alternate solutions with clear and measurable benefits to the customer, while also being a win for his own company.

Easy to write about, difficult to do.

Having struck out on YouTube, I ended up using a well-scripted role-play for my class. It was acted-out by my client’s Sales VP (playing the role of customer) and one of his account managers (playing the seller who must say no to the customer’s request).

We chose the wisest, most senior account executive on the team to play the seller. This is a man who had literally been selling since I was in middle school. He gave a sublime performance, conducting discovery to learn the customer’s “root” issue, offering alternative solutions and deftly handling objections while ensuring that the solution had benefits for his own company. He never used the word no.

Unfortunately I didn’t think to film him.

Topics: selling skills

Hope Eyre

Written by Hope Eyre

Hope Eyre is a sales effectiveness expert who takes a roll-up-the-sleeves approach to building winning sales organizations. She regularly works side by side with sales teams around account segmentation and planning and has helped numerous complex organizations rethink they way they serve their largest accounts. Hope’s specialties include sales transformation, sales capability development, leadership development/coaching and performance management. If “sticky” could be a word to describe a consultant, it would be a perfect descriptor for Hope, as clients like to keep her around.

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