Salespeople hate to say no. We tend to feel a lot better
if we agree to satisfy the customer's every wish. Because
we're afraid that if we don't, the customer will be angry,
won't like us, and will decide not to give us the order. In
spite of this insidious fear, my belief is that if we learn
how to say no, the customer is more likely to be satisfied
than if we say yes.
This conclusion, which may seem counterintuitive, was reinforced
this afternoon by my friend Matt, who used to be a California
prison guard. "In prison," Matt explained, "if you say yes
and then it turns out that you have to say no, you could wind
up with a knife in the back of your head. That's why you always
start out by saying no. Then if you say yes, you're a hero."
Makes sense to me.
Chapter Six of my book, Negotiation Boot Camp,
is the chapter on how to make concessions, and it opens with
a story about Matt that, to my amusement, has spawned a series
of magazine and Internet articles written by people who have
been intrigued by his approach to negotiation. Matt, you see,
owns the health club where I play handball. As described in
Negotiation Boot Camp, when Matt took over
the club, he announced that he was going to convert all four
of our handball/racquetball courts into weight training areas.
Well you can imagine the uproar from the cadre of ball players.
We were up in arms.
After some heated negotiating sessions, Matt agreed to keep
two of the courts. The handball players were delighted. We
felt we had won the negotiation. Yours truly, however, suspected
that Matt was smarter than we were. Something told me that
he never intended to eliminate all the courts. When I asked
him about it, he confessed that my suspicion was correct.
"If I said at the beginning that I'm taking out two of the
four courts," Matt acknowledged, "you guys would have been
bitching and moaning for years. Instead, I threatened to take
out all the courts and then appeared to relent under pressure."
Matt's experience with all those prisoners was paying off.
Consider how this reflects the typical sales situation. The
buyer wants a lower price, quicker delivery, better terms,
etc. If we give in to all of these demands, it will only (a)
serve to raise the buyer's expectations and (b) lower the
buyer's perception of value. "I should have asked for more,"
the buyer will complain and, bingo, you have a dissatisfied
customer on your hands. The buyer now perceives your product
is not as good as you said it was. If it was that good, why
would you be giving in? But when you say no, I'm sorry but
we can't do that, the buyer's perception is that he pushed
you as far as you would go. He thinks he got a great deal.
In my sales career spanning several decades, I can say without
reservation that my best customers have been the ones who
paid top dollar. They were the ones who were told no. They
appreciated the value of their investment and they respected
me because I stuck to my guns. And conversely, the most disagreeable,
aggravating, and least satisfied customers have been the ones
who received yes as the answer to their demands. Giving in
is not the answer after all. As Matt learned in prison, when
someone asks for a concession, the best strategy is to start
out by saying no. In Negotiation Boot Camp,
the advice I give is to make the other negotiator work for
their concessions. Saying yes right away only leads to disaster.
Say no at first and then perhaps later you can say yes. The
buyer will be more satisfied simply because you had the courage
to say no.