Too Proper for NO in business?

From the sales rep side of the table, I would rather you tell me “no, I am not interested” as soon as possible than waste both our time meeting and following up fruitlessly.

Let me tell you a story and for the sake of anonymity, I am going to invent names and companies so no one can take offense.

I have this friend, let’s call her Sasha. She has been my friend for many years. In my time knowing Sasha she has always been an expert hair stylist. But this year she decided she wanted to change direction. She wasn’t getting any traction with her hair business. She decided she was going to become a cosmetologist and focus on skin instead of hair.


Because more people have skin than hair, so she can increase her prospective client pool. So we start talking about ideas that can help her distinguish herself in the area for skin care. We get together and have a meeting to talk some real numbers and make some sense from all the advice Sasha has received over the last 6 months.

We discover that Sasha has big goals and dreams, and she has a lot of people who care about her and want to see her successful. But Sasha doesn’t have the money to pay anyone for advice that will actually get her to her goals, so all of the free advice she has received over the years has put her into analysis paralysis.

We lay a plan out for her, showing her how we together can get her the money she needs to reach her goals based on a new pricing structure we provided her. Tangible goals rather than abstract ones like she’d been getting. We think this is a done deal; we have worked with her budget we have provided some enlightening moments; we know we can help her reach her goals.

4 weeks of follow up go by. Sasha has reviewed the proposal 7 times and has gotten feedback from her peanut gallery. She finally decides that she is going to continue on the DIY path.

But why did it take 7 reviews and 4 weeks of our mutual time to come to that conclusion?

I don't want to say no

“I don’t want to hurt your feelings.”

Sasha, as sweet as she is, did not want to hurt my feelings and tell me no. But the truth is, dragging out the “no” for 4 weeks hurt me more than her being honest and saying she can’t right now for one reason or another. Either way we apparently weren’t going to work together, but now there is a lack of openness and respect in our relationship.

I would have still touched base with her to see how things were going, but I would not have taken so much of her time and mine following up. This delay in honesty did nothing but hurt both of us. So why is it done?

In sales, we are taught to go for NO.

In fact, there are books on this!  Saying “no” does not hurt our feelings. We like no, because no means we can move on to our next yes!

But why do prospective clients make it so hard to get the no?

How easy does “no” need to be?

From the gatekeeper side of the table, or decision maker side… “no” is hard to say. “No” feels so definite when what I really mean is “not right now”. Great idea, this just isn’t the right time for me.

So instead of saying no, or even saying try me again in 6 months – we let you walk through your pitch. We want to see if maybe you push hard enough to make a definite decision today. As the decision maker, I don’t like to be pushed, so what I am really deciding here is — if this sales rep is pushy the answer will be no, but if they are respectful I will let them sell me and then I will think about it.

But what we both know that the decision maker doesn’t want the sales rep to come back later. “If I push them off now they will just go away without me actually telling them no,” the decision maker thinks.

Does that sound familiar?

What if the sales reps made it easier to say no? Would the business owner be more willing to say no?

What is your experience with saying NO or hearing NO?