It’s okay for salespeople to say no and to disagree

say no 5Sales success tends to be built on a foundation of saying “yes” to customers in order to garner those initial sales.  But as a salesperson develops a relationship with the customer and becomes engaged in larger and more complex opportunities, always agreeing and continuously saying yes poses a challenge.  It’s difficult to continue to add value simply by agreeing with everything the customer says.

Saying “no” to customers skillfully

So the sales challenge is how do salespeople say “no” – skillfully? How do you disagree and get rewarded for it?  Here, the good news is customers’ expectations are changing – saying no and disagreeing is becoming an okay thing to do.  As a matter of fact if done skillfully it is viewed as a plus.

Customers are becoming increasingly impatient with sales people who always tell them what they already know and simply propose what they think the customer wants. The higher up in the organization, the truer this proposition. They label as valuable, time spent integrating and reframing problems and bring a new point of view to what the solution might be – in other words saying no and disagreeing skillfully.

In a recent Harvard Business Review article Ed Batista summarizes this challenging situation well: A critical step in managing all this is training ourselves to resist the initial reflexive response; I often describe this to clients and students as “becoming more comfortable with discomfort.” We notice the initial discomfort provoked by the possibility of saying no, and yet we learn to tolerate it.  He goes on to offer two ideas:

  • Slow down the pace in the interaction to make sure you’re making the right choices.
  • Practice saying no so you feel less clumsy and can more skillfully share the message.

Of course this whole idea of disagreeing has received a lot of press of late due to the work conducted by Dixon and Adamson regarding the Challenger Sale.

Within the Challenger context, Brian MacIver of BMAC Consulting has conducted some outstanding work to add to the discussion.  In regard to disagreeing, Brian points out “Challengers disagreed rationally, by saying WHY they disagreed, and delivering an insight, Relationship Builders tend to agree with Customers without saying WHY they agreed.”

When it comes to making all this happen the bad news-good news story is contained in the following conclusion Brian makes in regard to his research: “My research leads me to conclude that salespeople will not learn the behaviors of a Challenger just by reading the book, but anyone in selling can become a successful Challenger by learning the Challenger behaviors and using them correctly!”

So, is it okay for salespeople to say no and disagree?  The answer is, yes.  It can indeed be a plus.  But the caveat is – it all has to be done skillfully.

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©2014 Sales Momentum®

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About Richard Ruff

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. During his career Dick has authored numerous articles related to sales effectiveness and co-authored "Managing Major Sales", a book about sales management, "Parlez-Vous Business" which helps sales people integrate the language of business into the sales process, and "Getting Partnering Right" – a research based work on the best practices for forming strategic selling alliances. Dr. Ruff received his Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology from the University of Tennessee and a B.S. from Rennsselaer Polytechnic Institute.
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5 Responses to It’s okay for salespeople to say no and to disagree

  1. Perhaps the most misunderstood part of “The Challenger Sale” is that it’s based on disagreeing. If you and your customer agree, then YOU don’t add much value!
    And thank you Dick, both for the mention and reminding us ALL that Challenger, like all selling, is Behaviourally based and can be learned!

    Oh, and if you are going to disagree with a Customer bring PROOF!
    Thought leading Blog Dick, thanks.

  2. Fred Swan says:

    In my experience in 25 years of sales I have found telling the customer no on the initial request with an alternative that solves the need within the scope of reality usually works.

    Letting them know if the need can be solved the needs they have can be solved in

  3. Dick,

    Excellent post on salespeople telling a customer no. I learned from a former sales manager of mine that telling a customer no is helpful in setting expectations for whatever is being sold. Telling a customer what cannot be done and why helps the customer remove their fear of being overly sold to and/or the feeling that they are being manipulated. A well reasoned “No” creates the space for business conversation.

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