Sales 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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