There are very few things in life that I truly hate. We optimistic entrepreneurs are upbeat and resilient. But there is this one thing. Let me set the scene and see if you share the same disdain as do I. You reach out to a prospective customer and actually snag a meeting. Arriving early, you are well prepared and have done considerable research on this person and his company. No question will go unanswered, and every key point will be covered. The meeting seems to go well, and you get positive though non-committal feedback from the prospective customer. As you wrap up you hear those 11 dreaded words . . . “Let me think about it and I’ll get back to you.”
Naturally you are polite when you are told this, but you leave indicating that you’ll check back in a week – the customer smiles and nods. Of course, you send a nice thank you note, and a week later you are in follow-up mode. You call and leave a voicemail message. You e-mail and re-state your interest in working with this individual. There is no response. Another week goes by with another voicemail and e-mail. The third week you actually reach the customer when you call, and he tells you how slammed he’s been; asks a question and says he’s still thinking about it. But there’s hope isn’t there? He asked a question – that seems to be a sign that he’s interested.
You know the rest of the story. After an interminable period of time, you somehow learn that he actually committed to buy the product from a competitor – weeks ago. This is a locker-kicking, punching-the-wall moment of frustration. The age-old question spews from your lips, “Why couldn’t he just say NO?!”
Whether or not we’re entrepreneurs, we’re always going to find ourselves in situations where we need someone to say yes or no. It doesn’t seem like these answers should be hard to provide. And yet there apparently is a great deal of indecision in the world today because getting to yes or no is a great struggle for some. Why? What’s the point of the “string-along?” Often it may be that a person is concerned about hurting someone else’s feelings by saying no. It’s true that a person may need to consider his or her options and truly contemplate before providing an answer. But that’s no reason for not responding to phone calls and e-mails.
Having dealt with this issue for many years, I’ve resolved not to treat others in similar fashion. When I’m called for a meeting, I will try to quickly determine if I have an interest in what the other person is offering – now or ever. If I’m not interested – ever – I’ll tell the other person and refuse the meeting. It’s a quick “no.” If I’m not interested now but might be in the future, I’ll say this, “I can tell you that I’m not interested right now. However, I’m happy to take the meeting because I want to learn more about you and your product for future reference. It certainly helps to build a relationship.” The other person knows exactly where I stand and can decide herself if she still wants to schedule the meeting. If I go through with the meeting and don’t want what is being offered, I will say “no” on the spot. If I truly need time to contemplate, I’ll tell the other person that I need to do so and will provide a firm date for follow-up.
Here’s one more thing about a “no” answer. Many of us learned that when we’re told no, it’s simply a plea to be “sold” some more. I think this is still true but with a twist. If I say no – never, that’s probably what I mean. But if I say no – not right now, that could very well mean that I’m a “yes” in the future. There’s no harm in building relationships and keeping our name in front of someone with whom we want to do business. Being in the right place at the right time is a real art. Through relationships the odds of being in this position are vastly improved.
We’d much rather hear a quick no than be strung along through indecision or sensitivity for our feelings. Giving no as an answer allows the other person to move into a longer-term relationship-building mode and enables him or her to pursue other prospects without wasting time.
This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.