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The Power of “No”

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BFO-The Power of NO

A couple of weeks ago, I was on a call with a partner when something happened. A person I admire greatly for her leadership and her ability to provide the kind and honest truth did something incredible – she told one of the founders of our organization “no.”

I was flabbergasted. How does anyone in the service industry tell their customer “no”? Are we not taught as leaders in the service industry that the customer is always right? How dare she break the golden rule of service! I mean, who does she think she is? As it turns out, she is one of the kindest and honest people I have met. She’s someone I have a lot to learn from—someone who has learned the secret power of “no.” Let me explain.

As the leader of the BFO new client acquisition team, I hear a lot of feedback from our service and product teams. It is not at all uncommon to hear that there’s a perception salespeople will do anything for money – just short of picking up the client/prospect’s dry cleaning after work. We hear things like:

  • Does sales even know how to utter the sounds that make up the word “no”?
  • Does sales think the opposite of “yes” is “yes”?

[bctt tweet=”Sometimes saying NO allows a better solution and strengthens the client-agency relationship. #DigitalMarketing” via=”no”]

With perceptions like these (and perception can become reality, but I’ll leave that discussion for another day), how do we change what people think? How do we learn how to say “no” to a great idea, a passionate opinion, or even a simple request, without breaking the person we are speaking with? So I jumped at my first chance to ask this individual, “How the heck did you do that, and not create adversity?” After a lengthy conversation, it’s really pretty simple:

Rule #1: Everyone’s opinion, thought, or idea (EOI) is right.

If they are always right, how do you say “no”? EOIs are truly always right. They are the way the person thinks. It is how or what they believe. It is their own truth. Be empathetic and believe and accept that in their world, they are right. That is not the same as agreeing; it is learning to be empathetic to someone else’s reality and appreciating that person’s point of view.


Prospect: “I really need content marketing.”

You: “Content marketing can be a very valuable marketing tool…”

Rule #2: Ask them why they believe their EOI is right.

All too often, we assume that someone else’s point of view is the same as our own. This is rarely the case. Ask the other person why they believe this EOI is right. Empathy begins with understanding, and you can only understand by asking. At this point, you must listen. Remember, you cannot learn with your mouth open.


You: “Would you explain why you believe content marketing to be the best solution for your organization?”

Rule #3: Understand the situation.  

What makes an EOI always right is the context and/or situation in which it can be applied. This is when “no” is at its most powerful. If the situation in which the EOI is right is not present, then “no” becomes the logical answer. It is at this point that you may say “no.”


Prospect: “Because everyone says that I need to do content marketing.”

You: “And what are you hoping that content marketing will achieve for you?”

Prospect: “Well, our conversion rates have been down by 5% this year.”

You: “Content marketing may not be the right solution for you.” (In other words, no.)

Rule #4: Explain your “no.”  

This is the most important rule. It is not good enough to simply say “no.” A “no” without reason is simply a moment of resistance. If you honestly and kindly explain why “no” is the only logical answer to the situation based on Rules #3 and #4, then it will be accepted. However, the most important thing to remember is that acceptance is not the same as agreement, but acceptance does allow for a common understanding.


You: “Content marketing is a great way to drive traffic, educate your audience, and initiate conversations; however, based upon your goal of improved conversion rates, it would make sense to look at your current conversion funnel before investing in content.”

Prospect: “Yes, that makes sense.”

Following these 4 simple rules will help you discover the power of “no.” “No” can often be the best answer for a situation and lead to positive outcomes. “No” does not mean that someone is wrong; it simply means that the existing EOI is wrong for the current situation. “No” as a truth leads to strong, healthy, and transparent relationships with prospects and clients.

In the earlier example, our partner understood that our owner’s EOI was right, it just was not right for our situation. By saying “no,” we ultimately found a more appropriate solution for our situation, strengthened our relationship, and found agreement.

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