Daring to Say “No” Without Ending a Client Relationship

Say no to a client?

Say no to a client?

Sometimes it’s just easier to give in and say “yes,” even when you believe you should be saying “no.” That’s certainly the case when your child is pestering you for another piece of candy in a quiet movie theater — or, when everyone in a group is ready to move on except you. You give in when nothing very serious is at stake.

Take a Stand

But it’s a different matter when your principles are involved, or your time and money are at stake. Then you’ve got to take a stand. It’s how you do it that makes the difference. It’s counterproductive to try to shove your point of view down someone’s throat. They have reasons why they believe they’re right, too.

You don’t want to lose a client just because you’re stubborn and want to have things your own way. You’ve got to demonstrate why the course of action you’re suggesting is in their best interests.

Incidentally, a client can be outside your company. Or, you could be in a staff position in a company, and the business units are your “clients.” You want to build successful and positive relationships with them, too.

Offer Alternatives

Here’s one scenario that commonly occurs for PR executives. A company product manager, or your client, wants to hold a press conference. We all know that press conferences haven’t quite gone the way of the extinct dodo bird. But with the advent of the Internet, they are certainly less frequent. Someone may have already leaked the news online.

Instead, suggest that you’ll arrange interviews for the product manager, or your client CEO, with the most important business and trade media with angles exclusive to them. Explain why you feel that is a better alternative and will achieve more in-depth coverage.

Suppose a client calls you in to discuss a new project. You know it’s not the right thing to do. Listen carefully to their reasons. Then say something like, “I can understand why you’d like that to happen. But this is another approach that would cost less money and give you better results.”

Once, a client came to me and wanted to put a large group of managers and directors though five days of training. Because they were at different levels, and the managers had not had any previous training, I suggested that we not mix them together.

It would have slowed down the directors and unmotivated the managers if they were embarrassed by their lack of experience in front of more senior executives.

We put together a schedule that consisted of two overview sessions to cover the basics, two small group sessions for more junior managers, and then one-on-one training for the most senior executives. The client was pleased with the solution – and so were the managers and directors. The evaluations were so good that we continue to work with them on a monthly basis.

Lower Expectations

Sometimes clients are on a tight budget. They just don’t have the money to do everything we discussed in our initial meeting and included in the proposal. We work with them to pick and choose what will work within their budget.

I’ll offer alternatives. For example, I’ll suggest if there isn’t the budget for one-on-one training, that I can facilitate a group session.

Recently, I had a request to put 30 people through a group media training session. I cautioned the client against expecting these individuals to be camera ready in half a day. I also pointed out the potential pitfalls if 30 people were talking to the media.

Since timing was not an issue, they decided to wait until the following quarter, when they would have the money for more extensive training.

It’s not a good idea to give a flat “no” to a client as that closes down the discussion and potentially the relationship. It’s more satisfying to both parties when you come to an agreement on a course of action.

Remember who is paying the bills. You don’t want to end a relationship by saying “no” when you can get a “yes” from the client by offering alternative solutions.

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