When is it time to grow a backbone with your customer?

No more

I’ve attended some Sales 101 training sessions in my time, and every time I leave them I’m left with theoretical driving factors of creating a good relationship with a customer is to provide your customers with unlimited service, the ability to provide solutions and answers to them efficiently and basically – always provide a YES.

I understand that providing customer service is a priority and the concept to provide the right answers and solutions for them is also imperative. But what happens when you can’t give that customer everything that they want? When is it OK to say NO to a customer?

To me, there are a few main reasons why I would need to say NO to a customer and that is –

1. When the request from a customer bastardizes my profitability

2. When the request from the custmer bastardizes my brand (company and/or personal brand)

3. When it’s illegal – against General Business Practices (for eg – price fixing, intelligent information, etc.)

So I can only reflect on what actions I would take when I need to grow a backbone with my customer and when I need tell them what they otherwise wanted to hear.

Process of rebuttal


  •  Empathise with the customer – there’s no point getting your knickers in a knot and try to argue with a customer – business is business – there is an expectation from a customer to try to negotiate to their favour and why wouldn’t they? If you’ve recognised that their particular request is not something that you could possibly do – it’s probably best to actually empathise with the customer and really, and I mean really, try to understand where they are coming from. It’s the very act of allowing them to feel that it is within their right to question you in the first place. This would most likely involve good listening skills and acknowledgement of the situation they are painting for you.
  • Remind and Reassure that you’re there to help – there’s nothing more satisfying and you can all vouch for this – and that’s to be able to ‘air frustrations’ when something’s not going your way. Guess what? Customers are the same – they want to be able to vent or air their frustrations and they want some sort of reassurance that you’re intention is to help. So best let them know that you DO have their best interest at heart and that you do WANT to help them – as best as you can, even if it means you can’t give them exactly what they want.
  • Emphasise the importance of their relationship to you – There’s nothing worse than saying NO to a customer with them left interpreting it as a sign that you just don’t care. If you relay the message to the customer that their business relationship is important to you and that even though you may not be able to fulfil their requests at that particulator point and time, the relationship is still vital and not a lost cause. Personally, I like to know that my relationship with a customer actually means something – which usually is confirmed by good communication, respect for each other’s boundaries and ofcourse loyalty. This would be the same on the other foot. I’m pretty sure that my customer would love the confirmation of the importance of their business relationship to me.
  • Offer an alternative….NOW – This sounds crazy, but there have been many situations where I could not provide the service that my customer needed. But I tell you what keeps them coming back for my advice, service and products? It’s the fact that I could provide the next best thing. That may come in the form of advice of a competitor’s product/service, an alternative product/service that we have or even a different solution for the interim. What this action proves to a customer, is that you have their best intentions and you’ve recongised the situation that they’re in and you WANT to help them as much as you can. In the end of the day – the customer wants a solution to their situation or issue – and if you can provide them with ‘something’ – it’s a sure win to extra brownie points.
  • Ask Questions and Ask for Feedback – Even though you’ve had to say NO to the customer and it’s not what they’ve wanted to hear, the best avenue to take positive steps with that customer is to ask them questions. Why? Because perhaps vital information that could determine how your response would be might’ve been missed. For eg: a customer has requested for a price match against what they have already received from a competitor. The price point is below the margins you’re allowed to work within – so naturally, you tell the customer NO. But by further asking questions such as  “Why do we need to beat this particular price point? Is it to win over a large contract that has potential for continual work? Is it to help gain market share?”. This is just a small example of how, sometimes, superficially it seems so black and white, but usually, there is a lot more underlying factors contributing to that inital request. Asking for the customer’s feedback on how they would handle the situation if they were in your shoes allows them to contemplate the sort of business choice(s) they are asking you to do. Funnily, asking a customer to provide that sort of feedback creates a real ‘penny-dropping’ moment, when finally, they realise, that there was never going to be an easy way to say YES because the answer just needs to be NO.

Having to say NO to a customer is not the end of the world- it’s what a lot of amazing and successful sales reps and account managers do; and they do it with precision and with tact that justifies and earns the continued business from that customer they’ve had to say NO to before.


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