Is it Hard to Say “No”?
I struggle with this concept. I know some amazingly strong people and they tell me that business owners and senior execs will sometimes not return calls or emails rather than saying “No, thank you” to a project or service.
How does this happen? Where is the professional courtesy? If someone has pitched for your business, spent time getting to know what you want and even met with you a few times, it is polite to respond. I saw an old friend (he’s not old but I’ve known him for a long time!) last week and he told me a story about pitching his business to a few of the larger corporates. He’s got a great product, fantastic credentials and has been told by several on the procurement committee that he’s “got it in the bag”. Such enthusiasm has culminated in over 7 meetings and the preparation of more documents than you could imagine. However, there often seems to be just one more hoop to jump through and he is running a business of 6 people. This contract could change the structure of his business forever so in some circumstances I would counsel against the pitch. Build slowly and implement systems and processes as you go. BUT, in other circumstances, you go for it, and work out how to manage it later. That’s what I love about working with SMEs.
The challenge is that larger companies don’t see the time as a direct cost (unless they’re lawyers or accountants) and feel fine about asking for more details. I went to a breakfast for NFPs last year where there was a similar challenge raised regarding sponsoring companies requiring large amounts of administrative work for compliance.
So, how do you manage this? Do you push for the answer, sometimes getting an early “No” or do you invest more and more time in the hope that there will be a profitable payoff?
A bit of both. An honest, upfront conversation with the decision maker, in my experience, usually yields an empathetic response. Even if they’ve been in the corporate world for the majority of their career, they will probably know someone who runs an SME. And don’t be afraid to give them the opportunity to say “no”, it may save you time in the long run. Depending on the service/product you provide, most people respect honesty, integrity and good communication skills – use this as an opportunity to show your true values, and recognise that if they don’t have the same values as you, do you want to work with them anyway?
So, if you’ve got a proposal in your drawer submitted by someone you respect, give them a call, open up the opportunity to negotiation or say “No, thank you, and these are the reasons why…”