How to respond to (and overcome) the NO in sales: Learn to love it
Hearing the word “no” is never fun—but think about it this way: If everyone said yes, there wouldn’t be a need for salespeople. The reason why you have a job is because people say “no,” all the time.
Because rejection is something that everyone struggles with, it provides you with an incredible opportunity to distinguish yourself as a salesperson and rise to the top of the pack. If you want to be a better salesperson, learn to love the “no’s.” In doing so, you’ll give yourself the edge you need to excel.
Work with the “no’s” instead of despite them.
Expect the word “no.” Anticipate it, and be prepared to hear it often.
Let’s run through the different types of “no’s” you’ll encounter as a salesperson, and how you can transform each into an opportunity to forge forward.
The generic “No”
“It is easier to resist at the beginning than at the end.”— Leonardo Da Vinci
In the early stages of your deal, the sales objections you’ll field will often be less substantive than the ones you get later in the sales process. You need to manage these generic “no's” differently than a “no” that comes later in the sales process.
When people say things like, “I don’t have time,” “it’s too expensive,” or “I’m not interested,” early in a call, they’re not saying “no” directly to you or your product. They’re giving you generic “no’s.”
At this point, your prospects can’t possibly have enough information to know that your product is of no interest to them.
What they’re really objecting to is giving you time, attention, and credibility.
"What they are really saying is, 'I’m saying ‘No’ or a form of ‘No’ because you haven’t given me enough of a compelling reason to buy from you or have satisfied all of my concerns and priorities.'"— Keith Rosen
Don’t get thrown off your sales game and hang up the phone. These are the easy “no’s”—be prepared for them. The way you respond, like the way you respond to all rejection, is your opportunity to stand out, and differentiate yourself from all the other salespeople who stutter, “uh, well, but, why?”
Anticipate the “no,” and disarm them with great attitude: “I didn’t have a chance to explain myself to you. I completely understand your position. This morning, I said 'no' to a salesperson—it’s the most normal thing in the world. But at this point, neither of us can know for certain if our offer could provide massive value to you. My guess is we can, because we've helped a lot of companies similar to yours. Let's take one more minute to figure out if this is worth exploring”
You've acknowledge the position that you’re putting your prospects in. But you’re also communicating to them on a more subtle level that they haven’t really said “no” yet, or even taken the chance to hear you out.
"Make people feel okay about telling you ‘no’."— Andrea Waltz
If you say it with the right energy, confidence, and clarity, it’ll make all the difference in the world—and start turning the original “no” into a “yes.”
Case study: ElasticSales
At this stage of the sales call, you’re trying to see if you can build a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship with your prospect—and to do so, you have to get past the generic “no’s.”
For example, when we started ElasticSales, our Sales as a Service business, we built our business from cold calls before our service even existed, before we even had a logo or a website.
We began with only a list of a few hundred companies and a highly-targeted sales script:
“Hey, my name is Steli. I’m calling local startups in the area to see if they might be a good fit for a beta program we’re running. In a sentence, what we do is offer startups a sales team on demand. Does that sound like something you’d be interested in?”
Right away, the prospect gets:
- A reason for the call
- A one sentence elevator pitch
- An exploratory question
For each response, wherever it was on the spectrum between “yes” and “no,” we’d respond: “Gotcha. What does your sales process look like?”
Here’s why. At this point in the sales process, none of these responses could be truly substantive. Our prospects didn’t know whether our offer was a good fit—and neither did we. Any final decision would have been premature for both parties. Our initial goal was simply to get them more engaged in the conversation.
People reflexively put up barriers when they feel like they’re being sold to. Instead of selling, try to educate your prospects, and learn more about them. See if you and your product can shine a light on a different aspect their business that they haven’t considered. Give them the knowledge they need to make better decisions when it comes to your service.
If the information you provide is valuable and insightful, you’ll cultivate increased buyer interest, and position yourself as an expert in your field.
You'll start building the traction and trust necessary to make the sale.
The maybe “No”
The later in the sales process you hear a “no,” the more seriously you have to take it. These objections will be more specific, and tend to center more around your actual product—but they’re also not the end of the road. A lot of times, “no” really means “maybe” or “not yet.”
"Each of the “no” responses you get to a request for a meeting after that first “no” is a judgement on how you’re doing differentiating yourself and proving that you can make a difference in their business."—Anthony Iannarino
The only way to tell is to try to work around this type of “no,” and dig deeper.
A prospect will say, for example:
- “We talked to our VP of sales, and she said that this sales software didn’t have enough reporting functionality when it comes to charting leads in the sales funnel.”
- “This marketing solution didn’t have enough email integrations with Outlook or Gmail.”
These objections aren’t necessarily fixed, or permanent.
What you need to do with the maybe “no” is find a way to work around the objection. Dig deeper into the root causes of the objection, and if you decide to develop a solution, follow up with your prospects to close the deal.
Find root causes
Manage the maybe “no” by delving further into the actual problem and use case behind these objections, rather than just listening to proposed solutions.
Don’t retool your product or tack on features because a prospect asked you to. You’ll end up with feature creep that will dilute your product and distract your development efforts.
These are the questions you need to find answers to from your prospects:
- Why do they need this specific feature or solution, and how would they implement it?
- Is this objection one that we see often in our target market?
- Is this a crucial feature we need to build that would boost the overall value of our product?
The maybe “no’s” you receive from prospects will often point to holes in your product that you can improve upon to deliver more value to all of your customers. But before actually building new features for your product, make sure that they align with your larger business goals, and your product development roadmap.
If you’ve developed solutions to specific objections, stay on the grind and follow up with your prospects. Keep them posted with changes to your product that could win them over.
Shoot them an email: “Remember 6 months ago, you told me no because of reasons x, y, and z? We’ve improved x, we’ve improved y, we’ve developed z, and these are some new customers we’re working with. Would you be up for a quick call next week to re-explore an opportunity to work together?”
If they say no again, or don’t respond, email them again in the next quarter. And the next.
Tenacity and perseverance pay off in the long run. When the time is right and they need a new software solution, guess who they’ll think of? You.
The “No” = No
Sometimes, “no” means “no.” Push too hard, and you’ll waste time and resources, damage your company’s brand, and worst of all, waste an incredible learning opportunity.
"Continuing to chase an opportunity after a no takes time. It takes away from other opportunities. There is a cost to chasing after the no."— Jim Keenan
Say that three months into a deal, new information surfaces, and it turns out that your product isn’t the right fit for the prospects you’ve been talking to on a daily basis. Don’t explode.
Take the opportunity to learn, and find out more about why they said “no”:
- How did we fail to deliver or show value to the prospect?
- How do people think about the problem we’re trying to solve?
- Should we change our sales approach, and how we pitch our product?
Maybe your sales approach is flawed because you’re approaching the wrong customers, or maybe you don’t fully understand the key points where your product provides value.
Find out. Dig deeper into the “no,” and embrace it as a chance to learn. See if you can extract trends and patterns from your prospects’ objections, and iterate them into improving your sales process, your product, and your business.
Handle rejection with grace. Smile. The way you deal with being told “no” is one of the best indicators of future success.
Look at your rate of failure
Measure your success in no’s. Don’t just look at how many deals you win—keep track of your sales rejections, too. Keep a scoreboard for your average rate of failure:
- How many times a day do people say “no” to you?
- How many deals do you lose?
- How many email responses do you get, saying, “not interested”?
As Chris Dixon, founder and angel investor puts it, “If you aren’t getting rejected on a daily basis, your goals aren’t ambitious enough.”
You actually want to have a high rate of failure, if it means you’re thinking big, expanding your sales outreach, and constantly testing new opportunities.
Find inspiration from being told “no.” It’s more than just a “glass is half full” frame of mind. It’s about maximizing upside from living in risk-taking and unpredictability. You don’t want to just survive rejection—you want to turn it into a strength.
Failure breeds success
It ain't about how hard you hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. It's how much you can take, and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done.
The desire to succeed is natural. But if you work inside a system where you’re always succeeding and winning, you cripple your potential for maximum growth—the parameters for your success is small. You always win, but the cost of constant success is the breadth of that success.
Innovation depends on risk-taking, boldness, and challenge. It depends on the “no’s.”
The “no’s” provide you with the feedback and insight you need to improve—but more importantly, they motivate you to try harder. They push you to constantly test boundaries, and strive at new heights. You chase more opportunities just outside your grasp.
You fail more, but you also win bigger and better.
In 2008, you could have bought 10% of Airbnb for $150,000—all seven investors they approached said “no.” Airbnb kept going strong, and today it’s a $25 billion dollar company.
Turn the “no” around into a positive force for constant movement and growth, and you’ll see outsized returns. Harness the power of the “no” to leap past the competition, and into the future.