Guest Post: The Power of No

[tweetmeme source=”lovestats” only_single=false]By Brett Jarvis, @SawtoothConsult

According to the old maxim, the customer is always right. But I’ve always believed that it’s each of our jobs to help our customers be more right. And we’re really doing our jobs if we get them to help their customers be more right. A powerful tool in this effort is knowing when to tell customers “No,” and perhaps more importantly, to teach them when to say “No” themselves.

As market researchers, it’s essential to have informed dialog with our clients to come to the best business decisions. Sometimes the best decision is to choose not to do something. Those decisions often take more courage – and insight – than the decision to do something.

As researchers, we need to make clear what the market is telling our clients. And sometimes the market is telling the client “No.” For example, we as researchers may:

  • Recommend that clients select specific target segments for their products and say “No” to others. It takes discipline to do so, as many clients want to “be all things to all people,” but ultimately the targeted approach results in an extremely relevant product and precision messaging for segmented customer groups.
  • Encourage a no-go decision when there is only lukewarm reaction from the market for a new product idea. When made properly, that decision is still a success, as it saves money, it saves time, and it saves face.
  • Tell the client “No” to adding every bell and whistle to a product. We can help clients focus on what’s most valuable, marketable and profitable – and avoid over-engineering.
  • Recommend that the client not expand their product line – and perhaps even shrink the product line, which in certain cases can be a far more successful approach. This approach can also provide focus and clarity in marketing and reduce costs.

“No” might be a difficult message to communicate, especially if the organization is very enthusiastic about an idea. But we need to arm the sponsor with the insights needed to make those difficult recommendations and to help the client organization as a whole make the right business decision. That is when we know that we are truly adding value – when we help the client make a difficult, but impactful, business decision. Even when that decision is to say “No.”

Of course, we don’t need to run around saying “No” all the time, but you’ll find that saying “No” when that’s the right decision breeds trust – akin to the mechanic who tells you that you actually don’t need work on your brakes right now. Clients with whom you have that level of openness are more likely to return in the future and they’ll know they can rely on you for objective advice.

So while you’re out there making sure that the customer is as right as can be, it’s important to remember that that might just be best accomplished through the Power of “No.”

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    One response

    1. As a consultant, I sometimes say “No” for clients. I have been offered contracts to write proposals for a competition where I KNOW the client is not competitive. I tell them as politely as possible that neither of us have infinite time and resources so it is better for me to work for someone who does have the expertise to compete in a particular field.

      A few have yelled at me and told me I must be independently wealthy to turn down their business. Most really appreciate the honesty though, and when I suggest later a proposal where I think they do have a high probability of success they are excited to follow through.

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