Why Sales People and Entrepreneurs Should Always Be Willing to Say Goodbye – by Carole Mahoney

If you are an entrepreneur, you are a sales person. I wish I didn’t have to clarify that, but if there is one skill entrepreneurs seem to lack it is the ability to sell. So crucial, yet so rare. No wonder so many start-ups fail.

Having learned the hard way as an entrepreneur myself, I’ve gotten a lot of slack for my “just say no” sales process. Maybe it comes from my lack of desire to waste time with prospects who will either never buy (from anyone), don’t want my solution, or don’t see me as a trusted advisor. Or perhaps it is the painful knowledge of what happens with PITAs.

Most recently it was when a prospect walked away and I said, “Good luck and take care.” Some interpreted that as telling them to f#$% off. (their words, not mine) Perhaps I should have chased after them, proposal in hand, saying now wait- this clearly isn’t a fit, but let’s drag this out more? Maybe we can do it again in the future? Delivery is everything in a good breakup, but that aside, sales people and entrepreneurs willing to say goodbye are more likely to get the right hellos. But only if you are willing to rip off that bandaid. My shortness has nothing to do with being angry at them because they wasted my time. Why would I be, if I was the one who let them? We both knew it wouldn’t work out even if they said yes, so why drag it out?

Why Do I Look for The No, Not the Yes?

If you are in B2B sales, or relationship selling, or consultative sales, or even looking for your next soul mate, heed these words. Look for the no and say so. What might be (or become) a stumbling block, a barrier to progress, or a reason why this might not work out in the future? If you are only looking for the yes, you will miss or worse, ignore, all those red flags. You will one day find yourself surprised and not sure what happened when that client fired you, didn’t refer you, or you were cheated on. When you ignore the red flags, they will bite in the rear quarters when you least expect it. Or it will keep you up at night waiting for the axe to fall and the shoe to drop. At least if you have a conscious it will.

(And as an aside-what those red flags are for your business will depend on the criteria of what makes a good fit for your product or service. What might not be a good fit for you, could be for someone else in your network. Refer them. If you have a good network it will likely come back to you in the form of a prospect that is a better fit.)

But here is the catch with saying goodbye. When you put your foot down as a sales person, when you say no, (I will not sell that to you, play that game, and be to willing to say the truth even if it upsets you) buyers who really do want to buy from you will come back ready to do what it takes to make it work with you and be successful. They might even be motivated to change or do something different then what they have in the past. Why? Who can really trust a yes (wo)man? Everyone else is telling them what they want to hear, “Yes- buy from me, I will solve your problem easy!”. rather then, “I’m not sure, what about this? That has gotten in your way before. And that has not been resolved yet, what are we going to do about those things?”

Some call this the push versus pull dynamic. I call it hard to get. Or just plain transparent and brutally (but tactfully) honest. It will require a lack of need for approval or fear of rejection. Two things that are not easy to come by. It will also require a certain strength of character and ethics that is rare.

When should you say goodbye, and when should you let it slide?

Here is a an example of how this might play out:

You develop a proposal and the other person says, “Thanks, we will think on it as we talk to a few others.” Now either you skipped a few steps in your process, didn’t get to the decision maker, or your soon to be buyers lied to you. Most likely it is a combination of all those things. So what do you do next?

Most will want to let it slide and keep trying to get their buyers to say yes. Emails like, “So, when are we going to start? Or meet again? Or make a decision?” go out and don’t get answered. Phone calls that start with, “It’s between you and one other company…” happen often.

How about “I’m sorry, I must have misunderstood where you were in your process or let things move to quickly without getting so-and-so involved. I’m taking my offer off the table.” or “You know, XYZ company really is a better fit for what I think you need, you should go with them.”

A few things can happen. They will either graciously (or not so graciously) accept your withdrawal and you both move on. They were not ready to buy, not now, not in a few weeks or months.

Or they will push back at your no and insist they do want to move forward. Now you have an opportunity to go back and make sure you covered the steps you missed before where you understood their need, their goals, their timeline, whether your solution and company was a fit, and if they wanted your help and were able to get it.

As with anything in life, if you are always willing to walk away (and do so!), then if they want you to stay they will make a move toward you. Then together you can decide the best way to move forward.

If you have read all the way to the end of this because this all sounds too familiar, maybe it’s time to change something?

Carole Mahoney is the Founder of Unbound Growth, a collaboration of individual B2B professional services firms and companies whose singular mission is bottom line business growth. As a sales coach she helps both new and experienced salespeople improve their skills and competencies to increase sales up to 73% within 45 days. She reveals her coaching secrets in her upcoming book.


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