Monday, January 9, 2012

“No” is not the end of the conversation

For salespeople, fundraisers and businesspeople, making sure that we learn something new from every interaction with a current or prospective buyer (or donor) can convert a “no” into future success.

This was brought to mind by a book that I am currently reading and an article I recently read - combined with a lesson learned early in my career.

The book is a classic. In fact, I’m almost embarrassed to say I am reading it for the first time. Dale Carnegie’s, How to Win Friends and Influence People is filled with timeless wisdom. Its insights are as relevant today as they were when it was published 76 years ago. They’re the kinds of things that will make you say, “Oh yeah, I know that” and then realize that you’re not putting them into action. Carnegie’s approach is all about putting the other person first with imperatives like “Become genuinely interested in other people” and, “Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.”

The article is from the current issue of Motivated magazine. In it, Stuart Knight argues that the key to realizing business and professional goals is what he calls “Powerful Conversations.” Meaningfully connecting with people, Knight argues, should be at the top of all of our to-do lists and is the ability that distinguishes the most successful people in any field. As he says, “Success … [is] not directly related to how many people you know, it has everything to do with the number of people who feel like you know them.”

So, how can we transform all of this great advice about conversations into something more results oriented? I was taught an invaluable lesson learned during my career in headhunting, which, by the way, is probably the world’s most challenging sales environment. In the course of any week, I would make at least 100 cold calls and more often than not, I didn’t get the answer I was looking for. But the owners of the agency drummed a very simple principle into our heads - even if you don't make a sale, learn something from every phone call. Discover something you didn’t know about the person the company or the industry. The point was to make every call worthwhile because you never knew when the information gained could be used to your advantage.

How can all of us involved in promoting our businesses, raising funds for a cause or selling a product, get greater value out of the thousands of solicitations we make every year – even when we get “no” for an answer? Easy. Just ask questions. The answers may produce leads, provide the basis for a future pitch or simply enhance our understanding. Here are some examples:

  • What do you think are the prospects for your industry in the coming year?
  • Who do you see as the leaders in the field? 
  • Do you think your charitable giving will increase or decrease this year?
  • What organizations are you volunteering for?
  • What charitable organizations do you think are doing the best job?
  • What are your company’s (or department’s) major goals for the year?
  • What do you think was the most notable advance in your industry last year?

Admittedly, this all relates to the rather low-tech realm of phone or face to face contact. But I think the principles can be adapted to e-communication and in fact successful use of social media lies in maximizing the potential to learn something from every interaction.

For me the key is to not regard “no” as the end of the conversation but rather to use it as a point from which to build relationships and increase knowledge.

What do you think?


  1. This is a great reminder that building relationships with people is, fundamentally, at the heart of our endeavor. It's easy to get carried away with technological bells and whistles. And we can't ignore the fact that there are multiple communication channels these days where our prospects are to be found. Yet, whatever channel we're in, we need to show our supporters that we know them. It's not just about us making a pitch, and them giving us an answer. It's about us finding out what they know/don't know about us and what they care about. When they see we're listening, that's when they'll begin to engage.

  2. Claire, thanks for your comment. In addition to what you said so eloquently, I would add that these are lessons that are both timeless and common to every field of endeavor.