Saying “no” for the greater good

Being responsible for the success of your company means that you strive to achieve maximum happiness levels for your customers, employees, and stakeholders. So of course, your first instinct tells you to say yes to each and every request. Saying no is so much harder, but there are many cases in which a “no” is indeed in the best interest of your company and, in the long run, for everyone involved, including your customer base. Let’s take a look at situations in which a “no” makes sense and really shouldn’t be this hard.

No to a feature

“If we only had this feature, we’d win every deal”. I’m sure you’ve heard similar statements from your sales reps. And yes, your reps are the ones who directly interact with your prospects, so it’s only natural for them to share a prospect’s comment during a demo with your product manager or leadership. Feedback from your reps is vitally important and you should always hear them out. But it’s equally crucial to teach your reps to ask questions with regard to the prospect’s objectives rather than about their preference of a specific feature. Sometimes, another vendor may have sold the prospect on a certain feature but there may be better ways to accomplish the prospect’s goals. Or maybe the flashy feature that your competitor made sound so appealing just doesn’t fit into your vision of your product and the future of the industry or isn’t even in the best interest of your customers. Understanding your prospects’ goals and identifying the ideal way to help them achieve those goals should be at the core of your road map. And that may very well mean saying no to a feature request. Take all feedback seriously but to stay true to your vision and always have the best interests of your customers at heart. Don’t dilute your product with features that might result in a quick win (as in increased sales) in the short term but that make your software hard to maintain, don’t drive the desired results for your customers, or prevent you from working on better, more impactful features.

No to customizations

Similarly, your prospects may approach you with customization requests. Typically, the younger your company and the more prestigious the potential customer is, the more inclined you are to say yes. Be cautious. Once again, consider the long term impact. How hard will it be to maintain the customization? Is a SaaS based model what you ultimately strive for? If so, how will you handle clients who have their own customized product? Does it even make sense for the client? Customization requests can spawn a lot of great ideas for your road map, so be sure to listen and ask questions. But don’t be afraid to say no to something that will hamstring your engineering and support team.

No to projects

At Hannon Hill, we’re lucky enough to have a thick pipeline of project requests from our customers, ranging from small implementations to content migrations and even large scale integrations. Occasionally, the scope of a request falls outside of what we typically provide. Clearly, we would never take on a project if we thought it to be a bad fit for our areas of expertise. We want to focus on what we do best. We will consider saying yes if a) we fully understand the scope and the risks, b) it’s something that will make future projects and helping other customers easier, and c) it helps our team members grow professionally. However, if the answer to those questions is no or if we believe that our partners are better suited and can deliver better results, it’s a no. After all, would you want your plumber to install your hardwood floors?

No to terms and conditions

Ah, contract negotiations. They sure can be tricky. As a software company, you protect yourself by having a license or subscription agreement in place which clearly states your and your users’ responsibilities. It defines warranties, liabilities and indemnification and outlines processes for remediation in case of a dispute. Sometimes, your potential customers want to negotiate the terms of your agreement or even provide their own contract. What do you do? You can either stand firm or negotiate. In certain circumstances, it may be okay to make a concession, while in other cases, you need to assess whether the level of risk of agreeing to a change is worth it. As you know, even the most rigorous QA process can only reveal the presence of bugs, but not their absence. If the potential customer’s terms specify warranties and liabilities that open your company up to a potential financial loss that is disproportionate to the value of the deal, saying “yes” would not make sense, but narrowing down the definitions of the terms would. At the end of the day, a customer who is a good fit will shy away from working with a vendor who will agree to just about anything to get the deal, even if that means jeopardizing the longevity of the business.

No to a prospect

Arguably the hardest “no” happens when you have to walk away from a potential customer. But sometimes, a prospect is simply not the right fit for your product, your service, or your company. This can have a variety of reasons. The prospect may not have the proper staff to be successful with your product. They may have unrealistic goals or expectations. They may actually need a completely different type of product. They may not even really understand their own needs or need something that is not your area of expertise. Regardless, reject the idea that any new customer is good for business. Wouldn’t you rather provide good guidance to your prospects by saying “no” than to lose them once they see for themselves that it wasn’t a good fit to begin with? The wrong fit is bad for all parties involved. It can have a negative impact on team morale and on your reputation (and thus, future business).

At the end of the day, you want to deliver the right product to the right customers under the right conditions in order to ensure long term success and happiness. And that’s why a quick yes isn’t always the right answer. Say no when it’s for the greater good.

What about you? When do you find it unnecessarily hard to say no?

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