Why we need to know how to say No! (Nicely)

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Sad contractorAs I write this blog posting, we are dealing with an unhappy client.  He operates a very small start-up business and thought our publications could help him reach the market for his services.  He inquired through our online form, and I forwarded the inquiry to one of the company’s sales representatives.

As things evolved, the client “signed up” for a contract/package involving an editorial profile and ongoing advertising.  But I felt quite uncomfortable about this customer.  I sensed every cent counts, and he had hopes for immediate and measurable results.

Advertising can be a challenging business expense.  Sophisticated business owners and managers appreciate the challenges of creating appealing messages, in the correct media, that draw enough responses to be profitable.  To achieve results, they can either use high powered (and relataively expensive) consultants or they need to play something of a trial-and-error game, at least until they achieve a degree of baseline success where the cost per lead is at least marginally profitable.  Once the advertiser reaches this stage, he can spend more time testing variations (content, media, frequency, etc.) for better results, dropping bad ideas and adding good ones, all with the aim of reducing the true lead cost.

These points seem quite basic, but to someone just starting out, juggling the challenges of a diversity of undelegatable responsibilities, the process of trying, testing, evaluating and retesting advertising — especially when you are still even seeking to reach the baseline in measuring cost-per-lead — can be truly daunting.  The start-up businessperson instead might fall for the dream I did when much younger.  “If I purchase an ad in a publication with 5,000 circulation and only one per cent are interested, that would be five orders — and that would be quite okay with me.  But maybe I’ll get 10 or 15.”

This sort of wishful thinking leads to despair when, for one reason or another, the advertising doesn’t generate even a single valid lead.  Telling the hard-pressed (and cash short ) entrepreneur to keep trying, and spend even more money on the hopes that the advertising might eventually succeed, is folly.

I’ve always advocated that we should never push very small businesses — where the cost of advertising in our publications would be a significant burden — to spend money with us.  These clients can be only-to-eager to believe a sales reps “pitch” — playing into their dreams, which, while sincere, may simply not be practical in the short term.

My approach:  Recommend the right service or even no service to the client who will strain resources to do business with us.  Encourage and suggest alternatives — the best including non-profit or association resources.

We’ll of course do our best to ensure the dissatissfied small cleint  is treated with respect and given the value he ultimately deserves.  But I sense the priority should have been at the start — in neither pushing nor inducing the small business owner to do business with us.  Sometimes we need to say “No!”

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