Never Say 'No' to a Client (Try These Alternatives Instead)
Shawna Keen is vice president of sales at Juice Marketing, a marketing production house focused on creating interactive experiences, which includes disciplines like branded merch, web development, video production, fulfillment, print and creative services too.
Juice works on a wild diversity of projects. If there’s ever a company that understands pushing boundaries outside of normal scope, it’s Juice. In addition to creating work for some of the most reputable brands in the world (Apple, Google, Amazon, Boeing … the list goes on), they constantly find themselves at the edge of the unknown.
This is why Keen’s advice is applicable to us all: “Never say no.” Given the supply chain issues, that’s admittedly hard advice to follow if Keen were to leave it at that simple statement. But she shared how we can lean into a hard "no," without closing the door on an opportunity:
“Much of what we say to our customers on a day-to-day or hour-to-hour basis reflects our value in their eyes. How we speak to them about projects, particularly difficult projects, and what we say, can greatly elevate or diminish this value. Sometimes we must say ‘no,’ but we should do so in a way that doesn’t create roadblocks between the customer and us. Instead, we always want to open new avenues of opportunity. Changing how we say ‘no’ has power: ‘No, we can’t do that, but what we can do is...’”
Given the massive disruption in our supply chain, Keen’s advice is crucial for both suppliers and distributors. Being transparent with customers about the limitations, while also exploring alternatives is what we, as an industry, have always done best, but Keen’s point is imperative right now for teams who are constantly having to say "no."
How we communicate to our customers in a moment’s stress reflects the fundamental core of who we are as a business. In an interview with Bryan Papé from MiiR, he talked about shifting from values to practices when working with clients.
“It’s the best piece of advice I’ve had in my entire career, it’s so easy and so practical and useful," said Papé. "Five or six years ago, we were clarifying our values. While we landed on some really great values, about a year or so later we were talking with the consultant who worked with us on those values, and she said, ‘Values sit on a wall and collect dust. If they’re not living and breathing daily, they’re just words,’ which flipped the switch for me,” he continued. “Make sure your values are translating into actual practices.”
At MiiR, their values are summed up in four statements: “Be open, find a way, start with yes, and enjoy the ride.” Papé said, “If you were to tap into our calls or emails with our team, you would hear them communicate these values in practice, you would hear them say things like, ‘Hey, Megan, I really appreciate you finding a way to get this project going’ or ‘Thank you for being open to our ideas.’ It’s simple but impactful.”
In our industry, it’s easy to buckle under the pressure from a client or (if you’re a supplier), under the pressure from a distributor when there’s no real clear answer. Keen’s “never say ‘no’” and Papé’s “start with ‘yes’” are not merely statements, but ways to be, and principles we can put into practice every day.
Words are like magic in that they are two-sided acts, acting on both the speaker and the hearer at the same time. Speaking action “no, we can’t do that but we can...” puts you in the driver’s seat and gives the customer the confidence that no matter what they throw at you, you will always find a way to say "yes."
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