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When Do You Say NO in Order to Sell More?

You need to say NO more — so you can create more profits.

A strong brand promise (or what your company stands for) makes it clear what to say NO to — saying YES to everything means you stand for nothing, with high costs.

You just presented your prospect with a proposal. Now they’ve read it, asked you some questions, and seem ready to decide. The first words out of their mouth are, “Well, your price is too high,” and, “We need to change the start to next Monday and be done in three weeks, not five.”

Now is the time to say NO! The prospect just tried to change the engagement and the price. If your proposal was based on a specific Scope of Work created jointly with the client and value priced, the only way to prove your brand integrity and that of your proposal is to say NO!

Say NO to any change to a reasonable price or a jointly developed scope of work or the timeframe or any other key elements. Saying NO is part of dominating niches, managing margins, controlling cost, proving you know what you’re doing and demonstrating you’re a person and company of integrity.

The other side of this is that when you say YES to any deal just to grow, you will be faced with a random cost structure versus one that’s aligned to your brand promise. With an unaligned random cost structure, a bad economy or good competitor will put you at risk. Your business cost structure must align to your revenue strategy and brand promise for profitability, as well as prove to the market who you are, and avoid being a causality.

A company’s integrity never shows more clearly than when its team is being considered for a contract and says, “NO, I may not be the right partner for you,” or when you hold steady on a value-based price.

Good buyers want to deal with good sellers with integrity, who:

  1. Can be trusted,
  2. Proactively inform you of problems and the solutions to these problems before you even start to worry,
  3. Give you a price because it is fair to both parties, and
  4. Deliver what they promise, when it’s promised.

Saying YES to every deal, price, and customer demand is not creditable and screams “I am a commodity — we will do anything for a sale.” Always saying YES forces the buyer to question everything you say. It is only when you say NO that the buyer understands who you are and what your brand promise really stands for.

Good sellers demonstrate integrity by saying NO at times like this:

  1. NO, I can’t discount this deal and still meet your deadline.
  2. NO, the design you want will not hold up or meet your maintenance goals.
  3. NO, I can’t help you — this is not the type of work where we can profitably add value.
  4. NO, we can’t deliver a customized high-quality job and beat your lowest quote.

Three things likely happen when you say NO:

  1. The buyer wants you more because they have found someone of integrity who wants to partner with them for the long-term, not just complete a transaction and get a check.
  2. When a buyer can’t buy from you because there is not a good match, they know who you are and canrefer you to their friends and peers since they are now clear about what you really do, and they oftenknow someone who needs exactly that.
  3. Your brand gains clarity with every NO by showing your market the focus and bounds of your brand promise.

Saying NO gets you leverage because it erases the buyers’ confusion and mistrust, and lowers the risk of not really knowing what they can count on you for.

As important as it is to say NO to demonstrate your integrity and establish a cost structure supporting your buyers, it is just as important to demonstrate integrity to your staff and partners. The only way for staff and partners to align with you is for them to know your true strategy and execution plan. Saying NO makes these clear. Every time you say NO (with integrity) your whole team gets a better idea about when to say YES.

That buyer will pay more, sign faster and be more likely to buy from you when you run a business based on integrity. The only way people can know the difference between BS and integrity is when and why you say NO — so say it purposefully!

The market will know who you are by your actions. When you say YES to everything or say NO without integrity, you lose control of who the market thinks you are. So take control and prepare to say NO by:

  1. Getting really clear about your company strategy.
  2. Building a clear and executable revenue strategy to support your company strategy.
  3. Being very specific about what niches you will dominate.
  4. Knowing the exact problem you solve for your buyer that no one else solves.
  5. Building a culture that delivers your brand promise 100 percent of the time and saying NO to everything else.

Start saying NO and liking it!

[EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is part of a series by Rick McPartlin exploring the challenges and realities of growing revenue and expanding sales in the new 21st-century economy. See also:

This topic and more are included in the Vistage Connect™ CEO peer advisory sessions. Learn more.

Rick McPartlin is the CEO of The Revenue Game and is a revenue generation consultant and Vistage speaker. McPartlin was a Vistage member development chair from 2002 to 2009.

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  1. Avatar


    December 5, 2011 at 2:18 am


    Good philosophy/ startegy , it certainly concurrs with our experience as sales trainers at Neal & Associates Business Consultants.


  2. Avatar

    Pauline O'Malley

    December 8, 2011 at 4:36 pm

    Rick. Brilliant! It combines focusing on your target market, with the “take away”, with positioning, and… with moral integrity nicely mixed in. Can’t wait for your next one. 

  3. Avatar


    December 16, 2011 at 12:34 pm


    You totally nailed it, and I just printed your post and posted it on the wall by my phone as a reminder!


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