Original post : 10 Apr 2012

Just say no - being cruel to be kind!

Yes, no or maybe?When my boss at BT, the Marketing Director, received calls from sales people (mainly marketing agencies) he would always say, "You need to speak to Sharon. She makes those decisions. Here's her number." When they contacted me I knew that my most likely response would be, "Thanks but no thanks". I was open to their approach, would listen and give it fair consideration, but if there was no real opportunity or likelihood that we would give them any business then I would very openly, politely and straighforwardly tell them so.

Why couldn't my boss do this himself? He was an intelligent guy of high integrity, but he was terrible at turning people down. He wasn't really worried about hurting their feelings or not being liked, what he hated was closing down opportunities. He saw the possibilities in everything even when, according to my more pragmatic and realistic view of the world, resources were limited and you can't do everything. 

If resources are limited in a big company like BT now, as a small business owner, they seem even more so - time in particular is a precious commodity. I am dismayed therefore to find so many people who find it difficult to say no - or is it just me that suffers from this problem? (If so I need to know!)

I'm talking about people who don't return personal calls or emails, not people who don't respond to direct marketing. If I'm feeling charitable then I choose to believe that there are lots of people out there who are just like my old boss and who don't want to give up on an opportunity. On my less charitable days then I get angry about the lack of courtesy and respect that one business owner is prepared to show to another.

If you prepare a quote or a proposal for someone and they never get back to you what are you supposed to think?

  1. They are too busy?
  2. They are too scared to deliver bad news?
  3. They can't be bothered?
  4. They want you to work harder to get their business?

When we put a proposal together for a marketing programme it entails a lot of work researching the opportunity and tailoring the proposal. It is therefore a costly exercise. I know not all proposals are going to convert to business but getting feedback on why the prospective client is not interested in going ahead, where you failed to demonstrate the appropriate value, or how circumstances have changed is invaluable.

This is a marketing issue - we all need feedback in order to improve the standard of our services and then, hopefully, our conversion rates. 

It is good business practice to follow up submission of quotes or proposals but after how many unreturned emails or calls should I be getting the message (choose which message from 1-4 above)?

I genuinely believe that there are times when it is better to be cruel to be kind - to deliver the bad news to someone quickly and directly rather than keep them holding on, hoping, wishing and wondering!

My personal values (as those of you who know me will, I hope, testify) are to be honest and straightforward with people. I don't like to lead people on and, I know, this can come across as harsh at times. But why waste people's time? Let's be supportive to each other and show appropriate respect!


From these comments and the emails I've had I seem to have hit a nerve - lots of grumpy business people fed up with being treated rudely! Mind you, I have to admit to ignoring those sales people who contact me via my web form to offer me services. They are obviously posting on as many sites as they can so I just treat it as spam and assume they will go away!
Comment by Sharon - 13 Apr 2012 16:34
Completely agree Sharon. We must be cut from the same cloth. In my corporate HR days I always used to return calls even though I knew some were from sales people who I didn't want to speak to and they were often suprised that I had. I just felt it was common courtesy. And I also tried to be good at saying no so that they didn't keep calling. The sad thing is that some people will ask for a proposal as an alternative to saying no, which is the ultimate in disrespect given the amount of time and energy that you will be putting in to them. Maybe everyone needs a 'Sharon', like your old Marketing Director ;-)
Comment by Jo Dodds - 12 Apr 2012 20:47
Oh yes, this is a blog I just have to tweet as I'm sure it'll resonate with many people. I've experienced this myself - spending time remotely and in a meeting, only to wait ages, or get fobbed off when trying to make contact with the company/person who I've put effort into. There becomes a feeling of "how rude is that person?!" Should there be more respect for suppliers in general? Yes - to the cold caller, respect comes in the form of saying "No" early on (to not send them down a wrong path and let them get on with calling the next person); to the potential supplier who has clearly spent lots of time on providing a proposal, respect should come in the form of having an internal process that ensures that there is communication back to the person/company trying to get the business. Unfortunately, some people in a buying position think it's ok to have no respect for potential suppliers and you'd hope that some day, they'd be in a similar position themselves so they can feel what it's like. Or maybe we should all be smarter in how we provide proposals? Maybe we should present them along with a tick list of when we will follow up with them, so that there's some sort of expectation to get a response. Perhaps even there's scope to have the guts to say to a potential customer "We would like to work for you but can you please confirm that you will respond to our input within an appropriate timeframe?". Really interesting topic Sharon - not seen this sort of subject posted before.
Comment by Andy Harris - 12 Apr 2012 20:05
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