Don't be scared of a quality 'no'

by Jerrod Westfahl, AgriSync

Photo by Henry Burrows (CC BY-SA 2.0)

One of the hardest parts of being a young company with a great idea is hearing ‘no.’ It can feel like a vote of no confidence in your abilities and your vision. You’ve probably heard positive comments from your longtime friends and family members up to this point, and maybe even a few potential customers. They have been the fuel that kept you going as you stepped out and took a big risk starting your business. Hearing ‘yes’ feels really good.

What feels bad is hearing ‘no.’ When a potential customer declines to place an order or buy your product it’s a hard ‘no’ to swallow for most entrepreneurs. So much time and energy has gone into getting a product or product concept polished and the unique selling proposition honed. Every dime of revenue has major importance for your financial plan and your ability to get beyond the next quarter or even the next few weeks.

So, if you’re like me you your first instinct is to avoid ‘no’ as much as possible and run away from it when you hear it. Don’t.  Instead, embrace every ‘no.’ Turn it into a quality ‘no’ by probing, listening, and capturing additional details. Doing this in the earliest days of your business will be as valuable, or even more valuable, than all the positive encouragement. Here are two ways to get a quality ‘no.’

Quality ‘no’ with customers:  When a prospect says ‘no’ let him or her know that, if they aren’t going to buy now, then they can help with a bit more feedback. They’ll usually be glad to give you a few more minutes of their time. Take advantage and ask probing questions to learn additional insight that can help you improve your product or your pitch or both. Consider the following questions.

  • Is the price point the challenge?
  • Is the customer's pain point or need misunderstood?
  • Where is the missing connection between your product or service and value that the prospect can get from it?

Exploring these and other topics and being genuinely open to hearing the feedback can lead to a quality ‘no.’

Quality ‘no’ with investors: It can be tricky to get a quality ‘no’ from a potential investor or advisor because often there is not a direct or clear ‘no’ to begin with. Instead you may hear, “Let's keep in touch as you grow and meet more of your milestones,” or “This has been a good discussion. Let me think about it and get back to you.” These are often code for ‘no.’ Dig deeper and get quality feedback in the moment if you can without burning bridges or being rude. Consider asking:

  • What additional information can I provide to help you get to a decision?
  • What do you see as the next steps to help us bring the discussion to a clear outcome?

These questions usually lead to additional feedback about where the potential investor or advisor is struggling to see a fit between them and you. It's okay if the fit is not right. It is not okay to be uncertain and continue spending your precious time looking for a fit that the other party really doesn't want or think is possible.

I encourage you to fight the urge to avoid or hurry away from situations that aren’t purely positive and reinforcing. When you hear a clear ‘no’ or if you aren’t sure it’s a ‘yes,’ stay put and gather some value from the moment by seeking a quality ‘no.’ Remember, you’ll always have your closest cheerleaders to give you a pat on the back when you need it.

Jerrod Westfahl is the co-founder of AgriSync, a customer support mobile app that connects agribusiness owners with trusted advisors. Before starting AgriSync, Jerrod was CEO of PurpleWave, Inc. and a lawyer in private practice. AgriSync was a finalist in the Farm Bureau Rural Entrepreneurship Challenge