“When deciding whether to commit to something, if I feel anything less than, “Wow! That would be amazing! Absolutely! Hell yeah!” - then my answer is no.” —Derek Sivers
The success of your startup hinges on your ability to say “no”. A lot.
The problem is, most founders and salespeople suck at it. They think that saying “no” is rude and selfish, and fear the consequences of rejecting others.
If that’s you, get over yourself. “Yes” is poisoning your business.
You’ve gotta learn to say “no”. But here’s the good news: If you handle it right, rejection can be the most valuable thing you have to give. The other party may even thank you afterwards.
Sounds crazy? Here’s how you can use rejection to provide immense value to other people in four of the most common startup situations.
The situation: You’ve had a large account in the pipeline for a couple of weeks. Their free trial is coming to an end and it’s time to for them to make a commitment. However, they say, “We’ve been trialing your competitor too, and they just quoted us a much lower price.”
Their request: “Can you beat their price?”
The problem: You can’t beat their price and, even if you could, you wouldn’t want to. But saying no could mean losing a major account.
Your response: “We’re not the cheapest option and we’re never going to be. Value is our priority, not price. But I’m curious: If pricing weren’t an issue, which one of us is more valuable to you? If it’s our competition, I want you to go with them. I’ll even help you get a cheaper price. But if it’s us, I want you to commit today. I think you know it’s worth every dollar.”
Why it works: You want this prospect to be successful, but if all they care about is price, they won’t succeed with your value-focused product. This response helps them get clear on their priorities and puts you in a position to help them out either way.
Check out GrooveHQ’s email template for rejecting discount requests as well.
Rejecting feature requests
The situation: You’re a new startup and have captured the attention of an enterprise account. They seem genuinely interested—if you’ll just do one "small" thing.
Their request: “Before we buy, we need you to add this feature.”
The problem: The feature isn’t on your roadmap and would take your product in a different direction.
Your response: “I understand why you want that feature, but that isn’t something I can do for you. Our focus is X, Y, & Z and that feature would move us away from that.
If this feature is really important to you, then we might not be a great fit for your needs. Have you heard of Company B? I hear they have that feature. Would you like me to reach out to them for you?”
Why it works: You need to protect the integrity of your product and your prospect needs to make sure your solution is going to fit their needs. Oftentimes the feature they want isn’t a deal-breaker anyway. And if it is, you’ve offered them a great alternative.
Want more advice on rejecting feature requests? Check out Intercom’s “Product strategy means saying no” website.
The situation: You’re a successful founder and have just been invited to a coffee meeting for the 50th time this week.
Their request: “I’d really appreciate your input on this problem I’m facing. Can I buy you a cup of coffee sometime next week and talk this over?”
The problem: Next week is busy. Next month is busy. The whole year is busy. You want to help them, but don’t have the time.
Your response: “I want to help you but I’m really busy right now. Why don’t you send me an email with your question? I’ll give it a look and get back to you later this week. Sounds good?”
Why it works: An email is going to get to the point a lot faster than a meeting. It forces them to articulate their point and gives you the opportunity to respond at your leisure. Most of the time, the questions they have can be answered entirely over messaging, no meeting required.
For an alternative way of rejecting meeting requests, check out Mark Suster’s advice.
The situation: Your company is expanding (awesome), and you need to start hiring (shitty). You’re five minutes into your first interview and already know you aren’t going to hire them.
Their request: “I think I could really help the company grow. When can I start? ”
The problem: They’re enthusiastic and talented but aren’t a good fit for your company.
Your response: “I’m going to stop you there. I really appreciate your interest, but I don’t think this is a good fit for you. Here’s why. Have you heard of Company C? A friend of mine works over there and is looking to hire someone like you. Would you like me to make an introduction? If so, here’s a couple of tips on how to interview well over there.”
Why it works: It never feels good to be rejected from a job, but your rejection provided them immense value. Although you didn’t hire them, you may be the reason they find their next job.
“Remember that a clear ‘No’ can be better and less painful for the other person than a vague or noncommittal ‘Yes.’” —Mattan Griffel
“Yes” isn’t helping anyone
When you say “yes” to everyone, you aren’t providing value. You’re being lazy. It doesn’t take skill to give people what they want. What takes skill is rejecting them in a way that is just as valuable as granting their request.
Your success and the success of others relies on your ability to say “no”. The secret is to follow that “no” with something of value.
Head down to the comments and tell us about the most difficult rejection you ever gave and share your thoughts on this article.
How to say no
This post was inspired by a conversation Hiten Shah and Steli had on our podcast, The Startup Chat. Listen to it here!
Learn to love the “no” (and win in sales)
It’s one thing to deliver rejection, it’s another thing to be rejected. Learn what your prospects mean when they say “no”.
Old-school sales rejection hacks
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