Taking "No" Off the Table
Recently, I went to my local Subway restaurant for lunch. As I waited in line I listened to the owner ask each customer, "How many cookies would you like?" Every person in line bought cookies. When I got to the register I commented on his great strategy: offering customers an item without the option of a simple yes or no answer. The owner said he hadn't thought of it as a strategy, but a way to remind customers of dessert, and that he indeed sold out of cookies every afternoon. It impressed me enough to think of how business owners can take "No" off the table when dealing with customers, leaving opportunity and "Yes" as the best option.
Ask questions that lead to a conversation without "no" as an option. Ask customers what services or benefits they're looking for as everyone has a business need, whether it's cheaper prices, better service, or more options. So ask customers what they've been looking for in a (insert your profession here: lawyer, accountant, service provider) which opens the door for you to tell them all about your services, experience and qualifications.
If a client says they don't need your services, ask them "why?". Sometimes it's just cost but even that can leave room for you to negotiate fees in a way that is a win/win. I recently gained a new client by lowering my fees during an initial period while they were in the midst of raising another round of capital, with the fees being increased three months down the road. I showed that I valued their business enough to accommodate their short-term cash crunch and guarantee that I would be part of their business team as the company grew.
Sometimes "no" is about today being a bad day, or another person needing to be included in the decision making process. Ask how you can provide them with more information with which to compare or evaluate the value of your services. Ask a client if "no" is just for today. Situations change and showing that the "no" did not turn you off shows perseverance and interest. Ask when you can next touch base with them to see if their needs have changed.
Offer the gift of reciprocity. Even if a customer says "No," ask how you can help them in any other area: referrals, advice, suggestions, and introductions. People, if given the chance to reciprocate, may offer leads to other potential clients.
More than anything I believe that "if you don't ask, you don't get," but how you ask is equally important. So ask in a manner that creates the atmosphere that builds a conversation rather than just a yes or no response.