How to Say NO to a Client
In the world of marketing it’s almost a truism that you never say no to a client. After all, we’re in a service-based industry and we’re here to fulfill the needs of our customers. Doing what they ask us to do is how we make our living. (Some agencies even make it part of their core philosophy that the answer is always “yes”.)
But saying “no” to a client is sometimes the best thing to do, and saying “no” can lead to a better long-term relationship.
So how do you pitch that “no”?
Explain that you respect them too much to lie to them.
As a general rule, lying to clients is not something that is going to benefit you over the long run. If saying “yes” means promising a client you’ll do something you just aren’t equipped to do, or provide a service that you don’t offer, or complete something in a time frame that isn’t realistic, don’t do it.
Think about it as a business person. Your instinct might tell you, “This is business, it’s paying work for a good client, maybe we can find a way to wing it.” but if you follow that line of thought, you’ll realize that you might have to approach a client later and tell them you misled them, confront them with failure, and have a conversation that will be far worse than honestly telling them “no” from the start would have been. A conversation like that can destroy a business relationship.
Educate your client about what they’re asking for.
If you’re honest with your client 100% of the time, you can build trust and foster better relationships with the people you do business with. Telling a client, “what you want done takes more time/money/effort than you think it does because of reasons x, y, and z” can be part of a learning process that may make them better appreciate the value of your services. Honestly letting someone know that they are requesting a service that you don’t provide, or in an area where you have no expertise, and educating them on a possible alternative is going to at least let them know that you have integrity, and that you’re not going to steer them wrong. It teaches them that when you say you can do something, that you can actually deliver – because they’ve learned that if you can’t, you’ll tell them so.
And of course, sometimes a client asks you to do something and it’s just a terrible idea. Sometimes they may ask you to do something that is damaging to their brand image, or that conflicts with another area of their overall marketing strategy. When that happens, you need to have a conversation with them, and persuade them not to insist on doing something that is self-destructive. It helps to go into that conversation with some credibility and trust on your side. If you have the budget for it, do some research, provide some examples and show them why what they’re asking for just won’t work.