The real meaning of no in sales

No. No thanks. Stop bugging me! Not interested.

Every day in telephone prospecting, we hear our contacts use several forms of the word no.  But when do you take “no” for “no,” and when might it mean something else?

The professional teleprospector goes beyond just “yes” and “no” in recording their conversations.  Corporate profits often depend on our ability to hear accurately and record responses to our queries in such a way that we enhance the value of the marketing databases that we feed information into.

Over the years, I’ve learned about three distinctions amongst the “no thanks” I receive, and learning those distinctions has helped me to teleprospecting success.  Here they are:


This is the prospect that really means they have no interest whatsoever in what I represent.  The product or service I offer has no fit with their company.  How do I tell this?

First, I have my criteria for the perfect prospect.  People in sales often forget that this is a two-way street.  We disqualify prospects as often or more often than they reject us.  So have your criteria.  If your list says the prospect must be willing and able to spend $50,000 on the purchase of a new software system, and your call reveals that the prospect only has authority to spend $15,000, walk away. DISqualified. This is a permanent no.

Another criteria often centers on geography.  If you’re going to be sending consultants and service technicians on site, and the prospect is not able to pay travel fees, you need to limit the miles you can have someone drive to take care of that prospect. DISqualified.

And the prospect may disqualify him or herself simply by saying something like, “We just bought 100 new widgets, which will hold us over until we transition to doodads next year.” You sell widgets, and the prospect will be looking for doodads. Permanent no.


The temporary no is an interesting prospect because in this situation, the prospect may honestly believe they don’t want what you have to offer and are trying to be kind by firmly stating their lack of interest.

And yet . . .

During your conversation, Mr. Jones distinctly said that his service contract with your competitor expires in January next year.  He also said he was looking for some detail you know your product offers.  And he admits to being too busy to begin looking for a replacement for your competitor. That is a temporary no.

When you receive a temporary no in your prospecting work, you’ve as good as hit gold.  Using what you now know about Mr. Jones and his upcoming needs, you can design a follow-up campaign to stay in his consciousness, and make a good impression.  And do you know what the best thing is in this situation?  Your competition probably doesn’t even realize that you’re making progress with Mr. Jones while they’re assuming a loyal relationship exists. They’re not working on the Jones account.  Who do you really think is going to get that next service contract?


This is the prospect you need to be most careful about.  It is the prospect who sounds completely engaged with you only to turn around and buy from someone else. Scoundrels!

The thing is, most people don’t want to waste your time any more than their own, so the tire-kicker scenario is at least 50% your own fault.  Here’s how it works:

  1. You dial in with your pre-call research complete.  Because you’re armed with great knowledge about your prospect, you get right through to the person you’re seeking—the person you think is the decision maker.
  2. You build a relationship with the prospect. Ms. Moffit seems like a very capable decision maker and kind person.  She asks you lots of questions, which, as a good teleprospector you’re ready and willing to answer.
  3. The sales process starts dragging, but Ms. Moffit asks for a demo.  Eagerly you set something up with your technical people and Ms. Moffit’s team.  The demo goes very well.
  4. Suddenly, after weeks or even months of working on this lead you get a Request for Proposal (RFP) from Ms. Moffit’s company.  Mr. Smith, Ms. Moffit’s boss, has decided to step in and take charge of the purchase.  They built a beautiful RFP using all the specifications and knowledge you shared with Ms. Moffit. 
  5. The sale goes to a competitor who under-bids you in that RFP process. Ouch!

Now, I’m not saying that tire-kickers lead you around with the intention of ripping you off, but I do suggest that at every step in your sales relationship you get something in return for every gift of information you give:

  • Confirm and reconfirm that your contact has the decision-making authority to work with you.
  • When they want more information about your product, you must receive more information about their buying process and plans. Be bold. Ask if they use RFPs in their purchasing process. Ask who else will be in on the final purchase approval. Ask if there are any gotchas you should be aware of.
  • If a major decision-maker change occurs, ask your contact to introduce you to the new decision maker as quickly as possible and give you the opportunity to create a good impression with that new decision maker.
  • Continually ask yourself if the process is going well, or if you’re wearing your happy ears. Challenge yourself so that you’re never taken by surprise.

I know this seems like a lot of detail work, but I believe it’s better to do this work up front and waste a day, than to allow yourself to be taken by surprise after weeks or months of sales work goes up in smoke with a two-letter note in your contact management system: no.

Permanent, temporary, or tire-kicker. These are the kind of notes I record, and they help me focus on moving to yes.

Keep dialing.

Categories: Sales & Marketing