It is a known fact that every business thrives on its customer base. However, you need to learn how to say no to a potential client.
This might sound counterintuitive given that what your business should be looking at is increasing customer strength and not rejecting prospects.
However, as we consider this article, you will see certain situations whereby saying no to a potential client is the best option.
This might suffice when you are a freelancer, a business owner, or even an employee working with a company.
Before then, though, we will see who a potential client is and where to find them.
We will also review certain factors that might make the conversion of a potential client more harmful than beneficial for your business and/or the client.
Additionally, there will be an enumeration of some professional ways to say no to a potential client without ruining long-term relationships and reputations.
Let us begin understanding who a client is and what we really mean by a potential client.
Who is a Potential Client?
By now, you should probably understand who a client is.
A client is someone who buys products or patronizes the services your company or business offers consistently.
This consistency differentiates a client from a customer, as a buyer would attain the status of being a client after a series of patronage.
With this background information, it is easier to define who a potential client is.
The word ‘Potential’ would usually refer to that which has the ability or capacity to develop into something in the future.
In this context, a potential client can be defined as someone who can and is very likely to patronize your business in the future.
This one might have indicated an interest in the products and services you offer.
Or it might be that you have studied his/her purchase behavior and preferences and believe they will make a good client for your business.
These are also known as your Target Market or Target Audience.
It is worth noting that not all who are yet to buy or patronize your business are potential clients.
They must be capable of becoming a client in the future based on some of the things we’ve mentioned above.
When you understand who your potential customers or clients are, it offers many benefits to your business.
For one thing, you can adequately and accurately channel your marketing efforts to the right people and not waste resources.
Now that we’ve clearly understood who a potential client is, let us see why it might be beneficial to sometimes say no to such.
When To Say No To a Potential Client Or Why Say No To A Potential Client?
It is a fact that the abiding goal of every business owner is to grow his/her business while keeping a robust customer base and maximizing profits.
Because of this, it is always tempting for you to want to say ‘Yes’ to every customer or potential client that walks through your door.
The reason for this is very understandable given that you cannot achieve business growth without your clients.
However, certain situations might warrant you as a business owner saying ‘No’ to a potential client.
This might involve saying No to their requests or not accepting to do business with them altogether.
Let us look at some of the reasons for that:
Saying Yes Would Run Your Funds Thin
You might need to say ‘No’ to a potential client if saying yes to them would adversely affect your company resources.
Sometimes, you have potential clients who make requests that are quite huge and capital intensive.
While you trust your expertise to attend to these requests, it would have a huge impact on your company’s purse.
Every business establishment sets a budget for a business year and endeavors to operate within this budget.
Therefore, when you receive certain proposals from a potential client which might run down this budget or even indebt you, it is wiser to decline kindly.
These proposals might range from building/designing an app, making a customer product or services, or even selling at a ridiculously cheaper rate.
Put simply, when you as a businessman/woman analyze what a prospective client proposes and it can have serious negative effects on your resources, it is a time to say ‘No.’
You Do Not Have The Required Skills For The Job Or Request
Regardless of how experienced and skillful you are in your industry, you would agree that no one is an island of knowledge.
There are certain times when a prospective client gives you an offer to do a job outside the scope of your skillset.
Granted, many freelancers or business owners thread the path of trying to satisfy the potential client while not fully understanding what to do.
While you might convince yourself that this is a show of courage, it is not always the best option.
Unless you have enough time to actually learn the skills required to accomplish that task and still satisfy the customer within that time period, it’s best to say ‘No.’
When you admit your limitations and explain to the prospect why you cannot take the job or offer, it shows humility on your part.
Also, you are protecting your reputation, which could be ruined by trying to go ahead with the job and messing things up along the line.
No doubt, such a potential client would appreciate your honesty and will definitely come back to you when he/she needs to accomplish a task within your area of expertise.
You Do Not Have The Needed Resources To Carry Out The Proposal
We talked earlier about how saying ‘Yes’ to a potential client can sometimes run your funds and material resources dry.
In a similar vein, there are times when a proposal or offer you get from a prospective client would involve the use of resources you do not have.
This time, it doesn’t have to be material resources necessarily.
You might need to use certain machines or equipment (depending on your field or industry).
And such might not be available.
Additionally, you might need certain employees or staff to carry out the required functions, and you do not have them available.
While it might cross your mind to want to source these resources, it is not always easy.
Remember that your sole objective is to satisfy your customers, and promises unkept would not make this possible.
Hence, instead of giving them assurances to later fall short of it, it might be in the good interest of your company to say ‘No.’
History Of Difficulties Working With Such Clients
Another reason or situation when it might be appropriate to say ‘No’ to a potential client is if you have a sour history working with a similar client or the same one in the past.
Yes, it is possible to have had business dealings unrelated to the one in question with a client in the past.
Perhaps from your experience working with them, you realize they pose a tough working situation for you and your business.
It might be beneficial to decline to do business with such a potential client.
Furthermore, it could be that the potential client has affiliations with individuals or businesses you’ve had dealings with in the past.
More so, such dealings too did not end well or cause you more problems than joy.
In such a case, even if you have not had direct dealings with the client directly, past experiences with similar clients leave a bad taste.
Hence then might be a time to say ‘No.’
The Client’s Requests Do Not Align With Your Company’s Values
Every company or organization has core values on which they operate to guide both employees and customers alike.
These values are set to ensure the brand name and reputation are protected while serving customers diligently.
Because of how important these values are, a business owner does not joke with them.
Hence, when you have potential clients who make requests that do not follow or align with your set values, it is always best to decline.
This is because the short-term advantage that might arise from winning that client would be little compared to the long-term damage it would cost your company reputation.
One of the keys to forging strong and lasting customer relationships is regular communication.
Therefore, this is a significant factor to consider when deciding whether to convert a prospect into a customer.
Sometimes, a potential client might speak a foreign language that makes communication difficult even with good signs.
This is not the worst problem a company can face, though.
It is possible to get an interpreter to help troubleshoot the communication process and keep the client.
However, it might be best to let the potential client go when this is impossible or difficult.
‘No’ might be the best answer at such times.
Busy Schedule Or Piled Up Projects
The last thing you want to do to a new client is to collect projects from them and not deliver at set deadlines.
That is one of the major factors contributing to the loss of customer trust and making it hard for businesses to build customer loyalty.
Before you accept to handle requests or proposals from a potential client, it is good to check your schedule.
When you find out that you are too busy or have so many things lying on your table screaming to be done, you might need to reconsider accepting such a proposal.
Remember that there are deadlines for delivering the other projects for other customers.
It is wisdom and modesty on your part to admit you cannot meet up with the potential client’s deadline and therefore say ‘No’ if necessary.
Freelancers and other consultants would especially find this point beneficial.
Unrealistic Expectations or Demands
One other factor that might warrant a business owner saying ‘No’ to a potential client is if the individual or business has unrealistic demands or expectations.
This might range from the budget they have for such projects to the deliverables they expect.
Sometimes, your potential client might be asking for unreasonable discounts or pricing for some of your products.
As a business owner, you must have calculated the cost of production and expenditure and realize conceding to their demands would be detrimental for you.
Therefore, that is not a time to slack off in a bid to win over that client, as that is not a real win in itself as you cannot make profits.
You might have to say ‘No’ and possibly recommend a cheaper alternative to them.
The Potential Client Has A Bad Attitude
It is often said that successful businesses need to detach personal emotions from the business when dealing with customers.
While this is very true, you cannot overlook the customers’ personality and attitude in business.
This is because having to deal with clients with a bad attitude can do more harm for your business than good.
These are hardly satisfied, and they can go ahead to spread bad reviews about your business to others.
Not only that, clients with a bad attitude would put a strain on your customer service team and reduce their level of productivity.
Therefore, if you realize from the first interaction that the potential client’s attitude is bad, it might be best to say ‘No’ to such a prospect.
You would be doing your business better than harm in the long run.
How To Say No To A Potential Client
Now that you have decided to turn down or say no to a potential client because of one or more of the reasons mentioned above, how do you go about it?
It is not just enough to say a firm ‘No’ and bang the door on the prospect, so to speak.
While you would want to be firm in communicating your decision, there are professional ways to go about this.
Following these ways would ensure that your saying ‘No’ to the potential client doesn’t spell the end of your relationship with them.
In fact, on the contrary, it might even open up an opportunity for you to have a more cordial relationship with them in the future.
Now, let us look at how best to say no to a potential client.
1Respond To Them And Do That Quickly
It is one thing not to be interested in working with a potential client (which is not bad in itself), but it is another thing to snub or ignore them.
Some businesses make the mistake of leaving queries from potential clients they feel are not a good fit.
It is not professional to ignore messages or emails from potential in your inbox for days, weeks, or months, even if you feel you can’t do business with them.
Even if your decision has been taken, and it is a ‘No,’ they deserve to know so they can find an alternative.
Therefore, always respond to these and be prompt while doing so.
2Be Sure To Ask A Lot Of Questions
Even before you say ‘No’ to a potential client, you need to be sure they aren’t really a good fit for you and your business.
The only way you can make sure of this is by asking them questions, a lot of these.
You do not want to jump into turning away such a client even when you are so sure you cannot help them.
It helps to listen attentively to them and get all the information you really need.
That way, you can explain why you cannot help them and point them to who can if necessary.
3Be Kind, Straightforward, And Polite
If you aim to turn away a potential client with whom you can’t do business, you need to be direct with it.
There is no point beating around the bush or shying away from the truth.
However, while doing this, you need to be kind and polite.
Hearing a ‘No’ for an answer is already painful on its own, especially when you were the only option for the potential client.
Therefore, it is good to give your reasons why saying no is a kind and polite manner, as that would go a long way in reducing the impact on them.
4Refer Them To Alternative Businesses/Companies
Sometimes, you cannot do business with a potential client, and you have to say no because you cannot offer what they ask for.
This might be because the industry you operate in differs from the one they are looking to do business with.
Or it could be that your business does not possess the adequate infrastructure and/or skillset to serve the prospect’s requests.
In such a situation, it is not just okay to turn them away.
Rather, it would be beneficial both for you and the potential client to get referrals to alternatives.
This would show you care about them, and who knows, they might come back to you when they really need that which you offer.
5Direct Them To Valuable Content Or Information That Help
When you say ‘No’ to a potential client, it might also help give them some free tips to assist them.
These could be blog posts, videos, infographics, ebooks, podcasts, e.t.c, related to their problems.
With that, you are also showing you are willing to help them even though you cannot help in the way they wanted at that time.
6Try Saying ‘Maybe Later’ Instead Of Outright ‘No’
There are times when you are tempted to turn away a potential client not because you cannot help completely but the time is just not right.
This could happen when you have so many projects on your table and are overwhelmed with a busy schedule.
If you are sure the prospect brings something you can still handle, you can give them the postponement option.
That way, you are telling them No, but not ‘No, not at all,’ but ‘No, not at this time.’
With a proper explanation of why you cannot solve their queries at that particular time, you will find them more willing to wait for the right opportunity.
This is especially so when you are trusted to provide the quality the clients’ demand.
7Bump Up The Product’s Price
This strategy has also proven to be effective for many businesses.
Many businesses adopt this approach when trying to turn away a customer who is not a good fit.
What they do is increase the price of the product or service the customer is requesting for.
Often, these will go away by themselves because they can’t afford it, which serves the purpose.
But in cases whereby they are still willing to pay the high price, you can be comforted that you are getting enough for the inconveniences that might arise from working with them.
Whichever way, it’s a win-win situation.
Final Words On How To Say No To A Potential Client
It is a natural human tendency to want to please and satisfy those very dear and important.
Our clients, both existing and potential, fall in this category.
Because of this, you might find it hard saying ‘No’ to some of them, as you feel you are hurting their feelings.
However, to stay in business and push your company to the apex, you’ll need to make some tough but necessary decisions.
Saying ‘No’ to a potential client who happens not to be a good fit for your business is one of these.
First, recognize who your potential clients are and what you need in them, then identify what factors could make them invaluable to you.
Only when you do this can you know just when to say ‘No’ to some of them and how to go about this without hurting your business but adding to its success.