[The following is part of the continuing series of advice for marketing agencies. Andy Beal offers various business coaching services]
I know what you’re thinking. You’ve read the title of this article and you think Andy Beal must have lost his mind. How in the world can you increase the size of your marketing firm by actually saying “no” to a client? Isn’t that counter-productive, you’re asking? Surely you need to find ways to say “yes” to your clients, so you can get their business and grow your agency. Well, spare me ten minutes of your time, and I’ll show you why saying “no” to a client is often good for business.
Not All “Yeses” are Created Equal
In the past seven years of growing search marketing firms, I’ve said “yes” to clients more often than I can remember. When you’re growing a business — especially if cash-flow is tight — agreeing to the requests, or demands, of a client appears to be the only way you’ll ever get to the “big bucks”. While early in my career, I made the mistake of saying yes too many times, over the past couple of years, I’ve learned that saying “no” is more lucrative.
Saying “No” to Prospective Clients
How excited do you get when you’re negotiating that final contract with a prospective client and you’re accountant is willing you on to get the business in the door and on the books? Just like animals can smell fear, prospective clients can smell your desperation to get their business.
Unless you’ve done a phenomenal job of building the value of your agency’s services, its expertise, and benefits to the prospective client, the chances are high that you’ll be asked for a discount or some additional services for free before the client signs. Argh! You’re so close, you’ve made the investment in trying to win this account — your time on the phone, the pretty proposal, the face-to-face meetings — and if you’ll just reduce the price of the campaign from $5,000 a month to $3,500 a month, the client will sign today. What to do?
Well, here’s what most agencies do. They cave in. They say “yes” to the discount, or say “yes” to the extra workload, at the same fee. What they didn’t do, and what will surely come back to haunt them, is they didn’t say “no”.
Now, I’m not advocating being rude or arrogant at this stage. There’s the right way and the wrong way to say no, but you shouldn’t necessarily say yes either. You see, by simply agreeing to the clients demands, you’ve handicapped your business in two ways:
- You’ve reduced the perceived value of your service. By dropping your fee from $5,000 to $3,500 a month, you’ve planted the seed in the client’s mind that your original price was inflated — perhaps they’ll think you were trying to gouge them.
- You’ve established to the client that everything else is negotiable. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve reduced the price of a campaign and then found that client to be the most demanding and the most difficult to work with. Everything becomes negotiable from that point on — deliverable schedules, reports, results — the client now knows you’re likely inflating everything from pricing to timelines and will be on the lookout for opportunities to get more from you.
Hopefully, the above is resonating with you thus far. But, you’re probably asking, “How do I say no without losing the deal?” Let’s take a look.