Train your team to say ‘yes’ to customers Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2010

In order to close a sale, customers must hear the word “yes” before they make a purchase, agree to a service or sign a contract. Few people will do business with a company that makes it a practice of giving a dozen reasons why something cannot be done, instead of figuring out how to say “yes.” The word “yes” is the launching pad for every transaction, but too many companies don’t seem to get it.

A negative response to a request may at first blush seem appropriate, but a seller must learn how to turn a negative into a positive. There are some easy techniques to accomplish this seemingly elusive feat. As an example, a customer wants a delivery on a Tuesday, when your truck only travels to the customer’s area on a Friday. Instead of summarily saying “no” because it does not fit your schedule, empower your people to find a solution. Teach them to be cautious with their choice of words and learn how to use softer and more conciliatory synonyms for “no.” For this delivery request example, your representative could say, “Yes, your request is reasonable. We will work on making it happen. However, until we can permanently change our schedule, can we deliver on X day instead of Y day?”

I could never understand why a retail store would put up signs that proclaim what a store won’t do for its customers instead of what it can and will do. “No food or drinks allowed.” “No checks.” “No who-knows-what.” Sure, a retailer doesn’t want anything spilled on the merchandise and certainly doesn’t want to get stiffed with a bad check. However, instead of posting a “no-no” statement, the sign could easily be rewritten to make the negative a positive. A substitute to this same proclamation could be: “We have the lowest prices in town because we don’t incur the added costs of processing checks, and we pass this savings on to you. For your convenience, we accept all credit cards.” Of course, these illustrations are oversimplifications, but they will point you in the right direction.

Never forget your business needs the customer much more than the other way around. Management’s job is to promote creativity and underscore the objective of accommodating your customers’ needs with the ultimate goal of exceeding them. You’ll never do it if you start with the word “no.” The lifeblood of most every company is repeat business. The toughest initial hurdle is to get a customer to try your product or service. This initial trial is also typically the most expensive step in the sales process, but after that, it can lead to a long-term and profitable relationship.

There is nothing worse than telling a customer, “No, it is against company policy,” or even worse, “We don’t make exceptions, no way, no how.”

Recently, I was in a fancy-schmancy restaurant when the waiter began his shtick by rattling off a list of requirements for the privilege of eating at this establishment: “Chef does not allow substitutions, won’t prepare the entrĂ©e other than broiling and insists on cooking everything medium rare.” I interrupted the waiter in midsentence exclaiming my confusion because I thought my guests and I were the customers and the restaurant took the orders instead of giving them. The waiter looked at me as if I were from another planet. He then continued with his spiel. What was the net result of this string of “no’s”? First, I had a lingering bad taste in my mouth, and it wasn’t from the food. Secondly, I reduced the tip from my usual 20 percent plus. Worse yet for the restaurant, I won’t rush back for a return visit and most likely will repeat my tale of woe when this eatery comes up in conversation. You do the math of the cost per letter of the use of the word “no” and what this did to the restaurant’s bottom line.

Nyet, nein, no or like words in any language can all have the same effect: lost sales and profits, not to mention a tarnished image. It doesn’t get “no” worse than that. Your job as a leader is to find a way for your team to always get to “yes.”

Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988. Starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind wellness chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. Reach him with comments at