Myths of Selling to Government

Sometimes You Need to Say No in Government Sales

April 20, 2022 Rick Wimberly Season 2 Episode 8
Myths of Selling to Government
Sometimes You Need to Say No in Government Sales
Show Notes Transcript

No doubt, you want to impress your government sales prospects and customers with your company's abilities.  In fact, you want to dazzle them, right?  That may be fine, but sometimes you're better off telling them "No".  In this episode of Myths of Selling to Government with host Rick Wimberly, we give examples of what can happen to a company and its employees, including business development folks, when the answer is "yes" when it should be "no".

Sometimes, You Need to Say NO in Government Sales

Hey, if we make this minor change for this government prospect I’m trying to close, they’ll buy, everyone else will want it…and we’ll be rich.  Have you ever heard that said in your company?  Have you ever said it?  No need to answer. I’m pretty confident the answer to both questions is yes. You’ve heard it, and you’ve probably said it.

It’s tough to finally get in the door, spend time with the prospect, then find out that your solution comes close, but doesn’t offer a feature or capability your prospects say they want. So, you go back to the office, tell the troops you’ve got a good shot at winning the deal. You tell them it will lead us to larger sales, more deals and make us all rich.  All we have to do is make a change…or two.  Everyone will love that, right?

Wrong!  <<maybe a SFX, a buzz, or a wac wah>>

They’re not excited at all…and the product and marketing people start asking questions.

“Do you realize how large the effort will be to make the change?

“Don’t you know that we’re working on other things? 

“Why don’t they use another approach; our solution can probably do what they want, but just not the way they want”?

“How much are you going to charge for this”?

“How many other prospects have asked for this? We’ve never heard it before.”

“Is this a sure thing?”

And, this one…

“What do you want us to give up in our product roadmap to do this? We can’t do everything. 

You complain to your boss, and say that you just don’t know if you’re going to be able to meet your quota without this deal. And, this deal will open the floodgates for other deals. And, you say, “What about listening to the customer and the market?  We say we do that around here, but it doesn’t feel like it to me now.”

Your boss says you’ve got a good point, and commits to working on  it. He’s been there before, and understands what you’re going through.  Plus, he has a sales quota, too; this might help. He goes to the CEO. She intervenes over the heads of marketing and product management.  (Umm, she has sales objectives, too.)  You’re told to tell the prospect, yes, we can do it.


So, the product folks start working. They don’t like it at first, but product folks generally like a challenge…and you’ve given them a good one.  They put hours into the mods.

Finally, an RFP is issued. An eagle eye review of the specs doesn’t find the change your company has been working on.  That’s OK, you just know they want it. They just left it off. And, you can introduce the new feature in your response. That should give you a competitive advantage, right? 

You gave them very favorable pricing.  Your response followed all of the rules and the package looked downright spiffy. You said yes to their questions. Your feeling good about your response. You wait, follow up when appropriate. Still nothing. Then, one day, you get a letter. You think it’s an invitation for an oral presentation…at least you hope it is. But, it’s not. You’re thanked for your interest and hard work, but you weren’t chosen. How could that be?

At least they’ve agreed to a debriefing where you’ll be given a tabulation of the votes of the deciding committee. And, they’re going to let you ask questions.  You find out that a competitor scored higher than you on some items; you higher on others.  Your pricing was even a bit lower.

It was close.

Then you ask, what about our new feature, coming soon, that you told us prior to the RFP that you wanted? Oh yeah, thaaaat, they say. We liked that, but the truth is that the winner had another way for solving the problem just as well. 

As the news spread in the company, folks weren’t happy. The company had invested time and resources into a feature that really wasn’t needed.  And, as they did that, their other work fell behind.  Promises on the product road map weren’t going to be met.  The company’s solution, which had been a market leader, started falling further and further behind. Frustrations grew. And, cash flow started getting tight. OK, it wasn’t your deal that caused all of that alone. There were others. In fact, this had become a pattern for the company.

You know what the company did? It dug in deeper and deeper into their commitment that customer needs would be met…at all costs. Employees who solved customer problems with their solution would be celebrated as heroes, particularly if they worked after-hours. Balloons were blown up. Signs were plastered on the walls.  Beer was served. The Support Desk grew and grew, mostly to solve problems the company had created. I guess they didn’t notice that, if they’d built it right in the first place and not become distracted with the next shiny thing, they wouldn’t have had so many customer solution problems to solve. 

The company’s culture had changed. And, it wasn’t for the better. The company had panicked. It lost track of its thoughtful approach to the solution. Instead, it focused on feature requests that seemed to be urgent and fixing solution problems they had created. 

The company eventually pretty much disappeared.

You might be surprised how often we’ve heard this story.  

Don’t get me wrong. You have to listen to customers…but maybe the difference is in how you listen. In the story I told today, something someone in the government said led the sales rep to hear an urgent feature request.  Had the rep asked the right questions and really listened, he would have heard a problem-solving request. It wasn’t the feature that really mattered in the end; it was the solution to a problem.  At some point, the rep could have told the prospect that, no, we don’t offer that feature, but can we look deeper at the problem you’re trying to solve? If we do that, would you be willing to look at another approach? Almost no one would say “no” to that. If they do, there’s probably some other reason they don’t want to listen. And, it may be that you haven’t established trust.

In our study of qualities of top performing sales reps, we found seven common traits. One was that top performers don’t mind saying no to a prospect or client. They’re willing to disagree with a prospect when it’s in the buyer’s best interest. They genuinely want to see the prospect and others treated justly. Sometimes, that means saying no. (Go to the website and request a copy of the white paper on the study.)

I argue that you won’t really have credibility, or a trusting relationship, in government sales until you say no somewhere in the discussions.  The answer is never always yes. Did I say that correctly? In other words, no is an acceptable answer sometimes.

So, not only is saying “no” sometimes good for your company, it can actually be good for your selling efforts.