Gini Dietrich

Saying No to Clients

By: Gini Dietrich | April 14, 2011 | 
92

All you people have failed me. I have not a single Facebook question to answer this week. So, instead of seeing my pretty face, you get some written something instead.

OH WAIT! I’m wrong. I just scrolled through a lot of status updates and found this from Andy Donovan. Yay Andy! You saved everyone from failure!

“Coming off the presentation this week with you, Carol Roth and Les McKeown – how does a new entrepreneur learn the delicate art of saying “no” to a client request that seems over and above what has been agreed upon? Especially when at the beginning of your career and still ensure the relationship moves forward without any hard feelings?”

But you still don’t get to see my pretty face because, well, I haven’t showered yet. So how about I do our #FollowFriday via video tomorrow?

Andy’s question is a couple of weeks old, but it still works.

This is a really hard question for me to answer because I don’t like to  say no and that’s the culture I’ve built at Arment Dietrich. I’ve noticed that when I push my team to say no to a client, they push back about really wanting to go the extra mile.

Whose fault is that? Mine.

So we’ve really begun to be very clear about expectations and priorities. Everyone is responsible for not going over budget (which is how we measure overservicing) and we are in constant communication with clients about what has been agreed upon and what they’re asking us to do.

For instance, we have one client who we all adore. So, when he asks for something, we automatically want to say yes. But we found very quickly we were overservicing, to the tune of almost double what he is paying us. We sat down with him, went through the initial marketing plan and the extra things he was asking us to do and asked him to help us prioritize. He was very open to doing that and, during our weekly meetings with him, the team reminds him of the priorities and asks if there is anything he wants to change.

It works really well because he’s constantly aware of what we’re working on, but also what the priorities are for the month and quarter.

How do you say no to clients?

Oh! And don’t forget to go to Facebook and ask a question so I have something to do next Thursday!

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

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92 Comments on "Saying No to Clients"

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KenMueller
KenMueller
5 years 5 months ago
I’m like you. I like to please and I hate saying No. As part of that, I’ve built a culture where I’m at my client’s disposal. If they have a question they can call or email me, and I’m not necessarily going to bill them for the 10 or 15 minutes (or less) that it takes me to respond. But I’m also learning the “art” of saying no when a client asks me to do something I don’t think is the right thing to do. Yes, they are paying me, but I’ve drawn a number of lines in the sand… Read more »
ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 months ago

@KenMueller I don’t bill for emails or phone calls, either. Or the time I spend thinking about client issues while cycling. They definitely all are overserviced, but I think that’s part of the reason we’ve maintained so many relationships for so long. I think you’re absolutely right in that the times you do have to say no are when it won’t help the client or isn’t the right thing to do.

NancyD68
NancyD68
5 years 5 months ago
I always want to say “yes” to everything, and that can lead to problems. I have no problem saying “no” to someone who does not want help, or treats me or my bosses with disrespect. We actually had a meeting where a potential client was insulting to me and my boss. That meeting lasted five minutes. Done. It is much harder for me to set limits on what I will do to help someone before I get paid. Still working on that. My desire to be well liked can easily backfire. I have to be able to strike a balance… Read more »
jacobvar
jacobvar
5 years 5 months ago

I seem to have the same inherent ‘overservicing’ bug. I have also noticed that these clients, just like yours are very open to prioritizing. Coincidentally my favorite overserviced customer is very often open to upselling too. Hmm! I see a pattern. Thanks for the post Gini. I’m commenting now 🙂

sydcon_mktg
sydcon_mktg
5 years 5 months ago
Well, we have had to become very strict about saying no. Our applications are custom built. We give specific quotes outlining every item we will develop. With development, many little things may creep up, even after using a fine tooth comb to quote. Some of these little issues can take hours or days and even double the cost. So our quotes specifically state that any changes to the specified quote will be charged hourly. So, while we don’t actually say “no” we do make it clear that there will be an increased charge. We do have a client that we… Read more »
Chris_Eh_Young
Chris_Eh_Young
5 years 5 months ago

This is a tough question. Most of us want to say yes to everything. We want to over deliver and wow the customer. I think that’s fine until the customer begins expecting every request, no matter how big, to get a yes answer.

The issue is that it’s easy for a business to go broke without drawing lines. Often it’s not what you say yes to the leads to success, it’s what you can say no to.

EricaAllison
5 years 5 months ago
Hi Gini! Feels like months since I’ve been here! I’ve been busy saying Yes to clients! 🙂 I find that my No always comes when I’ve been asked to do something outside my scope or my comfort zone. I’m guilty of thinking I can do LOTS of stuff. It’s a bad habit that I’ve grown out of, but one I’m still mindful of. So, that’s a relatively easy No. The tough No comes from the ‘overservicing’ as you so eloquently refer to it. We do want to wow the client and do as much as we can. However, much like… Read more »
T60Productions
5 years 5 months ago

Grrrr… this is always a tricky situation. Currently struggling with it right now with a new client that I believe represents a lot of future business. Want to be firm so giving up too much doesn’t become a pattern, don’t want to be so firm that we lose the future work.

Business is hard.

–Tony Gnau

lesmckeown
lesmckeown
5 years 5 months ago

@EricaAllison Hard not to like a good process, eh? [Wait…I’m not Caandian…] @ginidietrich I think this dovetails well with the 80/20 rule – just as 80% of profits come from 20% of clients, so also 80% of the hassle comes from 20% of the clients – and they’re rarely the same client, in my experience.

Saying ‘no’ sometimes needs to escalate to saying ‘buh-by’. But then I kow you know that…:)

PeterGault
PeterGault
5 years 5 months ago
I dig this article because it skirts the edge of something that many people may not be aware of; the physiology of words. It feels good, literally, to say ‘yes’. Yes, even when dealing with a negative situation, is a positive command. Saying ‘yes’ actually creates an endorphin release. It’s physically rewarding to say ‘Yes’. Plus, it’s fun to say and people like you when you say it… right? Likewise, it feels bad to say ‘no’. Saying now creates a physical tightening stimulus. Even the form your muscles must take around your mouth in order to form the word require… Read more »
sydcon_mktg
sydcon_mktg
5 years 5 months ago
@T60Productions I hear what you are saying about potential future business, as well as not wanting to start a pattern. But, we have learned the hard way that it’s harder to nip in the bud after you let it happen. Think about it this way, if that client does prove to represent a lot of future business, it will be a difficult conversation when you have to nip it later down the line. They will wonder why the change? They may even feel as though you strung them along and now that yo u landed them you are changing the… Read more »
EricaAllison
5 years 5 months ago

@lesmckeown Love the 80/20 rule. You’re right, 80% of the hassle inevitably comes from 20% of the clients – light bulb moment.

I’ve quickly come to the ‘buh-by’ phase with a handful of clients who just couldn’t understand ‘no’ or that is applied to them. And yes, @ginidietrich has a great process. Are you sure you’re not Canadian?

T60Productions
5 years 5 months ago

@sydcon_mktg Double grrrrr! You’re right. 🙂

–Tony Gnau

Brankica
5 years 5 months ago

Still not saying NO much but I did have a few situations where people would start wanting more and more without wanting to pay more. I would usually just end all business with them and not take them back. Which is funny cause most of them try to come back later.

And it is easy to say no when someone is acting like that, lol.

DannyBrown
5 years 5 months ago

Double push back.

“We understand your views, but you hired us for one reason – to improve your [INSERT NEEDS HERE] and that’s why you pay us monthly.

You can either understand why we’ve recommended the approach we have, and have actionable and measurable results to work from, or you can go with your approach. But well make it clear now that if you don’t get the results you want, and you have to spend extra on fixing that, then it’s not down to us.”

Tough love and monetary expense often comes through.

a_greenwood
a_greenwood
5 years 5 months ago

Thanks for sparing us the horrendous experience of seeing you unshowered. 🙂 Good post–I have to admit I have never heard the term “overservicing” though I have certainly done it with several clients. (Okay. That sounded odd. Anyway.)

bitSecure
bitSecure
5 years 5 months ago

I say “Here’s some things we CAN do for what you’re paying us”, or “Sure we can do that. Here’s how much it’s going to cost.”

Nick
Nick
5 years 5 months ago

Okay, Gini, NO! lol

Nick
Nick
5 years 5 months ago

Wait, I can say no to you? No! This feels great!

dino_dogan
dino_dogan
5 years 5 months ago

I start my relationship with clients very bluntly. So when it comes time to say no, I say it very bluntly and with a smile. They are startled by it (usually) but theres never any hard feelings. They pay me because Im suppose to know better.

If I throw in some silly logical explanation as to why not, they are usually satisfied with that. And if they probe even further I punish them by explaining exactly why not…this usually takes over an hour and they want to blow their brains out by the time we’re done lol

Mywritingworld
Mywritingworld
5 years 5 months ago

Every one has a different nature, and it is very hard to treat everyone with one set of rules. The best way is to know the psychology of people in general and base your relationship rules that can apply to most. Keep some stronger strategies handy in case needed. I do not like blunt replies, as I am always nice.

Fran A

PattiRoseKnight
PattiRoseKnight
5 years 5 months ago

This is something I struggle with too. I worked for 30+ years at a major PR agency and saying no in any way shape or form was not allowed. Old habits are hard to break but it is better to say no than to overservice. When we overservice we aren’t able to bill our time and that means we won’t get paid. And when we overserive one client we find outself underservicing a different client. That’s my two cents.

TamiSmith
5 years 5 months ago

Seems to be the theme this week for me! We have a code name for it ‘SOS’ shit-out-of-scope. It can sink a ship if not controlled. 🙂

DougLeavy
5 years 5 months ago

@Nick Someone said “No’ to Gini once. That person has not been seen since. Rumor is they are wearing cement Nike’s in the Chicago River…

Kinguin
Kinguin
5 years 5 months ago

So what would be the correct way to handle this if you on “down the totem pole” of the marketing team and need to say this to the manager/director? “No” to some can come across as insubordinate.

Marcus_Sheridan
5 years 5 months ago
@dino_dogan I’m going to piggy-back off of Dino here. I think it all starts with setting the right tone very early on in the process. As an owner of two businesses that are very, very different, this principle has been a saving grace for both. For example, with my web coaching company, I tell clients bluntly– I’m not here to babysit you. If you can do it yourself (whatever ‘it’ is), then you should be. This is about empowerment and pushing you out of the nest. Are we clear?? Anyway, great topic Gini, as always, but let’s make sure we… Read more »
DannyBrown
5 years 5 months ago

@DougLeavy @Nick Its why Mr. Dietrich has a spring mechanism between his neck and chin – gives the impression of nodding in agreement all the time…

TheFriendlyBlogger
TheFriendlyBlogger
5 years 5 months ago

@TamiSmith LOL, I love this!!! 🙂

Nick
Nick
5 years 5 months ago

She is at least 4 times stronger than me. 🙁 @DougLeavy @Nick

HLeichsenring
HLeichsenring
5 years 5 months ago

“No” on a stand-alone basis is difficult. It is even not easy to say “no” when you explain why. But to explain why, makes it possible. Transparency is not only a must in the world of social media but also a great help in business.

I am an business, you, my client, are in business. We both have our goals to reach at the end of the day. So let us find a way, how to make something possible that is not possible with the budget agreed on.

Kind regards from Germany

Hansjörg

Leon
Leon
5 years 5 months ago
G’Day Gini, Your post reminded me of an event that happened decades ago. I was a bright-eyed and bushy taiked young Personnel Manager in a national retail chain. We were expanding rapidly. I was frantically busy finding Store Managers and Trainees, trying to educate managers that I was not a dumping ground for all their “people problems,” and trying to fend off all sorts of ridiculous bureaucratic demands from our Head Office in another state. I also had a boss who believed that each of the four managers who reported to him were at his beck and call to satisfy… Read more »
hackmanj
5 years 5 months ago

This is a delicate balancing act some times, my take aways are the transparency and communication. Lay it out there, review, remind… good stuff Gini!

Joe

hackmanj
5 years 5 months ago

By the way, 3 people so far clicked like on Facebook. I couldn’t help but think:

“Joe Hackman Likes Saying no to Clients”

I know they changed likes but I am still hard wired to think that, unintended humor? 🙂

hackmanj
5 years 5 months ago

By the way, 3 people so far clicked like on Facebook. I couldn’t help but think:

“Joe Hackman Likes Saying no to Clients”

I know they changed likes but I am still hard wired to think that, unintended humor? 🙂

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 months ago

@NancyD68 So true about setting limits on what you’ll do to help someone before you get paid. I feel like that’s the ultimate question with zero answer.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 months ago

@jacobvar Love seeing you here AND on Twitter! Interesting thought on upselling. I’m going to broach that very idea in our staff meeting on Monday!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 months ago

@sydcon_mktg I’ve always envied firms like yours that can say “if the scope changes, so does the price.” The PR industry has never worked that way (though it should) so when you introduce that kind of speak to your contract negotiations, it’s an uphill battle.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 months ago

@Chris_Eh_Young It’s VERY easy for a business to go broke. We had a client who said, “But I don’t know why you can’t do this. You’re on retainer.” Yes, we’re on retainer to do certain things, not everything you throw at us. Oy.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 months ago

@EricaAllison Erica, I love that you got @lesmckeown over here AND he didn’t make fun of me!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 months ago

@T60Productions Business IS hard!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 months ago

@PeterGault I love what you’re introduced here something I hadn’t even considered (except in choosing the image). “Saying no physically feels like crap.’ It does make you feel guilty. Stupid society. I blame them.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 months ago

@Brankica Are you here to make me feel guilty for not sending your cake yet?!?

It is easy to say no when someone behaves that way. LOL! It’s also really interesting that people think they can get more from someone else than they have for you. It always makes me feel good when someone comes back saying, “We were wrong” and I think, “I know.”

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 months ago
@DannyBrown Sure, but that’s not always the case. For instance, we were hired to do some serious research, complete a brand awareness study, and develop a marketing plan. In the plan, we created tactics to move this client’s business forward. But, once we got in there and began executing, we discovered A LOT of information they didn’t give us and we had to change course. So the discussion was less, “You hired us to do X” and more “we know we recommended X, but now that we’re in here, we really think you need Y.” They wanted both X and… Read more »
ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 months ago

@a_greenwood LOL! I love that the image of me not showered got you to say more than “great post.” HAHAAAHAH! You’ve really never heard overservicing? It was built into my DNA at FH. We overserviced every client. In fact, wrote off $1MM in fees one year for one client. Insane.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 months ago

@bitSecure I don’t know why that’s so hard for us to say, but you’re absolutely right. Great phrases to use!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 months ago

@Nick @DougLeavy Nick won’t say no to me because I bribe him with food.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 months ago

@DannyBrown @DougLeavy @Nick Is that why the spring mechanism is there?! Hmmmm…

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 months ago

@dino_dogan Somehow this doesn’t surprise me.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 months ago

@Marcus_Sheridan @dino_dogan Oh jeez. There is video tomorrow. I already recorded it. AFTER I showered.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 months ago

@Mywritingworld Fran, always wise words from you! I don’t like blunt replies either, as I’m like you. And you’re absolutely right in that one size does not fit all.

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