In standard books on the theory of selling, there would be three seemingly innocuous directions, lost in the vast verbiage of a standard text, under the chapter on closing the sale. These are a) never be insulted by a refusal; b) never write off a customer; and c) never give up. It seems so obvious, that one wonders why they are mentioned at all.
On reflection, I realise that both in sales and in life, we are guilty of often doing one of them, and sometimes, doing all three with friends, acquaintances and customers. The one I am tempted to focus on is the first: ‘Never be insulted by a refusal‘.
Ramesh was known to my friend Anil for a long time. Ramesh worked for a large private sector company and just about managed ‘to keep’ his clerk-level job over 28 years. Most of the time, however, he spent in selling life insurance. He was absent from his seat for much of the day—but this was hardly noticed. This was quite an achievement.
In fairness to Ramesh, he provided good service to his insurance clientele. He maintained individual files, sent his own reminders for payment of premia, and suggested changes in the insurance portfolio, as he thought necessary with the changing times. Anil was very happy with Ramesh.
Four years ago, Ramesh retired from his full-time job, and also became involved with some major family problems. His service levels fell. Two of his old clients, Anil and Sunil, moved to other insurance agents. Ramesh took this as a personal insult and began to quarrel with Anil and the others. He no longer even speaks to Anil!
Ravi was the son of a friend and colleague of my father. He had applied for a job advertised by my company. He seemed to pass the preliminary criteria and was called for an interview. Soon after the call letter was sent out, Ravi’s father phoned my father to tell him that Ravi was called for an interview, and he hoped that I would do my best to help him.
Ravi appeared for the interview on the appointed day. He came in late. He asked if he could smoke, despite the no smoking sign on my desk. His body posture seemed defiant. His knowledge levels for this particular assignment were poor. With many other better candidates available, Ravi was not selected.
Years later, Ravi is still cold in his manner, whenever we meet and our paths cross. His father never spoke to my father after this incident. Ravi and his father took Ravi’s non-selection as a personal insult!
Suresh had been moved to the Jubilee nursing home in Mumbai. He was in a serious condition with a kidney problem. Suresh’s wife was distressed. She thought of the worst that could happen – with three children all under twelve years old. She got one of Mumbai’s top urologists to operate on Suresh. It was expensive, but she was taking no chances. She wanted the best.
Of course, she had known that her neighbour’s son, Roy, was also a urologist. He had graduated from the UK and returned to practice in India, only last year. He was still in the process of settling down. Roy’s parents were very upset. How could she get someone else to operate when Roy was available? And a neighbour too!
This was a personal insult to a neighbor and Roy’s professional competence! Roy’s family and Suresh’s family still live in the same building, but they have not spoken to each other since that surgery for Suresh.
Ms Patel was a social worker involved with many causes. In fact, she was a worker in search of a cause! From starving children to the helpless aged, leprosy and cancer patients, famine and flood relief- you name it and Ms Patel was associated with it.
When I worked as a marketing manager with a multinational corporation, Ms Patel would approach me every two months with a request for an advertisement in a souvenir being brought out by one of these organisations. When we could afford it, the ads were released.
Then came the downturn in the market. We cut our ‘optional’ advertising budget. We had to say no to Ms Patel. The first time, she took the refusal graciously. I explained the market situation and said, “We would have, if we could—as we have done in the past.”
The second time, a few months later, she was not as understanding. She seemed visibly annoyed to the point of rudeness. She has been cold and distant ever since. She has taken the refusal as a personal insult!
These examples are the rule rather than exceptions. This happens to most of us, as we go through life. We refuse to accept that someone or anyone has the right to say no to an offer of a product, service or a favour. The no, is not a rejection of the person who is making the offer. The two must be separated. We need to do this with facility, ease and grace.
(Walter Vieira is a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants of India- FIMC. He was a successful corporate executive for 14 years and then pioneered marketing consulting in India in 1975. As a consultant, he has worked across four continents. He was the first Asian elected Chairman of ICMCI, the world apex body of 45 countries. He is the author of 16 books, a business columnist and has been visiting professor in Marketing in the US, Europe, and Asia for over 40 years. His latest books are ‘Marketing in a Digital/Data World’ with Brian Almeida and ‘Customer Value Starvation Can Kill’ with Gautam Mahajan. He now spends most of his time on NGO work and is presently Chairman, Consumer Education and Research Society, India)