Saying "no" like a pro

November 01, 2016

It is easy to assume that an account manager's job is to cater to their client's every whim. Whilst "keeping your client happy at all cost" sounds like something out of an A+ customer service manual, saying "yes" to your client's every request may not always be in their best interest (or yours).

You may need to say "no" to a client when their request:

  • Is unreasonable.
  • Is illogical.
  • Is outside the scope of work or contractual agreement.
  • Is immoral, unethical or illegal.
  • Does not meet their own business objectives.
  • Does not meet the agreed-to campaign objectives.
  • Would jeopardise other work you are doing for them.
  • Would cause their campaign to be late.
  • Would cause problems for your internal team or external suppliers.

It is important to remember that your client thinks their request is perfectly acceptable. If you are going to "push back", then you'll need to ensure your client feels that they have been listened to and that their request was valid.

It is also important to remember that when you say "no" to a client you are either creating a new problem for them, or pointing out an existing problem that they didn't realised existed. Therefore, a push-back should always be accompanied by both a reason and an alternative.

To make the push-back as positive and constructive as possible, it is important to plan out how you will cushion your response. You could:

  • Offer an even better solution than the one your client is proposing.
  • Use your client's own reasoning or data to present an alternative.
  • Ensure that your solution is rational and compelling.
  • Incorporate your client's idea (or part of their idea) in a different way.
  • Find examples to support your suggestions.
  • Use additional firepower that your client trusts (your manager, their colleague, an industry expert) to support your suggestion - as long as it doesn't come across as you ganging up on them or going behind their back.

Saying "no", or "pushing back" need not be a negative experience. Your client is paying your agency for their expertise, so you can use this as an opportunity to showcase your strategic thinking and how much you care about their business. The more you understand and appreciate your client and their business, the more you will master the skill of saying no like a pro.

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