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How to Handle Hearing the Word "No"

Dawn Turner's picture

The word “no” naturally enters our vocabulary at a very early age. Toddlers throw it around all the time but never like to hear their parents say it back to them. Somewhere between our childhood and becoming a working adult some of us lose the ability to say “no.” We may have a difficult time using the word, but one thing that never changes is the dissatisfaction that comes when we are on the receiving end of that despised two-letter word.

In the sponsorship business this translates to how we manage our communications and attitude when we find ourselves on the receiving end of a decline or when it comes to declining offers/proposals. Since budgets and other resources are limited, it is inevitable that the word “no” play an important role in everyone’s vocabulary. As long as we are careful to use it in proper context and accept it graciously when directed back at us, we can be assured that we are neither compromising ourselves nor our organization while we develop our reputation and relationships.

On the property side, there are sales folks galore in the marketplace hoping to sell their wares. They are all seeking sponsors to fill a variety of categories they have identified for their teams, venues, special events, etc. Regardless of what they are selling, they are bound to hear “no” quite often. As long as they put their best foot forward with a proposal and illustration of how their property/project/event could work well with the potential sponsor (see my Nov. column for tips), they should feel confident about their approach and understand that their project just isn’t a good fit for the potential sponsor’s current objectives. It is how they choose to respond to the decline that will make or break their reputation and career.

When being told no, it is important to accept it with dignity and respect. It is important to respond with a note or comment thanking them for their consideration, and in some cases it may be merited to inquire about the reason for the rejection (but only if it isn’t explained properly). It is important not to go back to the potential sponsor too many times about the same project or topic unless the potential sponsor initiates additional discussion. In the majority of cases the potential sponsor has already made up their mind. Since they are busy, your constant stream of inquiries could be perceived as an annoyance that is associated with your name and ultimately will affect your reputation. How you approach this will vary by individual, but you could consider the following ideas: 1 – Consider telling your contact you are looking for ways to improve your proposal so appreciate any tips they have to offer; 2 – Consider asking your contact if they can expand on the reason for the decline and if there might be an opportunity to re-visit in the future.

This is an important point to remember because the sponsorship/sports/entertainment world is small and your paths will likely cross again. If you cross a potential sponsor in an ill-perceived manner, they will categorize you as a peddler and will not be open to working with you on future projects. The key is to remember you are not just selling someone a project or product, you are establishing the basis for what you hope is a long-term relationship. You just never know, it might be a short while until you have something the potential sponsor finds useful for their company and objectives.

Creating relationships with key contacts outside the confines of the office can be easy accomplished with minimal effort. A few tips to enhance your relationship building potential with contacts include – 1. Send hand-written or e-mail thank you notes. 2. Offer to treat key contacts to coffee with the purpose of networking (not selling…there is a difference!). 3. Send holiday cards. 4. See if you can learn something personal about key contacts and remember to touch base when you have a relevant reason (mutual friends/contacts, their birthday, favorite sport/teams, things their kids/family enjoys, etc.).

How we should react to the word “no” is not any different on the sponsor side. In most cases the sponsor already has an established working relationship with their property contact, but that does not guarantee the property contact will always say “yes.” When the sponsor has what they think is a great idea that they would like to execute with the property, it is important to make sure that the program being pitched is mutually beneficial. Just like the example above, the sponsor contact should accept a “no” with dignity and respect.

Keeping the working relationship operating in a positive, collaborative manner is of paramount importance, so even though there might be an opening whereby the sponsor can work with the property to massage the idea in a way that works, if the property says “no” it means the idea is not possible at this time.

Personally, I am not sure what is worse, being told “no” or having to tell someone “no.” Either way, I find that it is very important to maintain the same level of grace when giving or receiving the bad news of the moment.

Those who have focused on relationships first will likely have a better long-term average of hearing “yes.” I bet if you put your focus on building relationships first, you will begin to hear “yes” more often.

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