BD 101: How to Handle A Request You Can’t Accomodate

by Scott - 1 Comment

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At some point in a deal, partnership, or sale you’re bound to encounter request that you can’t accommodate.

“Does your product have this feature too?”

“Can we have it for this price instead?”

There’s a right and a wrong way to handle these type of situations.

Within the framework of striving to drive the most possible value for your company, the goal is to persuade the other side to maintain compliance despite the fact that you can’t accommodate a request.

The Right Way:

Prepare to have your mind blown by a seemingly obvious formula on how to say no.


How to Say No

As my devilishly handsome colleague Lee Zucker reminded a few days ago, the best way to handle these scenarios is to say no and provide a reason immediately after. Here’s an example to demonstrate precisely what I mean.


“Does your product provide mobile reporting if I want to see how my campaigns are performing on my phone?”


“At this point, our product doesn’t provide mobile reporting because we’re laser focused on improving the software which optimizes the campaigns. We understand that the ability to view reports on your phones would be great, and we’ll get there, but right now we think customers will be more happy that existing reports show a higher ROI”

Though I gave a pretty compelling reason why I don’t have something, I’m still indicating I can’t provide something they’re interested in. Let me explain why using this framework is still the optimal choice.

Answering requests in this way:

  • depicts you as honest and trustworthy
  • manages expectations
  • provides transparency to your thought processes and behavior

Not only do all these things portray you as someone worthy of doing business with, but you also save yourself headaches down the road.

That’s all swell and great Scott, but how does effect my ability to close!?


Interestingly enough, many social experiments correlate the highest instances of compliance following a rejection (or request!) with the establishment of reason.

One study conducted by Harvard Social Psychologist Ellen Langer examined the act of asking to skip a large line for a copy machine. She found that the determining factor related to the compliance of people allowing the participant to cut the line was the participant providing a reason following the word “because.”

It didn’t even matter whether the reason was legitimate or urgent; what mattered was simply that there was a reason immediately following their request.

Though this example focuses more on the positive effects on inspiring compliance when making a request, the same holds true when saying no.

The Wrong Way

When faced with this type of scenario, many people dance around the truth. They make hollow promises to appease prospective partners/buyers, yesing them till they’re red in the face.

“Yeah mobile analytics is something that we’re just finishing up. We should have that ready next week”

This type of behavior is short-sighted. Making promises you can’t keep (or flat out lieing) may result in a short-term win, but you’re likely to lose in the long run. Ultimately, failure to deliver on your word:

  • makes your company look bad
  • makes you look bad
  • spreads to other prospects in the space, ultimately losing you business

None of these outcomes contribute to fruitful business relationships and sustainable success.

When you can’t accomodate something, replace the dog and pony show with a concrete no, grounded in reason. This approach may mean losing a deal here or there. But I’d much rather be authentic so that when the timing is right, the other party feels completely comfortable that I can deliver on what I promised. These are how mutually beneficial long-term business relationships begin.


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