Build Value, Even With “No”

My parents-in-law are quite popular with my kids. It’s a pretty universal experience– kids love grandparents! When you never have to say “No,” you don’t have much conflict.

Photo courtesy Flickr user sboneham, Creative Commons
Photo courtesy Flickr user sboneham, Creative Commons

Recently I approached an Office Depot about donating copy services to a great cause with which I volunteer. I prepared a 60-second elevator pitch of our project and our needs, articulating the value we bring to kids and the community as well as our gift-in-kind copy needs. My calculation of the gift-in-kind donation: about $80.

When I walked in, the employee at the copy desk was very kind and paged the manager. Although she was wearing an earpiece attached to her walkie-talkie, I could hear the manager’s aggravation. I knew it was a “No” right away, but I stuck around just in case.

“Hi, I’m Justin Buck,” I greeted him with a smile and outstretched hand. But he met me with a blank stare, circling the counter and ignoring my weathervane-ing arm. After probably ten seconds of talking, he interrupted me.

“Look, I get like fifteen of you a day. If you want to bring in a letter asking for whatever it is you want, you can. You might get a discount or something.” After an uncomfortable silence, I smiled and thanked him for his time.

Here’s what he missed:

Everyone is a customer! I’m not just begging for money or favors, here. Our family business uses Office Depot for almost all of our supplies, even though we could probably get a better deal at Sam’s Club (where we already have a membership). I’ll start the cost analysis tomorrow and pitch the switch to my wife, who makes our financial decisions.

Every interaction should build value! Imagine if the manager had told me that his store donated $XXXX in copy services each year and was simply overbudget. Imagine if he had said he would advocate for discounted printing to his management team. All of a sudden, he’s built loyalty in me by spinning a “no” into a value statement.

His team was watching! I purposely selected a time in the day when I knew the store wouldn’t be busy. The manager’s team (the kind copy-desk girl, a cashier, and a trainee) had nothing to do but watch him totally fail at interacting with a customer. Because we replicate what our leaders do, I cannot envision a bright future for customer relations at this manager’s store.

At the Funeral Home, we often have to turn down opportunities to donate to worthy causes. If a great cause crops up and fits our mission, we can usually find the funds to support it; even when we can’t, I often find myself writing a personal check to affirm the organization’s efforts.

This experience, though, reminds me to treat every interaction with the dignity and attention that builds value. Even if the answer is “No”.

In the comments: How do you say “No” without damaging relationships? 

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3 thoughts on “Build Value, Even With “No”

  1. I think even if we do have to say no we should still take time to listen and hear the person out. Then saying the no in a kind and friendly way. Great story.

    1. Absolutely! It’s also important not to go into an interaction with your mind made up. You never know when a priceless new relationship or community partnership might come through the door dressed as a mediocre donation solicitation.

      Some businesses are wquick to look for ROI on community initiatives. Sometimes, the return is impossible to calculate. We can’t forget that a new friendship is often worth the negligible investment often requested.

      One final point in what has become a mini-post: Even people asking for money are ppotential customers. Let’s say I treat someone the way I was treated at Office Depot. Two weeks later, his mom passes away. While I may not remember hom from our brief previous interaction, he will definitely remember me. Guess who loses the opportunity to care for tthat family…

      1. Hello Justin,

        Great point, a open and undecided mind is important. Even if we don’t initially see the value in it during the conversation we might discover the benefits of the services or product.

        I really have a hard time with business that focus more on ROI instead of taking time to invest their people. Yes, profit is essential but if businesses build up and add value to their people the people will drive the profit up.

        Great thoughts man.

        Looking forward to connecting with you and reading your blog more:)

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