Client Rejection – Why No Means Nothing

Client Rejection – Why No Means Nothing


We’ve all had it happen before – you put a ton of work into a fantastic idea, proposal, and/or meeting with an awesome potential client and it goes swimmingly. You’re excited, they’re excited, you’re even more excited since they’re excited.  The endless cycle of excitement is the best right? When this situation has a fairytale ending paved with productivity, a portfolio builder and some cash, it’s awesome!

But, how many times has that excitement turned into disappointment when further talks go nowhere? Next thing you know, the client has simply said “No” or “Sorry, we’re no longer doing this project” or even the classic, “We’re going with someone else on this one”? Well, whether you’re in digital design, marketing, or any sort of sales, it has probably happened more times than you count. The client rejection is the nature of the beast, but what does a rejection really mean? No means no, or does it?

You can take “No” the way everyone else does…


Taking a “No” as if it means “No” goes something like this: The client opportunity falls through, and you inform your support system. You know, friends, family, Twitter, your significant other, whoever. Your friends and family will tell you it probably has nothing to do with you and that the rejection happened for a reason. Your colleagues will tell you that the client wasn’t worth working with anyway and that your time is coming.

As laughable as it is, your significant other will be the one to come up with as many negative things to say about that potential client no matter how ridiculous they might be – come on, admit it, you’ve been there! Some of what your support system tells you will be true however, most of it is just a pillow for your ego to land on. Oh well, they said “No”, right? Wrong.

You can take another “No” approach…

Similar to how a toddler takes the answer “No” and finds a way to change the answer, there is an approach that seem crazy but can seriously work. The approach? Ignore the word “No”. What does this mean? Well, it doesn’t exactly mean ignoring the word “no” and doing the client work anyways without their consent – it means, “try again”. They’ve said no to your first plan, so you’re going to send them something new.

You’ve already poured hours upon hours into the proposal, so simply send them something adjusted based on their reason for “no” or your gut feeling for what went wrong. If they actually liked your proposal but it was something as simple as budget, see where you can cut costs, and send them a new revision. If it was relevant references, see where you can dig up some more references through clients of clients or even someone you might have missed. If it was a portfolio problem, see where you can respond with other capabilities or more work that might weigh on their decision. If you feel like the client felt you were not capable, send them a compelling one-pager addressing their concern upfront and prove yourself.

Did I mention budget? Sometimes, the budget can “fix” other problems, if you know what I mean. If you were too expensive and the portfolio simply can’t justify, but your idea was really solid, you may find that the client is more willing to take a small risk at your lowered pricing. Cutting monetary corners isn’t just something you can do as a offensive move – cutting monetary corners is a defensive move potential clients can do to get the job done at a lower risk from a 2nd choice contractor.

Nothing to lose, everything to gain

As mentioned above, you’ve already put the work in, so what do you have to lose? The only thing you need to do is figure out a new approach and give it another shot. What’s an hour of contemplating your bottom line, making a few calls, or putting a couple more pieces together? Certainly don’t try a second time if you were certainly off-base, but don’t miss an opportunity to make things right if you felt like you were almost there. With nothing to lose, you’d be making a huge mistake and missing an even bigger opportunity by not trying again. The worst that could happen is another “No” which you’ve already digested once – is it really going to hurt the 2nd time? The best that could happen is that you’ve got another client under your belt and a huge opportunity to prove yourself.

The odds of success

Ignoring “No” and trying again does not mean you’re betting on a sure thing. In fact, you might not even get a response. It’s more like a game of roulette – it’s a black (let’s talk), a red (another no), or a green (straight up yes). If you know about roulette, you’ll know hitting green is rare, but hitting black is nearly 50-50. If your services or ideas were spot on and the potential client has a lot of candidates to chose from, you’ve got a great shot.

You’ll find that more often than not, a client is willing to listen if you got something new to show them especially if they liked you. Like your family said, it’s nothing personal – they should give you a 2nd listen. Take a chance. Your odds are great, in fact, not sending a 2nd try is just as bad as not sending a first.

Posted Monday, June 28th, 2010 · Back to Top

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29 Comments 4 Mentions

  1. Helge-Kristoffer Wang Author Editor

    Great article! I think this is actually a good way around to get the a new chance. I have not tried sending a second sketch to my customers, because there has actually not been any problems like that. But the pricefix for something I couldnt do I have tried, it worked just fine.

    It was some advanced coding that I couldnt manage to fix for my client, as I am a designer, not a web developer. So I cut the price with about 15% and I offered to help them get in touch with a coder that does low budget jobs. As simple as that.

    Well, atleast it was simple for me because I have a network. :-)

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  2. James Author Editor

    Great article and a good reminder to have another spin of the wheel. The key is to find out why an initial proposal received a no in the first place. That often means digging past the brush off one line email you may have been sent, and seeing if you can get to the real reason…

    Once you’ve got that, then you can re-jig the proposal… And sometimes you’ll dig up enough new information that you realise that all the negatives your significant other told you were actually true!

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  3. Chandler Author Editor

    Thanks formthe comments guys! I agree with you all, second chances are abundant out there!

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  4. Alex Cooper Author Editor

    Great read. From my experience this is so true.

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  5. paul Author Editor

    the client might get used to your new pricing, or they will always refuse your first proposal and get you to cut your price every time.

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  6. Chris Author Editor

    And sometimes No means No. Occasionally you need to recognise when you’re burning resources chasing a lost cause and move on.

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  7. Niubi Author Editor

    It’s true, we need to be optimists and have a can-do attitude rather than one where we’re feeling embattled. It shows through, after all. I bet DubLi’s Micheal Hansen rarely says no, and look where he is now!

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  8. Chandler Author Editor

    Of course No means No sometimes, those instances are usually quite obvious. Finding out why they said no is the deciding factor in trying again. Sometimes, you wonder why you even tried in the first place!

    Thanks for the responses guys! I’m glad we all have a positive attitude!

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  9. Justin Popovic Author Editor

    Great article. I have used this approach to persist towards my goals and have realized that this is the ONLY way. There is no goal that you can achieve without first overcoming a huge number of “no’s” or roadblocks along the way.

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  10. Abbie @ Designs the Web Author Editor

    Chandler – did you get the idea for this article from my kids? :)

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  11. Jae Xavier Author Editor

    by saying NO, you are exercising power…

    and you are also being fair and honest.

    well done article.

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  12. Cassie ST Author Editor

    It’s an old sales axiom that that it takes 5 “nos” to get to “yes”, and if the prospect is asking questions, it’s a good sign, because you can answer their concern/s and then go to a trial close to get the “no”; “would you like to get the paperwork started now?”- No. Oh, why not? – Because ….

    Then; “whatif” (we gave you a 10% discount for payment in full/signing agreement today?) “whatif” we made this other arrangement? Would that suit you better?”

    If all else fails, then the good ole “doom” (offer ends at 5pm today, if we come back to sign the deal, it’s other conditions.” etc.) closes kick in.

    Just observe the sales person next time you’r buying a new TV, fridge, car whatever, and see what they do when you start to hesitate. ;-)

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  13. Rakesh Solanki Author Editor

    Client strategy always be a mystery for me, but thanks for sharing these ideas.

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  14. Benson Mensah-Bonsu Author Editor

    Great Article Chandler, this is a reoccurring situation. I used to blame myself for every “NO” I received.

    I recommend relationship development with your client. A few of my “NO” Prospects have recommended me to their friends. Communication though various channels helps too.

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  15. Xplore Studio Author Editor

    The power of no often slams your expectations to the ground – I have learnt to not take it personally and follow up in a few months time to keep them updated with your servces.

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  16. jeza Author Editor

    I stumbled upon this article just in time! Thanks so much for putting this up since it has definitely changed my perspective on things. I now see that I usually take the no, make up some excuse as to why I didn’t want to work with them anyway and then I move on. Now I know that sometimes it’s OK to try again! :) Like you said what’s the worst that can happen? Thanks again I have found that I feel more confident now in my endeavors! :)

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  17. Indianapolis SEO Author Editor

    I don’t let a no mean that i don’t try again. I’ve had 15 no’s from the same client then on the 16th they said yes. That 16th was a game changer for both of us ;)

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  18. Tom Buch Author Editor

    Great approach, I am inspired to be more resilient in future!

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  19. Swindon Wesbite Design Author Editor

    I have had several positive experiences with the ‘you can always take another ‘no’ approach. Providing that there is nothing to do with how you presented your pitch, you should be able to re-present your case providing you arm yourself on the main causes for the first rejection.

    Prior to providing a quote is always important to build a connection to the person who will be involved on the decision making about the purchase.

    If you show passion about the client’s project and also willingness to adapt in order to accomodate their budget, it will be much easier to progress from the initial ‘no’ to the final positive answer!

    Don’t be afraid to discuss with your client what you can do to be part of their new success.

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    • Christopher Author Editor

      Posted on Haha, Sarah, you’re hilarious and I love it! Honestly, it doesn’t even mettar that they leave my name out when all the cool kids on the internet mention me! We know who has more street cred!XOXOFelicia

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  20. ectopmall Author Editor

    Back in March, we introduced wholesale nfl jerseysyou to the Nike 78 project.

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  21. Spokane Website Design Author Editor

    This is such great advice. From my experience no actually means not at this time or I’m not quite sure yet.

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  22. Richbynow Author Editor

    I found this the case when starting out as a freelancer.

    It took me a while to get that first job, but as i was working on this job, i had a bit of breathing space to try and get more clients.

    Now more or less everything i do comes from word of mouth.

    It is frustrating at first but very satisfying when you get finally get going. Brilliant advice.

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  23. Paige Author Editor

    Great article! I was very disappointed when 2 clients fell through despite my best efforts to politely ignore “no”, but I know that I’ll get those design jobs elsewhere and there’s always other clients. Good advice.

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  24. 16i Web Design Author Editor

    SOOO true! This happened when my wife was rejected at 3rd interview for a job with a leading luxury tour operator. I said “No, I’m not having that” and helped her send an email back to them entitled “eternal optimism” explaining what a tragedy it would be if she was denied the opportunity – we risked looking barking mad, but had nothing to lose. They loved it and in her first year did £1.6m in sales. Five years on, and she’s brought in many more millions of pounds in sales, has been their top seller of the year several times, and was recently promoted to her perfect position.

    Never EVER take NO for an answer.

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  25. Mr. Tough Author Editor

    Very good article! It helps anyone who has been in a “No” situation or has been in a tough situation where you basically get a “no” without actually getting a “no.” Try again, you have very little to lose.

    Now, some posts mention that sometimes a no means no, and those “no’s” I think are so definitive that you can feel them and if that is the case, there really is no point beating a dead horse. And also, it is not a good idea to beat a “no” with price/rate lowering if that is what happens each time to counteract a “no.” There is a good site called “good f’ing design advice dot com” (did not want to spell out the f-word in case it offends anyone) that is funny and sound in its advice to designers.

    Thanks for the article, it has given me inspiration!

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  26. Hammy Havoc Author Editor

    Rejection sucks, but sometimes you have to start contacting so many people that it doesn’t even matter if all but one say ‘no’. And as always; There is always a second try! Inspiring words.

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  27. beats by dre pro Author Editor

    I can see you are putting a lots of efforts into your blogging site. Retain publishing the very good perform.Some actually helpful information and facts in there. Bookmarked. Wonderful to find out your web site. Thanks!

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  28. thechagroup Author Editor

    We had the same in our agency. Resilience is a positive trait, not a bad one!

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