A fresh rep for one of my clients, Lynn, had been speaking with a potential customer. After a couple of meetings, Lynn was concerned about this huge opportunity. I asked about the situation and Lynn said “No matter how hard I try, I can’t find a fit for their issues and our solutions… Now what?” As I often do, I tried to give Lynn a slightly different perspective.  “Lynn,” I said, “you mean you can’t find a fit TODAY between their needs and your solutions.”  At this intersection in a deal, you can take one of three paths:

1)      Try to sell them something they don’t need (I list it first since it is the most common… and also the root of all evil in the world… or at least most of it);

2)      Walk away from the deal and claim to the world that you were the victim of a great societal injustice; or

3)      Clearly and honestly communicate the lack of a fit with your potential client to open the door for future opportunities and referrals.

Truth be told, Lynn went pretty far down the path of complaining about being a victim. Lynn then strongly considered option number 1. Lynn had a desire to retire some quota and was hopeful that the customer might buy something even if it was not a fit.  I explained that trying to sell something they didn’t need would be like trying to push a rope (try it – it doesn’t work).  Finally, Lynn reluctantly followed path number 3.

Lynn’s honest communication had an unintended consequence

Lynn said “After reviewing your situation, I don’t know that we have an ideal fit for your current needs. I’d be happy to help you find a vendor who can help you succeed.” Lynn then reminded this potential client of the three areas where Lynn’s clients say they have the greatest impact. What happened next surprised Lynn:

So what happened?

Lynn’s client said “I think this is the first time I can recall when a vendor told me that they were not a good fit. You mentioned three things you said you solved. Can you tell me more about the second one? We might have a need for that.” After a brief discussion where Lynn asked a ton of questions, the client asked Lynn “Is that something you could help us solve?”  Lynn said “Yes, I am confident we could deliver the results you said you are hoping to achieve. What would you need to see to be comfortable with our solution?”

Here is where Lynn became jubilant

Lynn’s client said “We don’t need to see anything. You guys were honest enough with the other project that if you are telling me this is in your sweet spot, I’m comfortable moving forward. Can you please send us a contract?” Lynn was thrilled. After a brief conversation about how profanity was not required and didn’t convey a professional tone – even internally, I explained what had happened:

It is so rare that vendors honestly explain when they can’t help their prospects, that Lynn developed an extraordinary level of trust from the client. Once it became clear that Lynn was truly looking out for the client’s best interest, they wanted to find a project where they could work together.

I’m not suggesting that you should tell every prospect that you cannot help them. But, when you don’t have a good fit, sharing that honest assessment could lead to dramatic success right around the corner.

It’s your turn

Please share your stories where honesty may have led to great success around the corner.