What to Do When They Hate Your Idea

Recently I presented a carefully-thought-out campaign idea to some people who run an auto dealership. They didn’t like it.

radio tv sales tip: you can recover if they hate your idea

Photo by DDRockstar/dpc

It was at the end of a week in which I’d already made 16 presentations, and gotten a positive reaction to my recommendations on the vast majority.

But I missed on this one. Big time.

The head of the dealership politely but emphatically explained that my idea did not fit the personality of his stores. It did not project the image that he wanted the public to have of his already-very-successful-business.

I was offering a strategy to aggressively go after new markets. He was happy with what he already had, and didn’t want to mess with a winning formula.

Sales Skills:
What Do You Do When The Client Hates Your Idea?

It’s never fun when your idea bombs. But there are steps you can take to get the conversation back on track:

Ask some questions to make sure you fully understand the objection. It’s not enough to know that the client doesn’t like something. You need to know what they’re not comfortable with, and why. This will help you determine if your idea can be tweaked, or if you need to start over.

Explain the rationale behind the strategy you chose. If you still believe in your idea after you’ve probed the objection, take a moment to defend it and show how it fits for them. Sometimes it turns out that the client didn’t understand your initial explanation.

Seek common ground. It might be possible to modify your idea in a way that addresses their concerns and still delivers the right result.

Don’t get defensive, and don’t argue.   Jeb Blount, author of the book Fanatical Prospecting, puts it this way:

Scores of salespeople try to argue their prospects into changing their minds — to prevail with debate. This is why prospects lie to us. They expect when they say no that they’ll face a battle and be disrespected.

…Overcoming doesn’t work. There is a universal law of human behavior: You cannot argue another person into believing they are wrong. The more you push another person, the more they dig their heels in and resist you.

Be willing to look for another solution. The fact that your client disagrees with you doesn’t mean they’re stupid. The concerns may have merit. There may be another way to attack the problem. As Jeb Blount recommends, “If the horse is dead, dismount.”

Recognize that sometimes “No” gives you the tools to get to “Yes.” There are cases where the fastest way to learn what clients want is to first find out what they don’t want. In Ask, his book about online surveys, Ryan Levesque discusses a struggle we’ve all been through:

Think about the last time you and a group of friends were hanging out and thinking about where to go out to eat. You are all sitting around and someone says, “Hey, anybody hungry? What you all feel like doing for dinner?”

What’s the most common response? “I don’t know, what do you want?”

Sometimes that conversation goes around in circles – endlessly.

Why? Because, at the end of the day, people don’t know what they want.

However, if you’re hanging out with that same group of friends, you can ask a different sort of question: “Well, is there anything you don’t feel like eating for dinner tonight?”

Interestingly, people are much better at answering that type of question.

Your friends might say, “I don’t feel like pizza because I’m trying to eat gluten-free.” Or “I don’t want to do sushi because I’m allergic to shellfish.”

People are really good at telling you what it is they don’t want.

Similarly, you can also ask each of your friends one by one, “What did you have for dinner last night?” People are also very good at answering that question as well.

The reason why is because people essentially are only good at answering two basic types of questions when they don’t know what they want: what is they don’t want, and what they’ve done in the past.


In the end, that’s what saved my meeting with the car dealers.

Learning what they didn’t like opened up a conversation that offered us some strong clues on what they would like. The head of the store and one of his managers tossed out several suggestions that made a lot of sense. We are working on crafting those suggestions into a new strategy to put in front of them.

When the meeting’s over, see what you can learn from the experience. I’ve gone back through my notes of the initial needs analysis, trying to figure out what I missed. I’m convinced that there’s a question or two I could have asked at the first meeting that would have taken me down a different, and better, path.

Question: How do you handle it when a proposal bombs? You can leave a comment by clicking here.


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