I remember when I first discovered the power of "no". I went to work for a mid-market independent television station in the early 1980s with a mandate to increase commercial production revenues. The department I inherited had billed $30,000 in commercial work the previous year, all of which proved to be uncollectible. So, for all intents and purposes, my new crew and I started at zero.
Our challenge was to overcome a market mindset -- not unlike virtually every local market in the country -- conditioned over the years to expect free production as part of the deal.
Obviously, we couldn't hit our revenue goals by giving away the store, so we cultivated a new language that always started with "no". We quickly learned that saying "no" opened more doors than it closed. Saying "no" raised our stock in the market because it represented a unique (although somewhat perverse) selling proposition. As the only ones saying "no" to lower prices, we became by default the only ones saying "yes" to higher value!
And don't think for a minute that saying "no" on the production side had a negative impact on air-time sales. Quite the opposite, in fact. By pressing the value argument on the creative side, we imbued more value on the media side. What was previously a toss-in became a valuable investment. By saying "no", we drew battle lines that pitted us against everyone else and forced us to perform to our own, ever-higher standards. We had to walk the talk, and it made us stronger.
But let's be clear. Once you drop your price or give something away, you can never really hope to restore or reclaim it. In fact, you establish its worthlessness the very moment you start giving it away or deep discounting. So don't blame your client for nickel-and-diming you; they're only reinforcing the bargain basement price tag you establish when you always say "yes". Weakness at the outset of a negotiation sets the tone for the future. That's why so many sales people feel victimized by their account lists. They begin by giving away the only inherent power they possess -- the power to say "no".
I used to turn this to my distinct advantage when a prospect would tell me how my counterpart at another station was "throwing in" free production as part of the deal. I would reply: "That's because he knows it's worthless. And aren't you glad he doesn't work for you?" I'd even offer to get the other station rep on the phone right then and there, claiming that part of my job was to keep my competition busy working for nothing. "Heck," I'd say to the beleaguered soul seated across from me, "it's only your image."
The bottom line to our value-driven approach was an increase in annual revenue from dead zero in 1984 to more than $900,000 in 1989! In acknowledgment, INTV Journalcrowned us "National Champions of Local Production". The sales culture we spawned influenced every facet of our operation, especially business development. While the other stations in the market were busy wholesaling their futures, we purposely held back inventory, secure in our knowledge that when push came to shove we'd be the only station able to accommodate anyone looking for added media weight. We were more than happy to say "yes" to the highest bidder. But we had to consistently say "no" before we were taken seriously.
You're probably thinking: Given current market conditions, who can afford to say "no" to anything? The more cogent question is: Who can afford not to? Media fragmentation and a down economy notwithstanding, it's always a seller's market if you know how and when to say "no". And it's never too late to learn.
About Mike Einstein and the Brothers Einstein
Mike Einstein is one-half of the Brothers Einstein, a creative strategy and branding boutique. The Brothers Einstein work with select rapid-growth clients to help define and execute healthy brand strategies in a toxic media environment.