How to Turn Down a Prospect Without Being a Jerk

man-computer-hands_LI How to Turn Down a Prospect Without Being a Jerk

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Have you ever had that moment when a new lead comes your way and after the initial consult you wonder if you should take them on as a client? You are not alone.

You might wonder, “Should I do this?” “Is it the right thing to do?” “Is it professional to say no?”

Here are some strategies you can use to determine if a prospect is a fit. And, how to turn them down – professionally – if they are not.

The Strategies

  1. During the initial consult, take detailed notes about the project, the person’s goals, comments about budget and timeline, and expectations.
  2. Pay close attention to the services they seek and assess if they are a fit for the ones you offer.
  3. Consider their industry. Does it align with your target market?
  4. Revisit your business goals. Will bringing on the prospect help you to reach your business goals, or detract from them?
  5. Listen to your gut. If there is any bit of hesitation, take it as a warning sign.
  6. Consult with your business advisor, friend, or colleague if you’re still unsure.
  7. Identify the man hours you or your team will need to commit to this prospect and determine if it’s worth it.
  8. Ask yourself if the prospect an influencer in your target industry or one you want to break into? If so, could he/she be a good referral resource?
  9. Reflect on if the project were successful, could it take you to a new business level that you seek?

The only way to get to the answer is to be honest with yourself. Consider the project goals, time commitment, business industry alignment, and joy you’ll get from working on it. Weigh the pros and cons of each and make a decision – quickly.

Let them down easy.

Now that you’ve decided to say no, how do you tell the prospect? Here are some effective strategies.

  • Be honest. Recently I had to do this. The project did seem interesting and was right up my alley as far as services my firm provides; however, the industry niche did not align with my business goals. If I were take on the prospect, it would detract from my ability to take on possibly two or three new clients in my niche area. So, I was honest and said, “After considering your project needs and comparing them to my business goals, I have decided not to take on your project. The industry you service is not a target market for my business; therefore, I have to decline at this time. I know you’re considering other firms, and I wish you the best in finding the right fit.”
  • Offer another option. If you know other resources that might be a fit, let your prospect know. Contact your other resources before making the connection to see if they have the bandwidth for the lead. If so, make the connection and bow out gracefully with this comment, “Thanks for reaching out to me. At this time, I cannot take on your project, but have a colleague I can recommend. I’ve mentioned your project to her. Her contact information is …. Thank you for contact me. I am passing the ball into your court.”

Avoid the “crickets” approach, which is to miss the proposal deadline or to ditch the person without a call or email. You never know who that person might know. Rather than burning bridges, find ways to make connections.

Have you ever had to turn down a prospect? If so, what tips can you share?