Want To Get To Yes In A Sales Meeting? Start With No.

Randy Illig

For both sales veterans and newbies, this is the simplest advice for every step of your career.

A Gen Z relative recently got into sales for the first time and came to me for advice. Flattered, I offered her a few suggestions that she rejected immediately. Which, in a strange way, was exactly what I was after.

That’s because for the entirety of my sales career, in almost every interaction I’ve ever had, I use the same strategy: I start with no.

Here’s why it mattered to the Gen Zer and what it could mean for salespeople at every point in their career.

She’s just starting off in the insurance business. To her benefit, that means her potential customer pool is unlimited – after all, most people are likely to buy insurance and many of her acquaintances haven’t done so yet. To her detriment, it also means she needs to start from scratch to build a book of business. That means first reaching out to her network of friends and family, my suggestion that made her cringe.

It’s understandable why she pushed back. She’s fine selling to strangers, but doesn’t want to introduce a potentially uncomfortable dynamic into the healthy relationships she has with aunts, uncles, close friends, cousins, etc.

I totally get it. Which is why starting with no is the perfect strategy for her, and probably for you, too.

What if instead of feeling like a burden she realized she was actually helping the people in her life? For everyone who already has insurance, surely some percentage of them have a policy that isn’t actually right for them at that moment.

How many people do you know who enjoy going through the minutiae of an insurance contract in order to save some money or properly align their life with their coverage? Next to no one. That’s where a new salesperson can offer something of value that doesn’t potentially damage existing relationships. On top of that, she can further gain trust by promising to do something for them without the expectation that they reciprocate.

That’s where no comes in. Specifically, that means offering a policy review with the explicit preamble that, no matter what conclusions the review produced, there would be no expectation of a transaction at the end. Even if there was a clear savings of money, a clear reason for doing business together, the review would wrap up with her saying: “Thanks so much for letting me do this, please let me know if I can help in any way going forward,” and she’d stop there, respecting her end of the agreement (and giving the other person room to decide on their own whether to continue the conversation).

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Starting with no is the opposite of how most salespeople think, of course. Which is why it’s one of the most powerful ways to create trust. Hunting for yes sets up a defensive posture right from the get-go for the prospective client. Not only is starting with no counterintuitive, I believe it’s applicable to every sort of sales work – insurance, airplanes, professional services, software, whatever. No matter the size of the deal, the lead time needed or the complexity involved, when you make no acceptable, yes gets a whole lot easier.

I’ve experienced this in my own career too many times to count. I’ve walked into scenarios with an assumption of a high level of trust, only to quickly realize the buyer didn’t feel the same way. This was obviously bad for me, but also for them – buyers in a defensive position are more likely to withhold basic information. If they feel pushed, they’ll be reluctant to share key information, like how much they’re comfortable spending. In a high-trust scenario, that information is quite useful to both sides. In one with low trust, it might be regarded by a prospect as a compromised secret that could be used against them.

Starting with no isn’t just a game-tested way for a new insurance salesperson to begin building a client base. It’s one of the few tried-and-true methods that’s worked during every stage of my career. By giving clients the power to easily say no, they more readily say yes.