Maybe means no

I spent a good chunk of 1987 driving around Iowa, trying to sign radio stations to the new statewide news network we were starting. My first pitch (Roger Gardner was with me) was to Larry Edwards, the GM at WMT in Cedar Rapids. Probably the #2 station in Iowa at the time. We told him what we were planning to do and he asked if we had a contract with us. We did, and he signed it on the spot.

The next day we met with Betty Baudler and Rich Fellingham (GM and Ops Mgr) at KASI in Ames, Iowa. We told them about the network and they signed on the spot. I think the same thing happened a few days later with Andy Anderson at KMA, Shenandoah.

The point here is not that I’m a great salesperson (I’m not). The point is, these managers did not say “maybe.” Eventually, we got to some that wanted to “think about it.” But these guys understood what we were going to do and decided –on the spot– they wanted to be part of it.

They weren’t all that easy and I got a lot of “maybe’s” over the years (“Could you send me another copy of your proposal?” or “Let me talk it over with my program director and we’ll get back to you.”) Somewhere in about year 15 I remember saying to a couple of prospects:

“If you had to give me a yes or a no today, which would it be?”
“Uh, I don’t like being pressured!”
“No pressure, I’m just curious. If you HAD to say yes or no right now, which would it be?”
“If you’re gonna pressure me, then the answer is no!”
“Great. I won’t take any more of your time.”

Anybody that was EVER going to say yes would have stopped me before I got to the door. Or called the next day to say she changed her mind. Never happened. (End of 20 year flash back)

In Small Is the New Big, Seth Godin reminds me that “maybe means no.” He also explains the intellectual dishonesty that is behind most “maybe’s.”

“Dealing with change ultimately does make you confront one thing: dishonesty. And dishonesty–intellectual dishonesty, decision-making dishonesty, not-willing-to-face-the-music dishonesty–is the greatest enemy that a company can have. We disguise it as waiting to get more informaiton or looking for more input. In fact, the real deal is that we’re not willing to look the situation in the eye and make a decision, right or wrong. And so companies and individuals put off acknowledging what they already know and acting on it. They don’t commit to a decision until they have to–even if they’ve already made the decision in their minds, and a delay in making it official means spending more money, making mistakes, and staying up all night to catch up.” (Pg. 133 Small Is the New Big, Seth Godin)

So maybe I’ll respond to the next pitch I get with:

“I’m not going to say “yes” to your proposal. Ever. You can have a “no,” or a “maybe.” Which would you perfer?

2 thoughts on “Maybe means no

  1. It seems likely that all of this is true in the sales situations you have illustrated, but I can tell you that in my day-to-day world “maybe”, in fact, actually means “maybe” quite a large portion of the time. Maybe this is why the damn thing isn’t working; or maybe its this other reason; let’s try stuff until we get a positive result.
    Knee-jerk gut reactions may be all fine and dandy for these savannah-evolved alpha/beta male pissing contests which seem to so drive our culturally bankrupt commerce-obsessed lifestyles, but there is a universe of nuance which supports and and creates the options which the suit-and-tie set weigh and decide upon, and if those of us who are practitioners of maybes were to just go with our gut reactions then there would be a lot of things that would not work properly, or perhaps even exist in the first place.

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