The Art of Saying No

The capital projects business requires a lot of communication and interaction.  There’s a continuing interaction between all the parties in a project, from the initial phases of the design, in construction and all the way through commissioning.  There are many contacts between different firms and people to obtain information or to solicit proposals for services.  In doing so not everyone will be doing business with everyone.  Some will just have to say no to some of those that have been asked to put out an effort. 

There is an art to saying no.  The art lies in understanding that the effort that a business has expended to address an inquiry costs time and effort, time and effort that might have been spent on something else.  However, a request for information or a proposal can also mark the beginnings of a business relationship.  For the requester it is often information or a price proposal that needs to be incorporated in a larger project.  This is a relatively easy effort for those who are acting on behalf of an entity that is assembling a project and has funding.

For those receiving the request it is an opportunity to provide services, or at a minimum mark the beginnings of a relationship with a potential customer.  Simple requests that are common knowledge in the recipient’s industry are easily answered and may not require a significant investment.  When those calls are received most are only too pleased to share that information with those whom might benefit by that knowledge. 

If the request requires assembly of a specification, plans or a price, it will require a more significant investment to provide real information.  Those making calls might be scrutinized a little bit more closely to ensure that the request is legitimate and that the energy that is necessary to answer the question is well spent.  Being sent on exploratory missions with little chance of making a deal is expensive and can leave a bad taste. These contacts can be the beginning of a longer business relationship.  Some are successful and result in business transactions. Those that are unsuccessful still result in an exchange of information. 

It’s just as important to get back and say no as it is to get back and say yes.  A “no” response is the more difficult one for a respondent to acccept. However, knowing that the answer is no provides certainty that allows the respondent to move ahead with other possibilities.  For the requestor managing this response results in a greater pool of information resources. Everyone’s busy in this industry, particularly now. Taking the time to provide both a regrets response as well as an affirmative response adds a little more humanity.  In this day and age of social media people often don’t see or meet those that they are doing business with.  This suggests that an additional level of courtesy will benefit everyone; financially and otherwise.  While phone calls might be best, social media or email with a positive response or regrets response is mutually beneficial.

Smart owners know that soliciting debriefing sessions with unsuccessful vendors are valuable exercises. However, it takes additional effort to manage a regrets process. But this effort will pay off in the long run. There’s much to be learned from a regrets communication. Unsuccessful vendors should push for debriefing exercises. Those project sponsors not willing to do so should be considered high maintenance clients and put on “special” pricing lists. The end effect of a debrief is mutual. Not only does the respondent understand where it might improve and have a better chance next time around, but the owner finds out where its request or inquiry might have fallen short. There will always be those who have difficulty accepting a negative response.  They quickly make themselves felt and no one should feel obligated to them.  Respondents do themselves a disservice if they do not make it apparent that a regrets message is as welcome as an affirmative message.    A debrief gives the respondent an opportunity to connect on a higher level with the requestor.  Even the very best and highest qualified firms don’t bat 1,000.  All businesses on both sides of this relationship will benefit.

Solicitations which are based on price are relatively easy to assess in terms of success or failure.  The softer procurements that are part of the capital projects landscape are tougher to analyze by those who are not successful.  Developing an understanding of what the project sponsor needs and wants is a difficult and complex task.  Both parties benefit by a greater understanding of project needs in this procurement scenario.  This requires a good working and communications relationship between project owners and all of their downstream vendors – those successful and those not.  Learning how to say no in a way that benefits both and upstream and downstream relationships is key to improving the chances of success in projects and reducing overall industry costs.