The Slow Yes

Recently, I listened as a candidate for a director of development position at a major U.S. university answered a question about how he handles rejection.  His response was a winner:

“Yes, every development officer hears “no” from time to time and you have to have a plan for how to respond to a “no” response from a prospect.  However, in many instances, my experience is that “no” means “not right now” and I look at those answers as the first step toward a “slow yes.”

His point was two-fold:

  1. First, you must have a plan of action to respond to definite “no” responses from prospects.  My suggestion is that you want to have a series of questions that can help you understand their negative response.  Did you ask for the wrong amount?  Wrong timing?  Wrong project?  Were you the wrong person to be asking?  Is their response really a “no”?
  2. When you find that “no” actually means, “not right now” you begin to work toward getting the prospect to a “slow yes.”  When does it work better in their life to consider this gift?  How might your proposal be tweaked to make it more compelling for the prospect?  Are there other external triggers that would help make this gift happen?  Finally, how can you get them saying “yes” to other, smaller requests so that they get used to responding positively to you on the path to their “slow yes?”

This candidate’s response was note-worthy not because he revealed a new technique to increase proposal conversion rates.  Instead, he reminded everyone in the room that the first goal of soliciting prospects is to keep the conversation going, regardless of the first answer. That’s the only way you can get to a “slow yes.”


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