The Power of No in Account Service

By Marki Landerud, VP/Partner, Account & Business Development Director

March 18, 2014

“No” isn’t a word you hear very often in account service. As strategists, communicators and enablers of progress, we typically don’t see “no” as a very helpful word. We don’t use it much with our colleagues and we certainly don’t like to say it to clients.

A successful account service person works for both the client and the internal agency team. We bridge the gap between the two, juggling ideas, perspectives and limitations in our pursuit of the best possible end product. For the sake of harmony and progress, we’ve learned all sorts of creative ways to bypass “no” and get to “yes.”

“Yes! We can absolutely get that new sell sheet written and printed in time for your trade show next week. How about if we use an existing template to save some time?”

“Yes! We will avoid all use of the color brown, except in pictures of your (brown) product.”

“Yes! I realize that you’ve never placed online advertising with these sites before, but we have and they deliver great results—and to a larger share of your primary target audience.”

“Yes! This ad concept does require a photo shoot, and we’ve found a way to deliver one in your budget because it’s crucial to the success of the ad.”

We say “yes” because when clients are happy, everyone is happy.

Sometimes, of course, getting to “yes” is difficult. Maybe it’s because we don’t have complete information. Or because of office politics on the client’s side. Or maybe a critical person was left out (or chose to stay out) of the initial development process, and now doesn’t have the right context for decision-making.

A good account service person can usually figure out what’s wrong and find a solution that leads to “yes.”

But there are times when “yes” is not appropriate—specifically, when it comes at the cost of a successful campaign. In these situations, nothing will do but a flat-out “no.” Not a “we’ll do this, but we’d like to go on record that it’s against our professional advice,” but an actual “no.”

If we’ve established enough trust and respect, as a good account service representative should, our “no” should make the client stop and think. It should spark an honest conversation and, hopefully, lead to a different “yes.”

Of course, it might instead lead to a lost project or even a lost account. That’s a risk we’re willing to take.

At Stephan & Brady, we rarely say “no.” When we do, it’s because we aren’t short-order cooks. We’re strategists with broad experience and deep expertise, which is why clients hire us in the first place. We’re passionate about what we do, and we are fundamentally incapable of wasting clients’ time, money and resources executing tactics that don’t serve their strategies and goals.

“No, we can’t use that image of your product, because it doesn’t support your brand promise.”

“No, we don’t recommend organizing your website that way, because it doesn’t support the way your customers prefer to find information.”

“No, we can’t allocate your media buy that way, because your target audience never reads those publications or watches those channels.”

Although we might use the word “no” on rare occasions, we want our clients to hear the full meaning behind it, which is this: “We care as much about your business and customers as you do.” We hope that our firm stance communicates how seriously we take each and every decision we make for our clients, since giving in is always easier than fighting.

In account service, we work hard to build strong, mutually respectful partnerships with our clients that don’t allow conflicting ideas to get in the way of success. That’s why, anytime there’s a “no” on the table, we’re confident that we can work with the client to find the “yes” that will get the results we love to deliver.


Heart plate with fork and tape measure thumbnail

Say Yes to Better

Say Yes to Better

To support a revamped print ad campaign and refreshed branding, we created a versatile booklet for Jones.

To support a revamped print ad campaign and refreshed branding, we created a versatile booklet for Jones.

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