4 Ways to Say No to a Sales Prospect

I want to give you 4 different ways to say no to a sales prospect who just isn’t right for you and your business.

tl;tbtr: (too long; too busy to read):

If you’re filling out the permission-slip that was due yesterday while you’re waiting for the vet to call back about the dog’s stitches, you probably don’t have time to read, so here’s the gist:

  • Saying no to prospects who aren’t right for you saves both of you time and money.
  • Be polite and say no as early as possible.
  • Don’t lie – clients can hear when you’re lying and it doesn’t help anyone.
  • Be firm, say no, and refer on the clients you think would be good for your colleagues.

We’ve all been there, right? We’ve all taken on a client that we knew we shouldn’t. And predictably, it did not go well.

4 Ways to Say No to Sales Prospects

It’s bad enough that a project doesn’t go well, but the worst is when you knew ahead of time how it would turn out and you signed them up anyway. When you get that groaning feeling in the pit of your stomach you just know that if you were a bazillionaire already, you wouldn’t be taken on this client. But because you couldn’t say no, you’re tied to this draining client that won’t go away.

And then, you get a poor review because you never really were a good fit.

If you have your list of red flags and a lead qualification system, you have to trust the processes you set up. If you come across someone who doesn’t pass, you have to learn to say, “NO.” It’s super-hard, but here’s how to do it.

Why is it hard to say no?

Mama didn’t bring me up that way

Your need for politeness is the first thing that gets in the way for most women business owners. It feels rude to turn someone down, especially when you’re the one trying to sell them! As women, many of us (Southern US girls – we have to fight this!) were also brought up to be people-pleasers. If you’re a people-pleaser, then saying no sure seems mean. The thought of disappointing someone, even a stranger, is distressing and it often feels easier to just say yes.

You poor thing

Who out there likes to fix people/men/children/stray animals/everyone? If you have that “fixer” impulse like so many moms do, what helps you in your day-to-day life can really devastate your business. You can’t help every prospective client who comes along. Some red-flag clients come to you and are just so needy. They make you pity them and they pull at your instinct to help. You want to say yes so you can fix them up and change their lives.

You just need the money

I’m pretty familiar with this one myself. I’m incredibly fortunate though – since I’ve been running my own business, I’ve worked with clients that may not have been the best fit, but I’ve only had one truly terrible client. Taking on anyone just because you need the money sounds like it’s good advice, but it opens you up to the types of clients that will take advantage of you and will push and push and push.

Make it work

As women and mothers, I truly believe that we’re hard-wired to find a solution and make it work. When we find ourselves in a hot mess, evolution has taught us to suck it up, figure it out, and dig ourselves (and our children) out. Who can always find the lost set of keys? Mom. Who has the last minute solution to a forgotten book report diorama? Mom. Before we even think about whether we’re “allowed” to turn down a client, we just right into solving their problem and deciding what they need. We forget to think about whether this client would be good for us or not.

Why should we turn any client leads down?


If you’re working with me or reading my blog, I’m going to guess that you really want to take some of your time back so you don’t work 16 hours a day. The only way to run your business and maintain some sort of family life is to develop processes and then find clients who fit your process. Each client that doesn’t fit or causes trouble in some way is robbing you of family time. They’re wasting their own time too. And, even worse, they’re hurting the clients that you could be helping instead when they waste your time.

Mental Health

I don’t know about you, but when a client project goes well, I’m on top of the world. When they falter, I start sinking down and feeling like scum. Clearly, it’s best to distance yourself a bit from the outcome of client projects, but it’s ridiculously hard to do for some of us. A string of bad clients can eat away at your confidence and can impact how you help other clients. If you’re not confident, then no one -clients or family- gets the best you.


Red-flag clients, and to some extent poor-fit clients cost you money. The more you try to fit to them, the more your are away from your established processes. This one ties in with wasting time – time costs your money. Even if you’re not the one staying late, your team’s time costs you money. The poor clients won’t be profitable.

4 ways to say no

No matter which method you use to say no, you have to keep in mind three things:

  • Always thank them for the time they’ve spent with you going through your qualification. You can feel good about being kind and polite here! Let them know you appreciate the fact that they have spent their valuable time with you already.
  • Earlier is always better. If you know someone isn’t right, don’t take them through more qualification just in case… The earlier you say no, the better it is for both of you. You both waste less time and money, and because you’re less invested, the no doesn’t “sting” as much for either of you.
  • Never lie. Don’t say you’re too busy if you’re not. Clients can tell when you’re not telling the truth. Woman-up and tell them the truth, with maybe a little honey.

Direct them to a product

If someone isn’t right in someway for your core offer or service, can you send them to a product? If you had a self-serve product that would help people along the path toward being your ideal client, you could send a lot of not-quite-right folks that way. You could be building people into your ideal client.

If you don’t have an appropriate product, you could have a suite of affiliate products that could help them. And finally, if you can’t find an affiliate product to help them out, you can send them to someone else’s product. (and if you do, get to work on building an affiliate sales relationship with that product creator!)

It’s not you, it’s me

Sometimes, it’s clear a prospect wouldn’t make a good client for one or many reasons. By far, the easiest thing to say is, “I just don’t think we’d be a good fit. My business just won’t be able to serve your needs the way you deserve. You need to start looking for a different vendor. I wish you the best with your project.” 

With this one, the earlier in the qualification process you can say this, the better. You’ll save everyone some time. Plus, if a lead isn’t too invested in the idea of you helping them out, a respectful no is easier for them to hear.

Refer to a colleague

Building on the previous method, if you can refer your prospect to another service provider, you’ll leave a favorable impression. 

If you think a lead may not be right for you, but would be really great for someone else, refer them on to a friend or colleague. But, if you see red flags or just know the client would be trouble, please don’t refer them to anyone you want good will from. Your relationships with your referral partners are important – they’ll be a good source of leads for you. If you consistently send them trouble, then you’ll destroy that relationship.

Some people would recommend sending a red flag lead to a competitor. I don’t agree with that myself, unless you really think it could be a good fit for them. It’s really a waste of your time and energy taking negative actions like that.

Just say no!

If anyone gets belligerent or abusive, remember that you have no obligation to this person whatsoever. You don’t owe them a solution, a referral, or even politeness. I give you full permission to say, “I’m sorry, that’s just not possible,” and hang up (or walk away or block their emails). You truly don’t have time for this person.

4 Ways to Say No to Sales Prospects who aren't right for you.

4 ways to say no to a sales lead - hello kate smith

Featured Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Updated 8/23/2020

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