“No” seems to be the hardest word: Why getting a Yes/No is better than a “Maybe”
Sorry is indeed a hard word (I won’t contradict Elton John), but I propose in this post that “No” is the hardest word in deals and decisions. The infiltration of “Maybe”, instead of a “Yes/No”, while seemingly promising, is the “No Man’s Land”, where deals die and decisions falter.
Why cast such a gloomy picture? The charming hope in the “Maybe”…
- The deal closes
- The decision maker says yes
- The partner agrees to something we want
Is more comforting than
- The deal is lost
- The decision maker says no
- The partner disagrees with we want
However, the comforting “Maybe” is more damaging than getting a Yes/No.
I’ll explain this in three points:
- Why “Maybe” tends to be the default
- What the (bad) consequences of “Maybe”
- How to drive to a Yes/No vs “Maybe”
1/ Why “Maybe” tends to be the default
It’s hard for people to say no , due to reasons like not wanting to be impolite, guilt/obligation, fear of disappointing someone, feeling unkind etc. Since saying “Yes” is a commitment, a “Maybe” is safer— keeps options open, and avoids confrontation. This means that even when the answer is a “No”, you might hear a “Maybe” as a placeholder.
2/ What the (bad) consequences of “Maybe” are
In sales training, we were strenuously taught to drive to a Yes/No vs Maybe. Here’s some reasons why “Maybe” is bad:
- Time waste: the sales deal is already lost but you continued to spend time on it, instead of other high potential deals.
- Missing goals: failure to form a partnership, or a mad scramble for other options, leading to delayed timelines or outcomes negotiated in a rush.
In contrast, the benefits of getting to an early “No” means:
- Time: You stop spending time into the lost deal and spend time on other deals to hit quota/targets.
- Reaching goals: you explore and pressure test other options, to find mutually beneficial ones.
So, indefinite “Maybes” are bad.
3/ How to drive to a Yes/No vs Maybe
- Ask directly for a decision. This might not work in all cultures, but assuming the right moment and context, ask.
- Ask about timelines for a decision. If there’s no timeline, you are in the “Maybe” zone and are not a priority. The chances of closing that deal is zero to unlikely.
- Ask what “No” reasons might be, be curious about the reasoning (listen, not talk).
The points above assume baseline deal management hygiene:
- You’ve done the basics to qualify the deal
- You’re working with the right decision maker(s)
You can read about both here.
Deals and decisions take time, and of course there is a period of time there’s a “Maybe” zone, before a decision is made. There is a time to sell, to persuade, and to push. But such activities cannot go on indefinitely. There is a time to get to a “Yes/No” and bring finality and clarity. It’s hard, but worth it.