Matthew Maxim #32

What does this guy have to do with this article?  Surprisingly little.
What does this guy have to do with this article? Surprisingly little.

“I will take ‘no’ for answer; I won’t take ‘no answer’ for an answer.”

What is life but a series of questions (including this one)?

Some are big…

– Will you marry me?
– What is the meaning of life?
– Can I have one of your kidneys?

…while others are less consequential:

– Can I borrow your stapler?
– What’s today’s date?
– What was the name of that other guy in Wham?

Regardless of their relative levels of importance, every question needs an answer. And when it comes to business, a lot of the ‘big questions’ terminate in a ‘yes’ or ‘no.’

As a writer / director and creative consultant, sales is half the game. As such, hearing ‘no’ or ‘not now’ — while an undesired response — is all part of the process. To make it in sales (and we’re all salesfolk on one level or another, agreed?), ‘no’ must be an acceptable answer. You don’t have to like it– you shouldn’t like it– but you must be able to roll with it and move on.

But what about when there’s no response? Do you assume the answer is ‘no’ and move on? Or do you keep pushing?

Two quick real-life scenarios:

One, a production company a producing partner and I pitched. The producers we spoke with were very enthusiastic about the project and promised to get back to us ‘soon.’ But a day went by, then two days, then a week, then two weeks… no promised response.

Two, a conversation with a successful business owner back in December. This CEO was interested in possibly hiring me as a creative consultant to help form and lead an in-house marketing team. I’ve consistently followed up with him this year and yet, no returned call.

Now, ‘the rest of the story…’

We followed up with the production company and– long story short– the deal is going through. Big win all the way around.

Re: the CEO who needs creative help… still no response. I have a strong feeling his answer will eventually be a ‘no’ or ‘not right now.’ But what if it isn’t? What if he’s been too busy? What if– like a lot of people I eventually get in touch with– he says ‘thank you so much for your persistence. I’ve just been swamped lately’ ? What if I stop following up and in so doing– to use a metaphor from success guru Zig Ziglar– I stop pumping the handle just a few seconds before the water would have started flowing?

Now, an important note: does the person you’re querying owe you an answer? No. Absolutely not. Following through on a question assuming someone owes you an answer doesn’t make you persistent; it makes you a stalker (sidebar to Jodie Foster: did you get the hair clippings I mailed you? They’re a symbol that we’re meant to be together. CALL ME!!!)

Therefore, the CEO I’m currently following up with in no way owes me anything at all, including an answer. Period. Conversely, I owe him nothing as well, including the obligation to assume his silence is his ‘no.’ And again, ‘what if?’ What if, like the production company, the CEO’s silence isn’t a ‘no’ but a ‘yes-in-progress’?

So, to sum up: before you write off an opportunity because you’re not getting an answer, first ask yourself if losing a potential ‘yes’ is a risk you’re willing to take.

And finally– and I can’t stress this enough– Andrew Ridgeley. Andrew Ridgeley was the other singer in Wham.

– Matthew Porter

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  1. NeilMarch 10, 2010

    i have done a mere fraction of the freelancing work that you have done, but i find the whole pitch process so taxing because so few people get back to you. obviously, there’s a time after which you don’t hear back that you can just assume that the answer is no, but still there’s that gnawing suspicion that maybe they just haven’t gotten back to you with a yes…yet. everything i have read says that it is perfectly fine to write one “just waiting to hear back from you” email. but that’s it.

    still, it’s frustrating to me that people can’t show the decency and take the literally two seconds it requires to write an email back, “thanks for your email, but we aren’t interested in this right now.” here’s an idea, they could even have this email at the ready and just take approximately .5 seconds to cut and paste it into the email back to you. that’s pretty much the same time it will take them to delete your email, so why not just offer you closure!

    and while you are right that no one OWES you this, people should also think about the fact that we often run into people in different situations where the table has been turned. the editor who doesn’t respond to your freelance pitches may one day be the freelance writer who wants you to take seriously their article ideas when you are the big shot running the new yorker. in other words, burn no bridges.

    as a side note, don’t waste your time on jodie.

  2. Matthew PorterMarch 10, 2010

    As usual, agreed on everything you’ve said, Neil.

    There are certainly times when you have to realize you’re not going to get an answer (like when I’m wondering why an editor isn’t returning my e-mails about an unpaid invoice, only to learn the magazine has shut down). In these, and less obvious situations, spending further time on followups is ‘throwing good time after bad.’

    SO agreed that doing the right thing as far as responding takes very little time and, in the end, serves their own best interests. In the end, what they do is on them. All I can worry about are things under my control, e.g. when to follow up, how long, etc.

    I think a lot of this boils down to fear of confrontation, people thinking you’ll hate them, get mad, or whatever if they tell you a direct ‘no.’ Ugh. Hate that. The more I respect someone, the more direct and clear I am. Doesn’t always translate, unfortunately.

    >’as a side note, don’t waste your time on jodie.’

    LOL… yeah, I think you’re right on that one, too. Jeez, even making an oblique stalker joke creeped me out in writing it.


  3. Jeremy WaiteMarch 11, 2010

    Great article. And thanks for the heads up on my blog. I did some work with Saatchi a while back and we spent a lot of time talking about “answers”. Much of the branding work I do revolves around ‘love’ and it amazes me everytime that people get surprised when I start to talk about love and spirituality in the boardroom.

    All the big decisions we make are based on love. 80% of our decisions are emotional – what car to buy / who to marry / who to sleep with / where to go on holiday….. It’s only the smaller day to day decisions that are based on logic. True, we use logic to justify our emotional decisions, but all the big answers come from your heart. I’ve been in business a while and I think the reason many of us get blanked so much or promised the earth on a project that never materialises, is because many people struggle to make the transition from an emotional decision – to a logical decision that turns into action. As Bono said (or was it Jesus!)… “love without action is dead!” Keep up the great writing Matthew. 🙂

  4. Matthew PorterMarch 11, 2010

    Hey Jeremy,
    Thanks for the kind words. And to reciprocate, very glad I came across your blog. I’m a big believer in the power of effective branding. Your tagline sums it up perfectly: ‘Your Brand Isn’t What YOU Say It Is… It’s What THEY Say It Is… ‘ (is that from Saint Seth of Godin?) How true that is. You are on the RSS feed, sir.

    Speaking of quotes, the ‘love without action is dead’ I don’t think came from Bono or Jesus (though the former thinks he’s the latter, God love ‘im), but a paraphrasing from a book of the Bible called ‘James’ (tiny one, toward the end) that says ‘faith without works is dead.’ Don’t think it’s a stretch to say the same of love, though.

    And speaking of Bono (stream of consciousness here), I dug what you said about him, about his effectiveness at leveraging his personal equity. I believe that celebrity / fame is a form of currency and that Bono has led the way in exchanging that equity for changed lives instead of just aggrandizing his own ego (okay… in addition to aggrandizing his own ego).

    Man, I love talking ‘brand.’ Thanks for the chat, mate.

    Matthew Porter

  5. […] few weeks ago, I shared with you a maxim I’ve found to be true, useful, and readily […]

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