You walk out of the room, shoulders slumped and head hanging low. Your meeting did not go the way you had hoped. Shoving through the door and walking to your car you heave a sigh, your prospect’s words still ringing in your ears: “No, we’re going to pass.”

Motivation is dwindling fast. For a moment, you think about blowing off your last appointment of the day and heading back home instead to catch up on paperwork.

What if it didn’t have to be this way? Imagine getting a “no” from a prospect and then pushing through that same door happy, excited and energized. Imagine actually saying to yourself, “Hooray, the prospect said no!”

In order to tap into the power of no, there are five key strategies you can apply today.

1. Change Your Mental Model of Success and Failure

Most people operate according to the following mental model:


They see themselves in the middle, with success on one end and failure on the other. They do everything they can to move toward success and away from failure. But what if that model is wrong? What if that model needs to be reconfigured?


What if, rather than seeing failure as something to be avoided, we saw it as a stepping stone on the path to success? Put another way: “yes” is the destination, but “no” is how you get there. To achieve significant success in today’s world, top performers do not see success and failure—yes and no—as opposites, but rather as two sides of the same coin that depend on each other.

2) Intentionally Increase your Failure Rate—Go for “No”

There is a story about a young man who asked Tom Watson, the prominent CEO of IBM, how he could be more successful. Watson responded, “Double your failure rate.” Watson wasn’t trying to be funny.

Success is to a large degree a numbers game. As such, one of the fastest ways to increase your success is to intentionally increase your failure rate. In other words, increase the number of times you hear prospects say “no” to you. Of course, increasing the number of times you hear “no” will eventually increase the number of times you hear “yes.”

3) Create No-Awareness by Counting Your No’s

Here’s a question for you: How many total no’s did you personally obtain yesterday? Last week? Last month? How many for the year? Do you know? Well, you should!

Most people, if they actually counted the number of times they hear “no” during a typical day or week, would be shocked to see how low that number turns out to be. If you don’t know your number, it’s time for you to start counting every “no” you hear, because the very act of counting your no’s will increase your no-awareness and that, in turn, will enhance your no-focus.

4) Celebrate Your Failures, Not Just Your Successes

When was the last time you rewarded yourself for failing? Probably never. That needs to change. It’s natural to be excited about our successes and to celebrate them, to reward ourselves for the achievement. But, if the key to success is to increase your failure rate, then it only makes sense to celebrate your setbacks, too!

When someone turns you down, reward yourself. Instead of mentally punishing yourself for not succeeding, buy yourself an ice cream cone and say, “That no put me one step closer to success!” If you did, maybe failure—and the word no—would no longer have the same negative hold on your thoughts and emotions.

5) “No” Doesn’t Mean Never, It Means Not Yet

Woody Allen said that 80 percent of success is simply showing up. While the power of showing up should not be underestimated, the reality is that showing up, in and of itself, is usually not enough. The key to success is to show up, and then to keep showing up. In a word: persistence.

Is this to suggest that when someone keeps telling you “no,” you should stay at it forever? No. Though Winston Churchill famously declared one should “never, never, never quit,” knowing when to quit is actually an important skill [see The Dip: A Little Book That Tells You When to Quit (And When to Stick) by Seth Godin, Sept/Oct 2007 issue, ed.]. The problem is that most people think that the time has come long before it actually has.

How do you know the perfect time to quit? Unfortunately, there is not a definitive number of “no’s” at which we should throw our hands up and go home; after all, every situation and every prospect is different.

The answer always begins with an analysis as to whether the person you’re trying to sell to is a qualified buyer. If they are unqualified (they neither want nor need what you have to offer), then you should pack up and move on. However, if they do need what you’ve got—even if they don’t yet think they want it—then pursue them for as long as it takes.

The next time you walk out of a prospect’s home having collected another no, remember these five key points and say, “Hooray! I just got a no!” Because when you increase your failure rate and go for no, the yeses will eventually come. They always do.

Courage Crafters, Inc., a company dedicated to helping
organizations achieve breakthrough performance.
Authors of
Go for No! Yes is the Destination, No is How You Get There,
Richard and Andrea conduct workshops and keynote
presentations that encourage participants to overcome
self-imposed limitations and achieve their full potential by
intentionally increasing their failure rate.