When They Say No, You Say No!

This morning I received a call from a Recruiter with over 15 years in the business. Although the call wasn’t particularly noteworthy in and by itself, it was indicative of hundreds of other calls I have received over the past few years from Recruiters who shared the same problem. Whether it involved asking for exclusivity, establishing their fee, or negotiating the search process, they all wanted to know the same thing; what do you do when your client says “No?”

Before answering their question, I ask,

“How strongly do you believe in the justification for what you are requesting from your client?”

In a surprising number of instances, this question confuses the Recruiter to the point where I have to restate it.

“Do you believe that what you are asking of your client is truly in their best interest?”

Any response other than a resounding “yes” means the Recruiter is in a weak negotiating position and will probably be compromised by their client.

In their best selling book, “Getting To Yes”, authors Roger Fisher and William Ury make a definitive statement about negotiating power. To quote,

“The relative negotiating power of two parties depends primarily upon how attractive to each is the option of not reaching an agreement.”

This negotiating power is what they refer to as your “BATNA Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement”. In other words, if you do not get what you ask for, what is your fall back position, your “line in the sand?”

Here is an example of a “BATNA” at work.

After completing the initial questioning of your client regarding their needs, three things become apparent.

1. Their need is NOW.

2. Meeting their selection criteria is critical.

3. There is no margin for error. The search must be done right the first time.

Additionally, the client has not begun their search and therefore does not have any outside resources engaged at this time.

Based on this and considering your competence as a Recruiter, you are confident that by concentrating your efforts and focusing on the client’s specific needs, you can properly fill the position in the appropriate time frame. Obviously, in order to give this level of commitment to your client, reciprocity is in order. You need to work the search on an exclusive basis.

Your request may be similar to the following:

“(Client’s name), based on what we have discussed about the critical nature of your need, the most productive approach for us to take is to work within an exclusive relationship where I can fully utilize, in an unencumbered fashion, the entire resources at my disposal. In this manner, we should achieve our objectives within an acceptable time frame without compromising the search or selection process. Can we agree to proceed on an exclusive basis?”

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This is only an example of what you might say. Obviously, the client may have concerns or questions that yet need to be addressed. However, if after addressing their concerns, your client says “No” to exclusivity, you have arrived at your “BATNA.”


When you ask for an exclusive and the client says “No”, and you accept the search on any other basis, you are basically saying at least two things about yourself. First, that you really didn’t believe in what you were asking for and second, you are willing to work with your client in a manner that is not in their best interest.

That’s why it is important to know when and under what circumstances you should ask for an exclusive. As I have stated previously, asking for an exclusive is a one way street. If they say “No”, you say “No”! When asking for an exclusive, that is your “BATNA”. In other words, specific circumstances may dictate that it is better to not accept the business if you can not have it on an exclusive basis.

The scenario related above is the exact situation the Recruiter presented to me this morning. In addition, when I asked him my two questions, his answers supported the position that it was in the client’s best interest to have a Recruiter work the search on an exclusive basis. Also, he was absolutely confident in his ability to satisfactorily fill the position in the appropriate time frame. Actually, he had all ready told his client “No”, but wanted validation that he had done the right thing. Bottom line, without knowing it, this Recruiter had established his “BATNA” by saying “No” to his client. He also wanted my version of how to turn down a search assignment.

Although every situation is unique, when dealing with an unwillingness to commit to an exclusive relationship, I generally handle it in the following manner. Remember the scenario above where we have already answered the client’s questions and addressed their concerns. If, at that point their answer remains “No”, I might say,

“((Client’s name), if I were to accept this search under any circumstances other than an exclusive relationship, I would not be able to give you a full commitment of my time and resources. Exclusivity allows us to mirror our commitment to one another in pursuing the objective of filling this position. To work under any other circumstances would not be fair to you and would compromise my ability to produce the desired results. Consequently, I must decline the opportunity to work with you at this time. If in the future you wish to reconsider the benefits of working on an exclusive basis, please give me a call. “

There are shorter more direct ways of saying “No,” but I generally go with a variation of this script because it allows me to reinforce my point on exclusivity while leaving the door open for the client to reconsider their position on the subject.

There is nothing wrong with negotiating with your clients. However, before you begin those negotiations, establish your “BATNA”, your “line in the sand.” Know what you will settle for as this will be the source of your negotiating power. Then, if the negotiations arrive at your “BATNA,” when they say “No, you say “No,” with complete confidence that you are responding in a manner that is in everyone’s best interest.

As always, if you have questions or comments, just let me know. It’s great to hear from you.

Recipient of the Harold B. Nelson Award, Terry Petra is one of our industry's leading trainers and consultants. He has successfully conducted in-house programs for hundreds of search, placement, temporary staffing firms and industry groups across the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, England, and South Africa. To learn more about his training products and services, including PETRA ON CALL, and BUSINESS VALUATION, visit www.tpetra.com. Terry can be reached at (651) 738-8561 or click to email him.


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