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How to reject a business proposal in a respectful and authentic way

In my last post, I talked about how giving a Silent No to a proposal that you cannot or don't want to follow through can hurt your reputation. This is especially so when you are the one who requested for a proposal.

Let’s face it, the real underlying reason why most executives choose to give a Silent No is that they don’t know how to express their no in a respectful and authentic way. You didn’t learn this in school. Neither did you learn in most of the communications workshop you went to.

I would like to share a simple framework on how you can do this.

How to say no:

Step 1. Acknowledge

Always start by acknowledging the effort put into drafting the quote/proposal for you.

“Thank you for your effort in doing up the quotation/proposal. We appreciate it.”

This simple line can make a huge difference in how vendors perceive you and your brand. Everybody wants to feel felt.

Step 2. Rationalise your rejection with diplomacy

There are only very few reasons why you would end up rejecting a proposal. Giving a straightforward yet tactful explanation can help close the loop in the minds of your vendor.

Here are a few possibilities

1. You cannot afford the product/service.

“Our current budget does not allow us to hire your services/buy your product at the proposed pricing.”

If you are one of those afraid of looking too poor to afford the service, understand that vendors, being business owners, are well aware that revenues fluctuate. Stating "our current budget" implies you may not afford now, but you may be in the future. So relax. You will not lose face.

2. You needed three quotes, or you found a vendor that matched your needs better.

“We have requested a proposal from a few vendors. We found all of them to be reasonably good. At the same time, we have chosen one that suits our needs best.”

You might be thinking, What if this vendor's offering is not good, should I say they are good? My take is that you are already rejecting them. So it wouldn't hurt to be nice.

3. The project has been changed or delayed.

“There has been some revisions to the project timeline/scope. Therefore, we are not able to go ahead with your proposal as expected.”

There is no need to go into great details. Keep it brief.

Step 3: Add a simple apology

“We sorry that we cannot work together on this project.”

Don’t make a thing out of saying sorry. Too many of us take it too seriously. Saying sorry need not be a sign of wrongdoing or weakness. It is a sign of empathy.

Step 4: End on a positive note.

All rejection can and should end on a positive note.

If you know you will not be working with the vendor in the future for whatever reasons, just end it with,

“We wish you all the best in your business.”

If you think there could be a possibility of working together, then end it with,

“We look forward to the possibility of working with you in the future”.

Note that there are no promises made in this statement.

Putting them together

Putting the four parts together, here’s how your rejection message can be:

“Thank you for your effort in doing up the proposal/quotation. We appreciate it.

Unfortunately, our current budget does not allow us to hire your services at the proposed pricing.

We are sorry that we cannot work together on this project.

We wish you all the best in your business.”

This is simple, straightforward and human.

Compare this to a template response, such as:

We regret to inform you that your proposal did not meet our criteria.

We wish you all the best in your future endeavours.

This is just plain insincere. But even this is better than just not responding at all.

Now that you have read this no, I hope you will not be lost for words the next time you need to reject a proposal. People like to work with people who come across as authentic. But with a Silent No, you are far from it.

Do share this framework with others. Let there be no more Silent Nos.

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