If you’re going to be an entrepreneur, you’d better get used to being told “No!” No is the last thing you will hear before you get a “yes!” But how many times do you have to hear “no” before you get discouraged? And what can you do about this fact of life that comes with the territory of entrepreneurship?

How about a fun game?

Yes, we made a game out of rejection! We called it “the No Game.”

The first thing we did was set the ground rules. And to do that, we had to discover how many “no’s” our people were getting from decisionmakers before they got that big “yes.” So, we all started keeping track. That was sort of fun to start with. It assumed there was an absolute, measurable limit – crazy as it seemed. After a while, we noticed that the average number of “no’s” before getting to “yes” was 7.

That’s right, 7! Not 9 or 4, but 7! So, we used 7 as our bassline. Then when our folks would complain that they had been shut down 3 or 4 times, we could say, “Relax, you’re not even to the average yet!” And when they complained that they were up to 15 no’s, we’d say, “Well, buck up! It’s right around the corner!”

But then we started comparing notes on how certain of our people got to “yes” sooner than others and we found out the 3 things they consistently did to come in under the average and win the No Game

  1. Ask a Different Day. Amazingly, some of our people got to “yes” by simply waiting! Maybe the buyer was in a better mood the next day, the next week, or the next month. Maybe the buyer wasn’t looking for our kind of product at the time he or she was first asked. Maybe the market changed. Or maybe a product in our category was discontinued and now there was room. Something happened that required time. What if we stopped asking?
  2. Ask a Different Person. Some of our people got to “yes” by asking a different person who was the decision maker that day. In the case of governmental approvals, we found this especially to be true. After our countless requests for permits and label approvals were denied, they were suddenly approved! Why? Because we got a new agent who interpreted the rules a little differently, and in our favor. Sometimes the old decisionmaker was no longer the decisionmaker. They may have been fired, transferred, or promoted. The new one said yes! One new buyer actually asked, “Why haven’t we had this brand before?” We loved her!
  3. Ask a Different Way. And some of our people got to “yes” by restating the proposition in terms that finally resonated with the buyer. This is probably the greatest sales skill any entrepreneur should develop. It takes a lot more asking than telling, a lot more listening than selling. Ask about her current concerns. Find out her favorite products and why. Find out her favorite representatives and why. The answers will help you recraft and tailor your proposal to her liking. Listen for the way your proposition solves her problem.

Yes, it started as a fun game where our people could “win” by coming in under 7 “no’s.”  They would proudly announce that they beat the odds. But the “game” got extremely beneficial when everyone began to pick up on the tips and use them effectively.

The average number of “no’s” didn’t really improve, but our attitude did! We began to realize that there is no “yes” or “no.” There’s only “now” and “later.” The only one who can say “no” is you …when you stop asking!

Who Are We.

Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey co-authored the New York Times bestselling business book, The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle, and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand. The book has been selected as recommended reading in the CEO Library for CEO Forum, the C-Suite Book Club, and numerous university classes on business and entrepreneurship. It chronicles their humble beginnings from the laundry room of a rented Sonoma County farmhouse in 1986, to the board room of E&J Gallo, where they successfully sold their brand in 2005. Barefoot is now the world’s largest wine brand.

Beginning with virtually no money and no wine industry experience, they employed innovative ideas to overcome obstacles, create new markets and forge strategic alliances. They pioneered Worthy Cause Marketing and performance-based compensation. They offer their Guiding Principles for Success (GPS) to help entrepreneurs become successful and help corporations achieve entrepreneurial cultures to engage and empower their people.

Currently they travel the world keynoting at universities, corporations, conferences and symposiums. They are regular media guests and contributors to international publications and professional journals; along with being FOX News Radio Network’s Workplace Culture Experts. They are also the recipients of the 2014 Distinguished Entrepreneur Speaker Award from the Turner School of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Bradley University. Visit their popular brand building site at www.thebrandauthority.net. To make inquiries for keynote speaking, trainings or consulting, please contact info@thebarefootspirit.com.

Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey
-Barefoot Wine Founders