Consider Everything Short of a “Yes” a “No”

noI recently heard Dr. Robert Wiltbank from Willamette University use this analogy and loved it so much I had to share it with others.  Entrepreneurs are, by nature, very optimistic.  It’s one of their core survival skills.  But this often makes it hard for them to recognize signals of negative feedback.  This applies to things like the success of their product and progress towards the business plan targets.  But it also relates it to investor feedback while pursuing fundraising, customer feedback while pursuing a sale or vendor feedback while trying to secure a partnership.  Experienced sales professionals are trained to listen for negative feedback and use various techniques to assess the real viability of the opportunity.  But most co-founders aren’t experienced sales professionals and the techniques I’m referring to aren’t easily learned from a blog post or a book.  I’ll explain further.

One way for a founder to compensate for their optimistic bias is to consider every response short of a “yes” to be a hard “no”.  Here are some examples related to trying to close deals or business partnerships:

  • “Maybe” = no
  • “Let me bring it up with my boss” = no
  • “Not now but perhaps in the near future” = no
  • “I love the idea but we’re just slammed right now” = no
  • “Let’s have a follow-up meeting to get into more details” = no

You get the idea.  How about the same exercise for pitching investors?

  • “Let me think about it for a little bit” = no
  • “Send me your financial model” = no
  • “Send me a copy of your business plan” = no
  • “Let me know once you’ve raised $___” = no
  • “I’ll talk to my other investment partners” = no

Treating these responses as a “no” doesn’t mean you should completely give up on the opportunity or desired outcome.  The point is to realize that you’re not getting a real “yes” and therefore should not assume you have the necessary validation to change your spending patterns, hiring plans or product direction.  Instead, continue to work to get a legitimate “yes” and then take any corresponding action that makes sense.  Just realize that a single “yes” might only be the first step of a needed multiple of “yes” responses.

Also understand that getting a “yes” from an executive at Google related to a strategic partnership is one thing.  But if it’s a “yes” from the first reseller interested in selling your product, you probably want to get the same response from other resellers before concluding that you’ve got a channel-ready product on your hands.

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Wait, there’s much more!!!

The information in this article is just a very small piece of what I cover in my Founders Academy Video Library, which includes more than 35 topic-specific modules and 6 themed compilations.

I’m talking about more than 14 hours of educational and advisory content to help you grow a great company.  Click Here to Learn More

“The way you convey the material is great and the examples you give makes things clear.” (startup founder)

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Author: Gordon Daugherty

Over the past 15 years Gordon has seen nearly 1,000 startup pitches, advised more than 200 entrepreneurs and been involved with raising over $45M in growth and venture capital. Throughout his 28 year career in high tech, serving twice as President and three times as CMO, Gordon has both an IPO and a $200M acquisition exit under his belt. Now his emphasis is purely focused on helping startups and early stage tech companies. Through his Shockwave Innovations advisory practice and as Managing Director for Austin’s Capital Factory startup accelerator, Gordon is an active angel investor, VC and startup advisor.

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