This is my tenth year at NogginLabs. Initially, I was hired as a Content Producer. Two years later, and somewhat reluctantly, I transitioned into a sales role. My reluctance stemmed from a previous stint as a salesperson which was challenging, depressing, lonely, lots of time spent in my car by myself...just like...getting to know myself, you know? Like REALLY know myself...crying at red lights...listening to sad songs...singing sad songs...writing sad songs (on that note, I highly recommend Red House Painters "Rollercoaster" if you want to get d-o-w-n).
One of the most difficult parts for me was hearing the word “no” from prospective clients and current customers. In my mind, the only way to gauge success and growth was via an increase in customers, sales, etc. Those were tangible indicators that growth was occurring. Being told “no” was the antithesis of that growth, or so I thought.
Over the years, I’ve submitted countless RFP responses, proposals, and even statements of work for projects that were supposed to be sure things. In many cases, the prospect or existing client signed the contract and we built an incredible custom e-learning solution in partnership with them. However, in other cases, I’d receive a call at around 4:55pm on Friday (they really hope you’ll be gone) to inform me that we were not awarded the project for whatever reason. Getting that call hurts (I'm no stranger to pain, remember?) because it means having to tell countless colleagues that put hard work into instructional design, graphic design, and programmatic concepts that we won’t have a chance to realize their vision. Inevitably, losing these projects, hearing “no,” has cleared the way for something bigger and better. Something that we hadn’t known about--couldn’t have known about.
Of course, we get to say no too. Can we build an 8-hour curriculum and portal in 4 weeks? No. Can we iterate design concepts endlessly without a consulting contract? No. Will we build a page-turning solution with little-to-no instructional value? No. Do we know a word that is the opposite of yes? No. (Sorry, I use that trick on my toddler…had to sneak it in).
Peace of mind comes with the understanding that “no” is fertile ground. To make the tired comparison, you can’t understand victory unless you’ve suffered defeat. You can’t know love without knowing loss. For every Back to the Future there will inevitably be a Back to the Future III. For every A New Hope, there will be an Attack of the Clones. The truth is, we are not the right e-learning vendor for every single project out there, and sometimes projects are just not right for us. Collaboration works better when it's not forced, and so we do our best to see if the partnership will be a good fit for both sides.
How awful would it be to close with, “say yes to no?” It hurt to write that and yet I’ll stick with that as my closer. Maybe “get comfortable with no” is a better parting sentiment. Or you could reject the whole premise. I’m fine with that. I’ve heard it for years.