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There was an opportunity to bring in a contractor for a job at a startup. After their pitch, we decided that we were going to look elsewhere, so I did the following:

  • I sent an e-mail thanking them and letting them know we'd be moving on.
  • Accepted their offer of a follow-up call. Their initial pitch kind of tanked, so I thought maybe they wanted to get feedback. They ended up going through their sales pitch again.
  • After I gave feedback, I went to end the call letting them know the decision was still the same. They tried to revive the conversation.
  • We went through another round of feedback and the person attempting to revive their pitch.
  • Told them we'd follow-up on X day to let them know yes or no (again).

Question
How do you properly turn down a pitch? More specifically, how far are you obliged to let a person go after you've said "no" once? What should I have done differently? In hindsight, I don't think I should have responded after the first e-mail to decline was sent. However, there were times when someone rejected or denied my work and I really wanted the opportunity to get feedback to take with me.

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7 Answers 7

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Some freelancers cannot recognize a "slow no" and don't understand there is no such thing as a "slow yes". They truly believe that "one more pitch will work" or "if I just keep trying I will land this one." When you let people down slowly, by letting them pitch or otherwise do things that appear to be sales actions (sending an estimate, doing a sample design) it can feel more polite than just saying "go away, we chose someone else." But it can also lead to the person doing more work for nothing.

I can see you trying to be polite and trying to give them a chance, but also giving them false hope by doing things like "we'd follow-up on X day to let them know yes or no" when you already know it's "no". The true kindness is gentle honesty. Something like "Thank you for putting in the extra effort on this one. We're not going to engage you for this project." If appropriate, "We'll let you know when another opportunity comes along you would be good for." Technically, you can always say this, even if you're sure no such opportunities will ever come along because they are not good at what you need, but be kind and only say it if you think it might happen.

Whether the freelancer is pushy and rude, nervous and desperate, or just hoping for some luck when a different person is in the room, it doesn't matter. Your decision is made. Don't pretend it isn't just to be polite.

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  • 38
    Agreed -- it sounds like half is a pushy contractor, half is the lack of a really firm, prompt "no". Aug 5 at 13:03
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Just tell them "no" one final time, and ignore any communications from them after that.

Offering to give feedback to them was a reasonable thing to do - however, I'd say you should have stopped them once they went into their sales pitch again. You made your decision clear... but then undermined your own position by agreeing to another round of "feedback"; at this point, it's just a waste of both your time and theirs. Time for everyone to move on.

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  • Further more: if there are repeated requests for feedback (really, or as a way to get another chance to pitch) or they otherwise constantly call and take up your time, sent your charge sheet for consulting contracts (quoting your worst “we don't actually want this job” rates) and say you would be happy to help them further, but first you need to know where to send the invoice for your time thus far. Aug 7 at 0:29
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The first time you let your "no" get turned into a "maybe" was midway through bullet point 2. Once someone derails a feedback session into a sales pitch, it's time to stop them. As the potential client, you're the boss in the meeting, and you decide what it should be about.

The second time was bullet point 5. A promise to follow up on X day is saying "maybe", with an implication of "likely". If you want to imply "probably not", say something like "we'll get back to you if something changes".

Be firm and clear. It's good practice to explain the "why not" part, but it's also polite and important to both preface and follow it with a clear "no".

Remember the sandwich feedback technique for giving critique to an employee you want to keep: a small nice thing to get going, the issue to address, then the best thing you can honestly say about them, so that they know they're valued despite the issue.

If you don't want to keep or hire someone, do the exact reverse thing. Lead with your decision, continue with your honest feedback, good and bad, and end with firmly restating your plans - "We'll use a different contractor for this project. It was nice talking to you".

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  • One should be careful with "why not"; it often opens the opportunity for rebuttals.
    – Drake P
    Aug 6 at 18:28
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    @DrakeP If you finish with "why not", yes. That's why feedback goes in the middle. In my experience, if you finish with "We've settled on another partner. We'll contact you if anything changes", it has closed the conversation every time.
    – HK-51
    Aug 6 at 18:38
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As usually, No is a complete answer. But it is a reasonable and good thing to grant some feedback, as you intended.

But when you took their call, you would've had to make it very clear and undoubtable that the final decision has been made, and it can't be changed. There's no need to add a reason. Just state that the decision has been made, and it's final; you are only here to provide feedback. The moment they start the sales pitch, you repeat this. Example:

Sorry, the final decision has already been made. There is no point to talk about this now. We will let people know when there is another opportunity on the appropriate channels.

If the sales pitch goes on, you tell this one last time, add a "thank you, have a nice day", and cut the line. Do not take further calls.

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Once you have made your decision, you do not need to get their consent to that decision. I think this is a key point to have in mind when dealing with insistent people.

Once you have made your decision (and it's "no"), what you owe them is:

  • Informing them of your decision.
  • Being polite while you inform them.
  • If they want to know reasons for your decision, you can decide to do them a favor and give them some details. If so, they need to realize that you are giving them information, not a chance to dispute with you. The first time they try to "correct" you ends the favor.

The core of this approach is being both firm and polite. Heck, not just polite, but even pleasant. But if the other person violates this, all you need care about it minimizing the amount of time you waste (and it is now waste) dealing with them. Just state "This is over.", and that's all they get.

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You do not work for the contractor.

Your primary concern is you and your company.

While there are many other answers, including an accepted answer, that allude to this, I feel the answer to this question is much simpler and much more practical.

If your answer is “No.” then stop trying to be polite to them. And don’t thing you are being impolite either. Simply state the following at this point:

“I am sorry but we are moving forward with other plans and ideas. Thanks for your time but we will not be able to review any further pitches from your group at this time.”

If the somehow then take that to say this:

“Well, when can we contact you again?”

Then just ghost them. Don’t reply to them in any way or return calls.

Remember: You do not work for the contractor, you work for you and your organization.

Either the contractor is pushy, desperate or socially/professionally tone deaf or all of the above. Whatever motivates their behavior is not your problem or concern; you do not work for them.

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As a learning opportunity: “The answer is no, and at this point your chances of ever being employed by this company are zero”.

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