How to Deliver Bad News to a Sales Prospect

In my career as a sales person, I have always loved delivering great news and exceeding client expectations. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen every time, and I’ve had to deliver bad news to a prospect or client.

Early in my career, I tried to avoid delivering bad news because I didn’t want to disappoint the client, prematurely derail the sale opportunity or prevent myself from solving the issue. My unwillingness to openly communicate my struggles in the sales process typically wasted my time.

Eventually, I realized that if a prospect wants to buy black shoes and all I’m selling is brown shoes, most likely I am not going to close the sale. Remember: Don’t waste time with nonbuyers. When I figured out how to deliver bad news to a sales prospect, I saved myself a lot of headaches and became a more effective sales person.


There is an art to delivering bad news, and by observing my friend John Harney, insurance stud and COO at Mesirow Financial Services, I’ve been able to deliver bad news and manage expectations more effectively.

John works with his prospects and clients communicating realistic expectations of timing, pricing and any other variables he could predict in the sales process. This diligence allowed him to be a more effective salesperson.

When bad news was developing, he was able to communicate with the client and gauge their interest in the evolving dynamics of the sales process. John didn’t win every deal he pitched, but he wasted far less time on opportunities he was never going to win. John found a way to get to the “no” quicker than anybody else I know.

To deliver bad news, you need to properly set client expectations early in the sales process. When these reasonable expectations are not met, you’re able to communicate to the client why your proposal or product may not be the proper fit for their needs.

If you communicate this early and often, you will better understand the prospect’s needs, earn their confidence by risking the sale through your openness and honesty, and continue to learn about other aspects that are important to the client.

Next time you need to deliver bad news, address it right away and reset expectations. The client will appreciate you for your direct approach.

Happy selling!