Kickstarter Lesson #107: How to Say No

3 July 2014 | 21 Comments

2014-07-03_1358I’m currently in the final week of my Kickstarter campaign for the Treasure Chest. This has been a unique campaign because of its simplicity. The contents and structure of the product were determined before the project, and there’s only one version of the Treasure Chest. There are a few add-ons, but they’re separate, external packs (coins and stars).

For the most part, this has made the project run a lot smoother than our previous campaigns. We’ve still managed to engage backers in the comments and by surveying them about future Treasure Chests. Although it’s a bit of a foreign concept for Kickstarter, most backers seem to understand the all-or-nothing concept behind the Treasure Chest: If you want it the way it is, you can back it; if not, you can choose to not back it. There’s no middle ground, no multiple SKUs, no multitude of variations.

But I’ve still received a number of requests–both publicly in the comments and privately–to change certain things or allow for certain exceptions. One backer might want a different color gem, or another backer wants double the gold tokens and no wood. A few backers have requested the Treasure Chest be bigger to hold other components, and some backers have asked that I send them an extra set of Euphoria recruit cards (a free inclusion in every Treasure Chest we recently added).

I’ve said no to all of these requests as politely as possible. I’ve talked about this on the KS Lessons about how it’s okay to say no and the importance of avoiding project creep–we have a very specific strategy with the Treasure Chest that allows us to make and deliver it at scale, inexpensively, and efficiently. But it still doesn’t feel good to say no.

So I was going through my notes, and I stumbled upon an article that explains a better way to get people to understand where you’re coming from when you say no. The article is specifically about winning arguments, but I don’t see it from that angle. I’m not interested in arguing with backers, much less “winning” arguments. But I am interested in helping backers see that a lot of forethought went into the way the project is structured, and that it’s not easy or feasible to change things at a whim.

The key, as I’ve extrapolated from the article, is that when a backer makes a request that you can’t fulfill, instead of saying no, ask that backer to explain to you exactly how their request would become reality. Ask for step-by-step instructions, and help them fill in the blanks when they’re missing information.

This is much more effective than simply saying no, and it’s also more effective than you explaining to the backer how their idea won’t work. When you have to explain exactly how something will work, you often realize for yourself that it won’t work. As the article puts it more bluntly, “Odds are they have not done the work required to hold an opinion.” They’ll end up saying no to their own idea so you don’t have to.

And the neat thing is, every once in a while, a backer will brilliantly explain how their idea can work, and you’ll learn something from them. It’s also a great reminder to project creators like me that despite all the foresight, research, planning, and budgeting I put into a project, backers don’t have all of that information, so I shouldn’t expect them to know if something can or cannot work.

Conclusion: The next time you’re about to type “no” to a backer, instead ask them to explain to you, step-by-step, exactly how their idea would be implemented and executed. I think you’ll be pleased by what happens next.

Also read: The Best Career Advice You’ll Hear Today

21 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #107: How to Say No

  1. FWIW, I may be in the minority, but I may be *more* put off by a response like that, as it would almost certainly sound like sarcasm to me.

    I would prefer a straight forward response… something like: “We have a very specific strategy with the Treasure Chest that allows us to make and deliver it at scale, inexpensively, and efficiently. Thus, I’m afraid we’re unable to accommodate custom, individualized requests like yours. I hope you understand.”

    1. This was my first thought as well. I think this approach would go over far better in person since in a written response, the reader can easily misinterpret intent/tone and take it the wrong way.

    2. I disagree. I think this is a good approach. After all, the project creator has already done the work to make the project they feel is ready to go. Additional ideas from the community stand to be analyzed and vetted by the community before they gain any steam. A simple “no” prevents this, but asking the comment maker to do a bit of the thought work is both productive and respectful.

    3. I agree.

      As someone that just has a basic knowledge of manufacturing and logistics, I wouldn’t have known how a lot of Stonemaier’s processes work had I not read your blog. Given my background alone, while some of the requests seem impractical, wanting to buy more than one set of recruit cards doesn’t seem like a big ask. I would anticipate that some people might just get indignant if you asked them how. It can’t be that hard to just throw another set in the box, can it? Obviously there’s more to your fulfillment process than that, but that’s not necessarily what other people perceive.

      1. Kristin: Right, that’s kind of the point of the exercise. It gets people to think beyond “ask for random stuff”, and the studies show that getting people to do that helps them better understand the problem, even if they don’t understand too many of the ins and outs of the manufacturing process.

    4. If it “sounds” like sarcasm to the reader when typed it’s probably because that’s what the reader wants it to be or their afraid that’s what it might be. Sometimes people just simply type what they mean and anything you read into it beyond the words themselves is all on you.

  2. Thanks for this post, Jamey. I never thought of the response that way. Although I tend to agree with Games on the Brain, I’ll have to try your strategy the next chance I get.

    1. Sure, and I’ve said something to that effect plenty of times during the project (usually with a bit of explanation). It’s usually if a backer persists with the idea that I ask them to walk me through the execution of the idea a little more so I can better understand their proposal.

  3. Yeah, even reading it here in this article, knowing how sincerely you are meaning it, it comes off as potentially sarcastic. “Well maybe YOU can explain to me how to do it, Mr. I-Want-Special-Treatment”.

    There’s probably a way of wording it to where it comes off better.

    When you are saying ‘no’, are you then getting angry followup responses asking you to explain why? Or are the no’s then raising a stink?

    Maybe writing a preemptive section on the KS explaining why there won’t be any special orders makes more sense. And within that section, you can explain that you don’t know everything about the mass production industry, and that if anyone is more informed they can supply their insights into how custom orders can be accomplished.

    1. No, I don’t think there’s been a single angry response during the Treasure chest KS, fortunately. :) I’ve rarely used this solution–usually I just explain that it’s not an option, and I explain why (or I say it’s something we’ll consider for the next Treasure Chest). All of the information is already on the project page and the FAQ, but it’s not very good customer service to respond to comments by saying, “Read the FAQ.”

  4. Leaving a comment just for Jamey:

    I understand completely. It is all about tone. As evidenced by the previous comments, that can be a hard tightrope to walk. But, asking for details is certainly the best course of action for the reasons you gave.

    Thanks for the continuing advice,
    John

    1. John: Yeah, I agree, it is all about tone. I agree with a few others above that the question has the potential to sound sarcastic. The key is to not write it in that way (and to choose when you want to ask that question versus explaining it yourself).

  5. On all the comments about the sarcasm I think maybe the way around it is to first have a direct message saying it’s outside of what you are trying to accomplish and could create complications, but supplement that with some point at the end saying you invite customers to provide insight into how you might be able to fulfill such a request now or in the future.

    I think saying no up front but then mentioning you are still interested in their insight takes away any hint of sarcasm, but that’s just my theory. Maybe I’ll try it out when I run my campaign.

    1. Nicholas: I think that’s a great way to mitigate the perception of sarcasm. I like the “invitation” aspect of it–anything that invites backers deeper into the conversation and the process is a good thing. Thanks for your comment!

  6. I’ve added it to my campaign plan, so as soon as I get over the hurdles of running a Kickstarter campaign from outside the supported countries I’ll be trying it out. I’ll see what type of results I get. Always glad to comment if I think I can add something as you really do give so much to the community Jamey, the very least the rest of us can do is provide our smaller bits of insight and engage in the discussion!

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