4 Business Scenarios Worth Saying “No” To

Andrew Stanten


In the weeks leading up to the new year, I was hearing a lot about making 2017 a “year of yes.”

It seemed like everyone was suggesting a flat answer of “yes” to any opportunity that comes across your path and that doing so will offer some life-altering state of happiness, solitude and success.

Now, while I do believe that doing something that scares you offers tremendous opportunity for personal and professional growth, there remain some things that you just should not pursue.

With that in mind, I’m going to propose that this year, when it comes to your business, make it a year of “no.”

Hear me out.

Warren Buffett has said, “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything.”

In my experience, putting this philosophy into practice has paid dividends.

When I first started my company almost 14 years ago, we said “yes” to every opportunity that came our way. It was hard to say no when I wasn’t paying myself, so when someone was interested in doing business with us, I’d jump through any — and all — hoops to get their business, regardless of what they wanted, the type of business it was or whether or not we had the expertise to deliver outstanding results.

Back then, we did a lot of work for regional restaurants. I’ve never worked at a restaurant. I literally had zero experience working in the industry. But, because we were a young, hungry company, I didn’t have the nerve to turn down these clients even though I knew the industry wasn’t where we wanted to be playing long-term. But in the short term, it paid the bills. Sometimes.

Many of those restaurants with which we’d worked far too often paid us late when they paid us at all; all too often they asked us to convert accounts receivable debt into free drinks and meals.

I couldn’t pay my staff in gift certificates and thus my eyes were opened to the power of saying “no.”

The power of no

Today, we turn down about 85 percent of the opportunities in front of us — whether those are coming in through our website, referrals or networking activities. And, it wasn’t until we started saying no that business took off. In fact, over the last 18 months — the same time we’ve taken to tighten up our focus on our offerings, our ideal client and where we want to play — our business has doubled. Coincidence? I think not.

How does that relate to you?

Well, if you’re offering a buy-now product or solution that requires no follow up, zero customer service and/or no opportunity for cross-selling, take the money to the bank. But for the majority of companies, saying no is not only OK, but is essential to your growth.

I get it. Saying no can be scary, especially when you’re just starting out. But I’m here to say that saying no will increase profits, better position you to control your business’ future and provide stability to your employees who are often serving as ambassadors and the face of your company.

To get you started, here are four scenarios when saying no should be a no-brainer:

1. When you feel pressured to offer or develop something you typically don’t offer or have no interest in developing.

Whether you’re offering a particular app or a specific service, agreeing to do something that falls outside of your expertise will wreak havoc on your existing processes; dilute focus; suck up valuable time that could be spent courting prospects that make sense; and confuse employees.

2. When the prospect isn’t a good fit.

What makes a good fit? Ideally, your company and theirs should be aligned philosophically; they should have a functioning product or service and the financial means to support your engagement and their regular, day-to-day business processes. Business owners and salespeople always want to say yes, but you can’t ignore or underestimate the importance of fit. Time is money. Don’t waste it on a potential client that is simply not a fit no matter how many dollar signs you’re being blinded by. Listen to your gut.

3. When the prospect’s requests or demands are unrealistic and/or unreasonable.

Disappointment is only misaligned expectations. Your solution does X. The prospect wants (an entirely new, needs to be developed, tested and re-tested) Y. If a prospect is asking for something unrealistic, and you say yes, you’ll both be disappointed and will have wasted time at best; at most, their unhappy experience with your company will be shared with others, giving you a black eye and scaring off other potential clients. Instead, focus on opportunities where you know you have the ability to be successful — then under-promise and over-deliver. That will result in much happier ending.

4. When the prospect doesn’t value what you offer or trust you to be the expert in your field.

I was speaking with a prospect who, on the surface, seemed to be a good fit based on their industry, focus, budget and more. During the sales process, we talked about the importance of a best-practices website serving as the epicenter of his company’s marketing efforts. He downplayed the importance and commented that his wife could design better websites than what he saw in our work. I asked what she did. She was in real estate. How do you think that would have turned out had we said yes to the opportunity?

Now that you’re armed with some parameters, go forth, carry on and make 2017 your Year of No!

Andrew Stanten

Andrew Stanten co-founded Altitude Marketing in 2004. As CEO, he ensures the right people are on board, delivering world-class marketing services to Altitude’s global client base, and staying true to Altitude’s mission, vision and values.
Andrew possesses an innate ability to process, organize and summarize massive volumes of client and market information and turn it into actionable, strategic thinking. This enables Team Altitude to get smart about a company quickly—and develop winning, integrated approaches that vault clients into a position of prominence and strength.
Andrew graduated from Syracuse University and earned his MBA from Lehigh University.