Why Saying “No” Might Be The Key To Growing Your Business

We were in a meeting with an outside business consultant. I was bored stiff and I just want the meeting to end.

Then, the consultant asked a question to our sales managers. The question was, “Who are your customers?”

Ken, one of the more senior sales managers, answered, “Anyone who breathes!”

Everyone laughed.

I probably laughed a little too, but inside I was cringing.

That meeting happened over 15 years ago, but I can still remember it clearly today.

You are starting a company, and you’ve just brought your product to market. You need customers to build your business.

So maybe Ken wasn't too far off track. After all, isn’t any customer better than no customer?

Well, maybe and maybe not.


There is Some Flailing Around In The Early Stages Of Building Your Company


When you start a company, you may have a general idea of whom your customers are. Then you release your product and, lo and behold, your customers are different than you thought.

Sometimes the differences are very large. You thought customers were going to buy in a certain segment in a certain way and none of these customers are buying from you.

Instead, your customer base turns out to be a totally different niche. Maybe the niche is adjacent to the niche you targeted. Maybe a new market segment sprang up that didn’t exist when you started.

That why you should…


Cast A (Somewhat) Wide Net To Start


Here's an example from my past:

I knew when we started our company that we were going to focus on low-power products. We had great product ideas, a kick-ass team to develop our products, and we had a pretty good idea of who are customers were going to be. However, we couldn’t pinpoint exactly who was going to buy.

We started out advertising and marketing based on how much power we were saving our customers without sacrificing performance. We were 10X to 100X better than the competition, so we relentlessly emphasized our power savings.


Then, Once You Hone In On Who Your Customers Really Are, Narrow The Net


Customers started buying in ever-increasing numbers and quantities. Then, a wonderfully serendipitous event happened: the Internet of Things market started taking off.

Customers in The Internet of Things market became our dominant customers. We immediately niched down and narrowed our focus. Our marketing focused singularly on The Internet of Things market.


Finally, Widen The Net Again To Continue Growing


Every market has a limit to how much business you can generate. It is a high-class problem when you run out of room to grow in an existing market. Then, just like an accordion opening and closing, you expand your reach to focus on other markets.

Another story:

I was recently asked to help some entrepreneurs with their business.

I had a few meetings with them, and it was clear I could really help them.  However, they didn't seem to be listening to the advice I was giving them.

Scratch that. I’m being too nice. The entrepreneurs weren’t listening at all to the advice I was giving them.

Eventually, after spending way too much time, I passed on helping them.  I knew, that even if I continued helping them, they were likely to fail because they didn't know right from wrong.

It was massively frustrating for me, and it was a complete waste of my time.  I also realized I was violating one of the most important rules I had: 


Do Not Suffer Fools!


Man frigthened and saying no

Nothing will simplify your life more than not spending time with customers, clients, and teammates that waste your time.


But Be Polite And Move On


I'm not saying you should be mean to people that waste your time.  I am saying politely beg off the situation and move on.

You will be amazed at how much time you save, and how uncluttered your life gets when you remove these people from your life. And you will be amazed at much your results improve.


Remember, Your Time (And Your Team’s Time) Has An Opportunity Cost


You are going to go down plenty of wrong roads in building your business. That’s why it’s so important to quickly recognize how to optimize your and your team’s time. You go down wrong roads when you ignore the following risks:

  • Market risks – By focusing on the wrong markets for your business instead of focusing on the markets that are going to bring the most profit for your products
  • Product risks – By developing the wrong products for your customers instead of developing products that your customers are going to love
  • Customer risks – By spending time with customers that are never going to buy anything instead of working with customers that truly value the service and/or products you provide

The Lesson Is: Just Say No


Jim Collins wrote the fantastic book called Good to Great. The theme of the book is simple: Good is the enemy of great.

I think it’s even simpler then that most of the time. You need to say no to the things that prevent you from achieving your goals whatever those goals might be:

  • Say no to the customers that aren’t a good fit – They’re keeping you from discovering the customers that are a great fit for you
  • Say no to hiring the mediocre new employee – He’s taking the spot of the great employee you no longer have the budget for because you hired him
  • Say no to the short term project that looks like you’ll make a lot of money from – It’s delaying you from developing the long term vision for your company

Why Don’t More People Learn To Say No?


It’s easier to just say yes!

So most of us find ourselves agreeing to work with the wrong customer, hiring the mediocre employee, and say yes to the wrong project. And then guess who suffers?

You do!


Be True To Yourself


Yes, it’s easier to yes in the short term. However, you end up paying the price in the long term. Everyone suffers, and you, the leader, suffer the most.

Develop The Starbucks Mentality


One last story:

I was meeting with my really good friend Dave last week at Starbucks. Dave, as always, was giving me fantastic actionable advice.

We got to talking about the challenges of working from home. Dave said, “I just can’t do it. There are too many distractions, so that’s why I like working at Starbucks.”

The challenge of saying no is very similar to Dave’s challenge of working at home – there were just too many choices and options. So Dave did the only rational thing he could do by saying no to the bad choices at home and yes to working out of Starbucks.

It’s the same thing you need to do. Just say start politely saying no. You’ll be amazed at the improvement in performance and morale of you and your team.


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