A good “test” of a great strategy is how often you say NO.  A really solid and well-thought out business strategy means that you’re saying NO more than you’re saying YES…to new opportunities, new people AND potential new clients.

Especially when a seemingly “lucrative” opportunity shows up…

Over the last dozen years or so, learning to say “NO” has been one of the most important business lessons that I’ve learned – and am still learning – as I’ve worked in the small and mid-market sector.  And I’ve noticed an intriguing but not surprising pattern when it comes to my own business…

Only a very small percentage of CEO’s in this space are truly willing to adopt the discipline and focus that is part and parcel of the strategic planning and execution management tools and methodologies that we teach – probably less than 5%.

We work with a truly “elite” group, some of the smartest and most committed CEO’s around…and many of them laugh when I tell them that.  But I’m not joking.  They truly are a very unique breed, more so than most of their peers in the general population of CEO’s of small mid-market companies.

Our work with the “Scaling Up” methodology and disciplines, as one of my clients says, means a business “lifestyle” change for many CEO’s– and a commitment to…

  • Regularly and deliberately work on your business, not always in it,
  • A willingness to ask difficult questions of yourself and your team,
  • Tough decisions about people and priorities about which you care deeply,
  • A strong desire and passion to engage and educate your employees,

And – it requires a CEO able to look in the mirror and admit that he or she doesn’t know everything and…isn’t capable of creating and growing a successful company without the willingness to change and grow him or herself…and THAT boys and girls is definitely NOT “comfortable”.  

So my 6 lessons for saying NO?

1)    Know Thyself – Be very clear about who you are as a company, what your core competencies are, and what your value proposition is.  If you don’t know, spend some time asking your best clients what they value about what you do AND what’s one thing that they would change about your offering or service.  And find out why people buy from your competitors. And what they would change if they could.

2)   Describe your “perfect fit” – Ask yourself, what does the perfect client/ customer/ opportunity/ new hire look like? Sound like?  Have issues and struggles with?  Develop a written checklist for “success” to increase your chances of differentiating a “great” prospect from “so-so” one – and keep you honest.  I use a “best fit” profile that helps me evaluate realistically, so that I don’t fool myself into believing that it will all “work out”.

3) Use the “Core Value/ Core Purpose” test – When a new person is being considered as a strategic alliance partner or employee, use your Core Values to determine if there’s really alignment and culture fit.  If a new “opportunity” for growth presents itself, re-visit your Core Purpose and ask yourself how this possible path will get you closer – or further – from your longer term goals.

4) Be willing to Experiment – but not indefinitely – Use “trial” periods if your business model allows one…I like to “date” my clients for three to six months before we commit to a longer term relationship.  I know that our advisory services are extremely valuable and effective.  After all, tens of thousands of mid-market businesses can’t be wrong but what we do isn’t for everyone and there are certainly other approaches out there, including choosing to do nothing.

5) Have a “NO” Goal – If you’re a die-hard case who’s addicted to saying yes, set a NO goal for yourself as well as a YES sales goal. Rocky Lagrone of the Training Group is a big fan of setting NO goals for sales.  “You can’t get to yes,” Rocky counsels, “Without going through a few No’s.”  And let others know that you’re being choiceful. Telling other people (your colleagues, your prospects, your clients) know you’re working on being selective about who you work with – voicing that goal to others in your world – can be a powerful stimulant for keeping yourself accountable.

6) Just say “No” – respectfully. Sometimes that’s all it takes. Something like: “You know, I don’t think that we’re a good fit for you.  Thanks for taking the time to talk but sounds like you’re looking for something else.  I’d still love to stay in contact, though. Would that be okay?”

There’s no reason you can’t keep the relationship…circumstances might change or they could lead you to someone who is the perfect prospect.

Who knows what might happen?  And they’ll still respect you in the morning…

And if you need more help on this one – maybe a Strategy “tune up” – check out our “Four Decisions Executive Workshop” coming up in January.  We’d love to have you!