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Learning to say “NO” to opportunities for new business has been a major business lesson for me over the past few years.

In the dozen years that I’ve worked in the small and small mid-market sector, I’ve noticed an intriguing but not surprising pattern…

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 Habits” and…the planning and execution methodologies that we teach – probably less than 5%.

Sometimes I even tell our clients that they’re an “elite” group, some of the smartest and most committed CEO’s around…and many of them laugh at what they think is a joke.

But honestly – I’m not joking – they truly are a very unique breed in my opinion, more so than over 95% of the general population of CEO’s that are out there.

Adopting the “Rockefeller Habits” methodology and the discipline and focus required to implement the tools successfully is, as Tony Jost, CEO of Superior Tube, says “a business lifestyle” change.  It requires 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 is not capable of creating and growing a successful company without the willingness to change and grow his or herself…and THAT, boys and girls, is definitely NOT “comfortable”.  

So my BIG lesson for saying NO?

Be extremely choiceful about whom I take on as a client.

Use a “best fit” profile that I’ve created to help me evaluate opportunities realistically so that I don’t fool myself into believing that it will all “work out”.

And work with my clients to make sure that they are just as careful about whom they choose to work with as their customers.

Remember:  A great strategy means that you’re saying “no” more than you’re saying “yes”…

And…if you need to say “NO” more…here’s a few “pointers” that might be helpful:

  1. Be very clear – about who you are as a company, what your core competencies are, what your value proposition is and who is the best fit for that value.
  2. Ask yourself, what does the perfect client/ customer look like? Sound like?  Have issues and struggles with?  Develop a checklist for “success” to increase your chances of differentiating a “great” prospect from “so-so” one.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.”
  5. Say no respectfully. 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.



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