Learning How to Say “No” to New Business

Wendy Blackburn
Wendy Blackburn



no-new-businessWhen I first started doing business development for our agency, I got so excited every time a new opportunity came in the door. Ohh - a referral! Yay - a voicemail from a client who moved to a new job! Hooray - someone read our blog and wants to talk to us! It’s understandable that a successful lead generation program can sometimes feel like Christmas morning to a business development manager.

But over time — and following a particularly busy year of handling new leads — I learned to say “no” to some of them. Never without careful consideration and never without angst. I learned to say “no thanks” to the opportunities that just weren’t a fit for a variety of reasons.

Why in the world would I turn away new business for our firm? And why am I recommending you do the same? Consider turning away business when:

  • It is beneath — or beyond — the size/scope of work you can handle.
  • It’s setting you up in a situation where you will fail due to resources, skill set, timelines, etc.
  • You have too many other opportunities to juggle, and you’re forced to prioritize (for example, having five RFPs due the same week — it happened to us!).
  • It is a conflict of interest to a current client.
  • Getting involved in the client or opportunity could damage your agency’s reputation.
  • You have no prior knowledge of this person or client and it feels like they’re just “fishing.”
  • They can’t really articulate what they need or why they need it.
  • It’s a “one-and-done,” and there is not much opportunity for a long-term relationship.
  • It just isn’t a fit.

We developed a 10-question assessment tool to help us decide if the opportunity is right for us or not. I love this tool because it’s quick, simple and helps us perform a fair assessment while removing the emotion. Every agency’s assessment form will look different, but consider asking yourself questions such as:

  1. Are we already familiar with this company, brand, contact and/or opportunity?
  2. Is the prospect a top company in our field and/or has it been on our radar screen as a growth target?
  3. Is the financial gain for us — if not immediately, perhaps long-term — sizable?

We ask 10 questions with the answer options as “0 – no way”, “5 — maybe”, or “10 — absolutely” for a possible total score of 100. If anything falls below a 60, we have to really think about if it makes sense for us to go for it.

In a struggling economy, saying “no” can feel like a (perhaps arrogant) luxury. But trust me. Saying no is not only good for your agency — it’s likely what’s best for the prospect, too.

Save your sanity, save your dignity and save everyone some of that precious resource called TIME. Sometimes when it comes to new business, it’s okay to “just say no.”

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