When “No” Is the Best Response

By: Gina Boedeker

Today, I had a conversation with a potential client where I ended the conversation like this: “Technically, yes, you could hire our team to do this project. However, I think there are better, more efficient, and less expensive ways for you to get that information.” Then I put that person in touch with a “competitor.”

This was after just a few weeks ago, when I spoke with someone who on paper seems like TBG’s ideal client, the Chief Marketing Officer at a company in my industry who was referred to TBG by a colleague. Within minutes of starting the call as she explained what she and her team were looking for, I said, “Yes, we have people on our team that have some of that experience, but based on what you’re looking for, it sounds like a company that specializes specifically in this area would better serve you.” I then—you guessed it—forwarded the lead to another “competitor.” The same scenario played itself out with a third prospect, this one a former colleague who reached out. Again, the project simply wasn’t a good fit. This person—and the product—would be better served by a company with a different focus. And I was happy to help connect my former colleague with someone who I thought could best meet her needs.

In the last few weeks, I’ve walked away from these projects—ones where the clients reached out to me. If I had put together a proposal for these projects, I’m confident we would have won the business. And believe me—I never like to leave business on the table.

But we’re not for everyone, and not every client is for us.

It took me a while to realize this when I started my business. It’s hard to pass up projects when you own a service-based business and you have a team on payroll.  It would have been so easy to say “Yep, absolutely, we can do that.” Next call. “Yes, we’re the right team for that.” Next call. “Yes, we can do that for you.” 

But who are we serving, then?  We *can* do many things, but that doesn’t mean we are the best solution for everyone.

And that makes TBG a better solution for the clients we are right for.

When I started The Boedeker Group, we were a partner to a variety of publishing companies in many areas: marketing, market development, product development, digital development, instructional design, supplements creation, even open sales territory coverage. Each project was customized. We talked to teams to find out exactly what they needed and then tried to find the people that best fit that specific project—even projects that were one-offs.

When necessary, however, we’re now able to confidently say, “I know the right team for you for this,” and connect prospects to other business owners who have a deep bench in precisely the area of expertise that is needed. This allows everyone—TBG, as well as our colleagues—to focus our time and energy on building best practices in the areas where we bring our customers the most value. For TBG, this is market research, market development, and insights.

By saying “no” to projects that don’t fall within our area of expertise, we actually maximize our value to our clients. While it took me longer than I care to admit to make this leap, TBG is better for having done so. Now, our clients know that we deliver absolute value for their investment, that our deliverables are of the utmost quality, and that our sharp focus will help them to achieve their business goals. 

Our “nos” have not only made us a better partner, but many of those “nos” to the wrong projects have, over time, turned into the right projects. 

What is your experience in this realm? Has saying “no” ever turned into an important growth opportunity for your business?

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