Practice turning down new business opportunities that are not an ideal fit

by Thomas Sibbet January 27, 2017

Why is it so hard to say NO to new business opportunities, even if they are clearly not a good fit or a long shot of epic proportions?

Your earnest hopefulness as a salesperson, entrepreneur, or business professional looking to grow your book of business is to be admired.  That type of positivity and can-do attitude is a part of what got you to this level of achievement in your career.  That said, the same approach that you had when you were young, foolish and hungry is not the way to take your business to the next level. Discernment is the name of the game now.

The next level of achievement and lifestyle optimization is reliant on your ability to know when and how to respectfully walk away from business opportunities that are not an optimal use of your time, energy, and attention.  There is a cost to everything you say YES to – in time, brain space, and precious company resources.

True discernment challenges you to focus on the right opportunities that are clearly in your sweet spot and to more boldly qualify the ones that are on the fence.  It is about creating internal processes and inquiry practices to protect you from your inclination to look for all the reasons why you SHOULD go after the opportunity instead of looking for any reasons why you SHOULDN’T.

Here are three tips to consider when you are deciding to pursue or participate in a new business pitch or RFP process.

 1 – Commit to saying NO to at least one new business opportunity this month.

Be willing to respectfully decline to participate in a complex pitch or RFP process if it’s clearly not in your sweet spot and is a long shot (i.e.: you have less than a 25% chance of winning).  Be willing to kindly walk away if your prospect is unwilling to agree to a few simple requests that are a part of YOUR process of qualifying the opportunity (i.e.: having a phone conversation with key decision makers to ask questions in advance).  Saying NO takes practice.  Do it once in the coming weeks and see what happens – Even if it’s uncomfortable, I guarantee you won’t die.

2- Set up a system to save yourself from your optimistic self.  

Create an internal team that is designated and encouraged to run counterpoint to your natural idealism.  Have a checklist of questions that every opportunity gets filtered through (i.e.: Are we competing against more than three other firms?  Do we have access to all decision makers?   Do they match our Ideal Client profile?).   Assign one point person to help create and own the opportunity-qualifying checklist and ensure you use it every time.   Also, consider including a member of the service team for their point of view.

3 – TRUST your instincts. 

Despite all I have said to the contrary, I actually do trust your instincts (after you’ve taken a breath and calmed down).  You’ve seen almost every situation and you know the indicators and warning signs that makes for a truly good new business opportunity and what’s a Hail Mary.  Trust your gut here.  Take a minute to really think through whether or not this is a good use of your team’s time and energy.  Notice the gravitational pull of FOMO.  And then….seriously consider saying “No, Thank You.”

One last thing to consider in this process of discernment…

If you are leading a team, remember that even when you tell your people that it’s OK to say no, they will not believe you at first.  They need to see you model and reinforce and make it truly OK to respectfully walk away from an upcoming new business opportunity that is not a good fit or is too much of a long shot to justify the investment.  Changing the mindset and organizational culture around this topic takes some time, and consistent execution.

Build your muscle memory for when and how to say NO to new business opportunities that in the past you have actively pursued despite them not being an ideal fit.  Be more discerning.  It’s sometimes scary.  It’s always liberating.  And, its essential for your sustainable, healthy growth.


Stay tuned for the February launch of my Selling 180 Toolkit (aka: “Tom in a Box”) 

Contact me with feedback / 760-492-1329 mobile/text

Thomas Sibbet
Thomas Sibbet


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