Saying no to new business

Knowing when to turn down opportunities with new clients is just as important as knowing which ones to pursue, writes Chris Merrington.

Not all clients are worth winning. In fact some are definitely worth passing to your competitors.

It takes real nerve and courage to say ‘no’ to a client, but focusing on the best and most profitable opportunities is what the smart companies are doing. Is it easy? – no, it’s really hard and requires discipline and determination.

I have spoken with many of my clients who have agreed deals with their customers which they later regretted. The problems ranged from pitching their price too low or having it beaten down, to the scope of work being changed by the client and then feeling unable to charge more money, to finding the client is a nightmare, changing their mind or seeking unnecessary perfection. These problems have one thing in common – they cost you a fortune.

Sometimes even when you think everything is progressing well and the project is ‘sold’, you then discover you have to go through more hurdles and hoops to gain agreement from procurement.

One of my clients recently had to endure five rounds of different procurement people from the same company trying to shave money off his price. My client suspected it had become a game for the procurement department to see who could get the biggest discount.

Not all clients are equal. Be clear about what your ideal client profile is and focus on those types of business. If you are M&S, don’t waste time pursuing Lidl customers.

I suggest you develop a list of objective criteria you use to decide whether to pursue opportunities or not. This makes it easier to agree with your boss rather than pursuing opportunities simply because you can.

Of course it is easier turning down work when you’re busy with a full order book. But even when times are tougher, being desperate can be very dangerous, sucking out resource and leaving you with no time to think.

Chasing after everything and anything means we can end up with no energy for the pieces of business which have ‘got our name on them’. Decide which battles you want to win as not all are worth winning.

The US Navy Seal’s Credo includes the following words: ‘I persevere and thrive on adversity…..If knocked down I will get back up every time.’

How determined are you to win the right kind of business?

Chris Merrington is the author of “Why do smart people make such stupid mistakes?” and regularly runs workshops with directors and sales teams. Email him here.


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