I recently appeared as a guest on the Grow My Revenue podcast by Forbes columnist Ian Altman, which was truly awesome given that I’ve followed Ian’s podcast for a while now. The majority of our conversation was centred around something that massively resonated with his audience (and friends of ramarketing who’ve listened to the podcast)… saying no to potential business.

Yep, you read that right. Saying no. Turning down enquiries. Surely we can’t so say no to new business opportunities right? Well, erm, you can. And I do, all the time.

I’m a marketing man by trade but I’ve learnt how to do some business development along the way. Maybe that’s why it’s clear as day for me. You see, spending time on the wrong type of opportunities is a total drain on your energy and resources… never mind the opportunity cost.

Given the feedback and questions that I’ve had since the airing of the episode, I thought I’d delve a little deeper with this blog to try and help professionals that work in relatively well established businesses with existing customers and revenues (opposed to start-ups) with their business development efforts.

To keep things simple, I’ve outlined a quick five step process that will hopefully get you thinking in order to help you grow by saying no…

1. Blueprint your best buyer

Look at your current clients. Look really carefully. I guarantee this will give you a very good idea of what your ideal client looks like. You might notice similarities such as functional things like revenue, sector, company size, number of employees etc. But it will probably also cover behavioural aspects like how demanding they are, how they treat your team, whether they seem genuine etc. The simple matrix I use is profit versus maintenance. I want high profit, low maintenance clients (in the main) as opposed to low profit, high maintenance clients that drain the living day light out of you. This should give you a real picture of your best buyers, which you can turn into a persona.

2. Refine your marketing messages

As a B2B brand, the chances are you will be targeting a relatively focused market segment. Armed with your learnings from the first step, you should have a very clear idea of who your buyer is and isn’t. So for goodness sake, make sure your marketing materials and messages reflect this. A catch-all approach may increase the inbound enquiry count but it’s also burning your resource on the wrong type of opportunities and clients. As the great Seth Godin says: “Be meaningfully specific.” Don’t try and be everything to everyone. Unless you’re Amazon, be relevant to your niche and forget about the other 99% of the population.

3. Develop a defence system

Step one will also give you some useful insight into who you don’t want as a client and as part of this, you need to learn from your past mistakes. Look back at the old client relationships and projects that did not go well. Aside from any functional misfits (size of business, sector etc.), if you dig into the detail, you’ll find traits and behaviours (or red flags as I call them) that are warning signs. Whether they were in the first meeting, while negotiating the contract or when the project commenced, write them down and look out for these when dealing with potential new clients. You’ll run a mile when you see these in the future. Based on one awful experience, we developed a red flag system at ramarketing that has allowed us to spend our time elsewhere (like the gin bar below our office).

4. Don’t chase the money

This is the number one mistake I have made over the years. Despite doing the first couple of steps above, sometimes the green is just too good to walk away from despite all the warning signs. This can be particularly challenging if you’re going through a lean patch and the pressure is on to convert. You must resist and believe there is a better opportunity around the corner. Stick to your guns and play the long game. Thinking short term is like taking a hit for a quick high but it’s never worth the come down. Apparently. Seriously, follow your gut and try to be rational. Do not ignore your instinct. You’ll regret it. As Mr Altman says: “Don’t force the fit.”

5. Watch your conversion boom

If you do the above diligently, consistently and hold your nerve in the face of questionable opportunities, your conversion rate will go through the roof. What happens when you start saying no is you also spot the yes opportunities instantly. From the tone of the enquiry, the job title of the person, the language they speak, their project needs etc. You will know instantly that this is the right fit. And guess what? You’ve got time to give the right opportunity the attention it deserves. Give these ones your all and your conversion rate will increase. And unsurprisingly, you will secure clients on strategy that will ultimately help your business grow.

Saying no requires courage or ‘bottle’ as we say in the UK. Don’t chase the opportunities that are not right for your business. Spend time on the right clients that will give you a solid foundation for sustainable growth.

I will leave you with a line from the wonderful Derek Sivers that sums this up perfectly: “If it’s not a hell yeah, it’s a no.”

Oh, and if you missed the podcast you can catch it here. And the follow up article on Forbes.