Be brave enough to say NO to prospects (and refer them out)

Written by: Karl Sakas

If you want to grow your digital marketing agency, you’ve got to be willing to say NO to potential clients that are a bad fit.

Stop wasting time: Say NO to clients who are a bad fit

When you spend sales time on a prospect who’s a bad fit from the start, you’re just wasting your time. Any project or retainer you do has an Opportunity Cost—it’s taking resources that could go toward another client, or toward building the agency.

This requires a certain level of bravery—because saying “no” to a prospect means giving up potential revenue—but the sooner you get to this point, the happier you’ll be. Why? Because then you can focus your time and energy on clients who need your help and are likely to close.

Examples of potential clients where I’ve said “no”

As an agency business consultant, I “eat my own dog food”—if someone contacts me for help but is a poor fit, I refer them elsewhere. Here are several potential clients who contacted me recently that I’ve referred to competitors or others.

Demanding hypergrowth on a super-short timeline: A partner at a PPC agency in LA said he needed to grow 2X in 3 months and 4-5X in 20 months. In my experience, that’s an unreasonably fast growth expectation. I referred them to Peter Levitan, who specializes in new business consulting for agencies.

Traditional media-only agencies: A traditional media agency reached out, wanting to diversify into digital media. I’ve helped clients become “more digital” but I don’t have lots of experience in media-specific agencies—my clients are typically doing web design, video production, content marketing, whitehat SEO, and other non-media digital activities. I introduced the agency to several freelancer friends who could help them make the transition.

Valuation: The owner of a traditional agency needed a valuation for a buyout. I’ve helped clients with valuations in a larger context, but the particulars here were somewhat messy. I referred them to David C. Bakerhe’s done agency valuations a million times and would be a better match. Indeed, he finished the valuation ahead of schedule, and now I’ll help the client move forward.

Flakiness: The operations manager at a branding agency in Chicago reached out for help but then kept canceling our initial phone meeting. After her third cancellation, I concluded she wasn’t serious about getting help—I gave her the names of several competitors.

Small budget: A small agency reached out for help as they built-out processes. Their budget was too small for a project, but I was able to point them to my Agency Profitability Toolkit™ instead.

For a deeper dive on this topic, see my Sales Selectiveness Continuum—including the four stages agencies tend to experience over time as they become more confident in their sales efforts.

Question: When was the last time you said NO to clients in a sales situation?

Turn your agency headaches into profits…

Get a copy of my popular eBook, Don’t Just Make the Logo Bigger: Taking Clients from Painful to Profitable, by filling out the form below.

In addition to the free eBook, you’ll join 2,500+ agencies and get my articles delivered twice a week, directly to your inbox!