Friday, January 12, 2007

The Power to Say "No"

“The biggest single mistake companies make is trying to appeal to everybody.” So wrote Al Ries and Jack Trout in their landmark book Positioning, written two decades ago. Today, the wisdom behind that line is as sage as ever—whether in branding, or in business.

Ries and Trout’s message for companies was at once simple, profound and frustrating: the most compelling identities limit the way audiences can think about you by saying as much about who you’re not as who you are. But sacrificing peripheral possibilities—markets, recruits, alliances, revenue channels, messages and customers that don’t fit the go-to-market strategy—is a tough move for many companies to make.

That’s especially true for companies owned and operated by their founders. Saying “no” to possibilities runs counter to the entrepreneurial principle that if you can dream it, you can—and should—do it. Or at least try to do it.

B2B leaders willing to say “no” for the sake of staying on strategy often find it not only profitable from a business standpoint, but personally liberating. No longer do the company and its people have to worry about trying to be all things to all people. Resources from Sales, Marketing, HR or Operations are no longer expended on things that fall outside the company’s focus. The market for said things may be strong. But if the company can’t do it as well as or better than competitors, the company doesn’t do it at all. For employees, that can come as a relief, since it frees people up to focus on what they know.

Say "No" For The Brand's Sake
For B2B companies, saying “no” can also help protect the brand. Clients of ours who’ve had the courage to position themselves at a specific point on the continuum have reaped the business rewards of defensible differentiation. That includes clearer, more compelling identities in the minds of customers and prospects. Sustainable revenue increases. A better story for top recruits. And greater enterprise value.

That’s because branding a B2B company—like running a successful business—is in part about amassing the power to say “no.” By resisting the urge to increase short-term sales by depicting themselves as generalists, companies win in the long-run. And so do their customers.

It’s not easy. It takes time to build the financial strength and reputation that are prerequisites to turning down new revenue opportunities. But life is better when you know who you are, and who you’re not—and act accordingly.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm with another agency in Milwaukee, and enjoy reading your blog. The thing I thought of reading this is saying no to clients. Too often, we tend to do everything for clients, thinking the customer is always right. Sometimes, saying no to the client can be the best thing for the realtionship long term. Especially if what the client is asking us to do really isn't in their best interest in the long term.