When a Business Leader Needs to Say ‘No’ to New Ideas


The world encourages positivity. We are lauded for accepting new ideas; for trying new things; for experimenting and taking risks.

Businesses tend to exist because of people with positive mindsets. Investing in something new and throwing your reputation and future behind an idea requires a sense of optimism. If your default answer is ‘no’, you are unlikely to be running your own business.

So here you are. Pushing on. Making a success of your great idea. Your business began that way. You created an app to help people learn the flute. Or you invented a cheaper way of making sustainable milkshake powder. Or you developed a magnetic device to keep your phone tilted at the right angle to read instructions while cooking or building. You get the point!

‘Creativity’ is a core value at work, and you encourage great ideas. In fact, you hold a blue-sky brainstorming session every Monday morning to get people thinking.

And your team feels empowered to suggest new things. Lots of them! And your natural position isn’t to question “why”, but “why not”.

Being Practical in Business

Unfortunately, this is unlikely to end well. Not for cultural reasons, but practical ones. Because if your business accepts every great-sounding ideaLand and expand because it thinks every customer is equally relevant to you, you will soon have a structure that is so stretched, it will cease to function effectively.

The truth is that for any business, not every customer is equally important. You have to prioritize and focus on a core market. The minute you allow your marketing team to present products and messages that are too wide-ranging, you start to water-down your impact. Which means that less customers feel that you ‘get’ them. Likewise, your sales and customer retention staff will dilute their own effectiveness as they try to be all things to all people.

And that’s just the front-end. Your operations team suddenly needs to know far too much about the systems, software, support networks and specific needs of customers of different sizes, different industries and different growth mindsets at different stages of their business. That’s a lot of different!  

And the thinner you are spread, the less time, resource and expertise there will be for your people to double-down and really get to know and impress your core target market.

So, the ideas flourish, but you end up spending more on marketing, more on sales and more on operations, leaving you uncompetitive in the marketplace and also uncompetitive on the quality of service you provide. 

The answer isn’t to change your culture. That’s what makes you tick. And the ideas are a wonderful sign that your people are thinking positively and creatively about your future. Instead, the lesson is how you go about listening and deciding how to move forward.

Land and Expand

It’s based on the crucial business principle of “Land and Expand“.

Simply, this means focusing on a clear segment, gaining their trust and solidifying that relationship (“landing”). Once you have created a name for yourself, you can build your business by developing synergies with other markets and industries (“expanding”).

If you can provide such brilliant service that they start to champion you, then they can become your greatest sales tool.  You can be as creative as you like within that market, and that’s where to stay until you have made it your own.

Executing a Land and Expand strategy means being constantly aware of:

  1. Your Product-Market fit. This means you have something your target (i.e. your core customer segment) really wants. Word-of-mouth referrals, high net promoter scores and great customer retention figures suggest you have nailed it.
  2. What makes you different? You know your targets so well that you understand why they will want to stick with you even when competitors try to undercut you.
  3. Customer lifetime value. Don’t calculate how much one sale is worth but estimate what that client will spend with you if you are able to keep them loyal for years to come.
  4. What comes next? How can you give your client more of what they want? How will you expand your income from your existing customers?

If you get this right, you will suddenly find it very easy to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to great ideas. If they allow you to develop better relationships with your targets, if they work within your existing infrastructure and they link seamlessly to your last offering, then they should be easy to green light.

In essence, if your product and service development begins by talking about what your core customer segment needs, and then providing it, you will very rarely have to say ‘no.’

Lorne Asks:

Have you read ‘Land and EXPAND’: 6 Simple Strategies to Grow Your Company’s Top and Bottom Line by Patricia Watkins?  I strongly recommend it.

About Lorne Noble

Lorne loves finance so you don’t have to (seriously, he plays with Excel sheets on vacation)! He spent 12 years in corporate London as an investment analyst then made the jump to Boulder, Colorado to act as finance mentor to high impact companies at The Unreasonable Institute, Girl Effect Accelerator and Singularity University. He has an MBA from IE business school in Madrid, Spain.

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