A few years ago I was asked by a senior executive at Texas Instruments to give a talk to his marketing department and sales force. I was asked to explain the fundamentals of good marketing, but more importantly, this senior exec wanted me to teach his people to say no.
No? No to whom? Well, it turns out the salesforce was spending their time trying to sell chips to the wrong customers, so I was asked to teach his people to say no to customers who were not in their target market. This wasn't easy to do since the sales force's compensation wasn't set to reward selling to the right customers, but the lesson was important.
Good marketing and business requires the ability to say no. In fact, lots of failed Internet companies would be around today if they learned to say no to entering various dense markets, taking too much venture capital, and then putting together business structures with lavish burn rates.
Why do people often say yes to things they shouldn't? One reason is known as the "optimistic bias", where we tend to be more optimistic about our own outcomes than those of others. So, you might look at the fortunes of some failed internet company and say, well, what happened to them couldn't happen to me. In fact, it can.
So, one way to cope with this bias is to start learning to say no to various things. Here's a short list to get you going.
Features - say no to features that customers don't care about. Palm and Handspring do a great job of eliminating features that Microsoft always has to include. For features that most customers don't really use or want, say no. In fact, get rid of features that don't map into R&D's capabilities, unless customers are demanding them.
Customers - say no to customers who are not your target customers. Ok, this is hard to do because you don't want to turn anyone away. But, by not focusing on a target segment of customers and spreading yourself to other segments, you'll soon find yourself adding features (see above) and before you know it you'll be alienating the customers you really want.
Products - say no to products that don't meet a market need. Don't think you can create demand (that's a fiction and even if you can, it takes a very, very long time). This takes a lot of discipline, because there is a tendency to believe "If you build it, they will come". If you build it, and it doesn't solve a problem, nobody will come, so learn to say no.
Allen Weiss is the founder and publisher of MarketingProfs.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.