The Art of Turning Down Business

Article by:
Richard Zwicky, EO Victoria
Richard Zwicky
EO Victoria

Richard is the Founder and President of Enquisite Software, the market leader in search analytics. A thought and opinion leader in search marketing, he is a frequent participant at major industry events worldwide. Contact Richard at zwicky@enquisite.com.

When we first started Enquisite—a search marketing, analytics and metrics provider—we were trying to create an entirely new market that focused solely on search-related aspects of Web sites. Because this was a startup, I was pretty involved in the day-to-day activities of the company.

About six months after we launched our first product, we were approached by a relatively large agency that had clients in the highly competitive real estate industry. The agency handled their clients’ traditional offline marketing and advertising, but they weren’t well versed in the ins and outs of online marketing. My sales rep brought me into the picture because it was a potentially lucrative deal for our company. A large number of licenses were being sold and there was the potential for additions as their agency grew. In our infancy, we could have used this boom for our sales figures, but we ended up turning down the business. Why?

It’s simple. In our discussions with the agency, we realized that they were further behind the search marketing curve than we had anticipated. Basic Web concepts were foreign to this otherwise savvy firm. In our conversations with them, it became clear that we were providing them with an introduction to search marketing. It also became clear that they had many steps to take before they could truly benefit from what our application offered.

Looking back, I wholeheartedly believe that we could have easily sold that agency dozens of licenses. After all, we had developed a cordial relationship with them. We had taken the time to provide them with information and knowledge they didn’t otherwise have, as well as explain search marketing to them in a way that they could understand and appreciate. In short, they trusted us. And that’s why we had to send them elsewhere. It was our responsibility as an ethical business to treat them with the respect they deserve, and in the process, do right by them.

We knew that they weren’t at the point in their business to truly utilize what we offered, so we pointed them in the right direction for growth and success. We told them to give us a call or send an e-mail if they had any questions or needed any additional help. In the end, we turned down their business because they didn’t fit our concept of an ideal partnership, and we wound up being stronger for it.

Was turning away that potential business the lucrative thing to do? As far as that month’s sales figures were concerned, it most definitely was not. Was it the right thing to do? Absolutely. I feel confident that when their agency has grown to the point that they need a search analytics solution, ours will be the first and probably only solution they’ll consider. Until then, they’ll learn the ropes of the business and further their development in the process.

As an entrepreneur in a highly competitive industry, I’ve learned that doing “good business” refers to positioning your business for greatness, and more importantly, doing the right thing. And sometimes, the right thing to do is turn down business for the sake of future opportunities.

New business will always be available, but it has be the right business for you and your company to make a lasting impact. In the end, I discovered that you have to take the high road and do what’s best for all parties involved, even if it isn’t exceptionally lucrative at the outset. That’s good business, and that yields success.


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