The most important word in business strategy. It's important to decide what to do. However, equally important is also deciding what not to do.

The Most Important Word in Business Strategy

Many people believe that the most important thing in strategic planning is deciding what to do; which opportunity to select out all those you’ve identified; which market segments and customers to target out of your total available market.

Indeed, these are important decisions that must be made. However, to me, equally important, if not more, are the decisions what not to do. Which opportunities to say “No” to. In fact, I believe that each “Yes” you say needs to be followed by several “No’s”.

Often there are several good business opportunities out there. More customers you can go after, additional products you can develop. All too often I see a “this AND that” approach been used by business leaders. Sometimes it’s because these choices are hard to make. It’s not easy saying no to what seems like a profitable opportunity. Other times, it’s a symptom of a lack of strategy and a pure opportunistic approach.

Regardless of the reasons, the results are never good. At best you achieve mediocre performance, financially and product wise. At worst, you go out of business.

Moreover, this inability to say no also frustrates your people. They know that they cannot go after all of these opportunities. They want their management to help them succeed by deciding what not to do. When leaders fail to do so, they set-up their people for failure.

For companies and products to be successful they need to have a clear focus, identity and value proposition. This also enables them to develop a solid business model. Our role as leaders is to demonstrate strategic self-discipline and help our people to remain focused and perform great.

I recently heard a great story, which may or may not be true. In any case, it serves as a good example of strategic self-discipline. When Google was still in its early days as a fledgling start-up company, desperate for cash, Visa made them a very tempting offer. Visa asked that Google will place their logo at the bottom of Google’s home (main) page. For that Visa was offering to pay a cool one million dollars.

Nine out of ten start-ups would have said yes and taken the much-needed cash. It would have enabled them to fund the company’s development and growth. Google said no. It didn’t fit their purpose, vision, and identity as a company. It conflicted with their view of what their product should be.

I think they made the right decision.

You need to have a clear purpose, vision, and goal in order to have long-term success. However, you equally need strategic self-discipline in order to avoid the many temptations and distractions along the way and maintain your company’s strategic focus and identity.

Learn to say no in your business strategy, and practice it often.



2 thoughts on “The Most Important Word in Business Strategy

  1. I have always said that No is the second best answer (when hearing from a prospect). I also believe we need to learn to use NO when being asked to over-extend ourselves, or being asked to step out of integrity.

    Lastly, we always have the right to "fire" our prospects or customers by saying No if the relationship is no longer working to the betterment of both…


  2. Hi Andrea,

    Thank you for the comment. You're making very good points. In particular, I share your view on being selective in our customer engagements.

    Best Regards,

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