Sometimes You Must Just Say No To New Business

thumbnail.aspToo often in business, ego and greed go head-to-head with common sense and prevail, causing damage in their wake. Too often, those forces lead companies to say “yes” to new business when they should just say “no.” This is a post about two of those instances wrapped up into one story.

At the end of 2012, the owner of a small online-only business realized her company was overdue for a new website and it quickly became a strategic imperative. We had referred her to an ad agency (that had also referred us business) the year before for some online advertising. They had done a pretty good job, so she gave them an opportunity to propose a new site. The owner of the agency pulled out all the stops in a hard sell, but admitted that his company typically handles such projects for much larger companies and that this would be their smallest project. When she expressed concern about that, he reassured her by telling her he had an an “expert” on staff in her e-commerce platform. He just couldn’t say “no.” In January of 2013, she signed a contract for a new site – the largest purchase in the history of her company.

The agency estimated a four-month “conservative” completion time for the new site. Six months later, it still wasn’t finished. When she wondered why nobody from the agency had contacted her in many weeks, she discovered, via a LinkedIn search, that her account representative had left the agency weeks before. It took the owner several days to get back to her and promised her a quick completion. To make a long story short, when the site still wasn’t completed after nearly a year since signing the contract, she suggested the two companies work out an arrangement that would allow both of them to move on. She obviously wasn’t getting the new site she needed. Her project obviously was either too small and/or too far afield for the agency to complete. Instead of working out a deal to part ways, the arrogant, gutless agency owner committed an act of cowardice – he filed a breach of contract suit against her.

After a counter-suit and much money spent on lawyers, the two sides ultimately agreed to binding mediation. A professional mediator, a former judge, was to hear both sides, and, after two hours, if an agreement could not be reached with his assistance, he would rule on a binding settlement. This mediator typically deals with much bigger cases and much longer mediations, but would not say “no” to taking the case.

To say the mediator mailed this one in would imply a little effort. It was more like he did this one from the couch with a bag of chips in one hand and a remote control in the other. The session started late and ended early. At least for the online business’ side, he barely asked any questions and refused to look at evidence. He mentioned multiple times that he had somewhere else to be and did not issue a decision that day. In fact, his decision came two days later and was just a number – one that benefitted the ad agency and virtually ignored the side of the business owner.

That business owner happens to be my wife. The ad agency is a former collaborator, with an owner who chose to napalm his relationship with our firm. The mediator is one I used to respect, before seeing him in “action.” Cutting through the emotions of the situation, I remember a pledge Don and I made when we started our firm. We don’t know everything. We won’t do everything. Sometimes, when it’s really best for a potential client, we will say “no.” If only that had happened in either case in this story, it could have prevented a lot of pain and a lot of money lost.