Agencies: How to Say No to Prospects 6

Each prospect you engage potentially affects another.All agencies get them. The phone calls on projects that fall just outside of the core competency of the company. They’re often big and juicy, too, but when you get down to brass tax, they just lead too far outside of your own sphere to deliver excellence on without extending the risk factor way, way outside the door, down the street, even half way around the world. And when it all goes bust, your reputation is on the line ultimately, not the end-provider’s.

Rather than take the excess risk entailed in completely outsourcing what you can’t even speak to, it’s probably better to just sit up straight and say “no, sorry, we don’t handle that”.

Truth is, few projects are lucrative enough to warrant what it would take to completely outsource a project from a to z and manage the help while expecting everything to stay well within predefined time/cost parameters. Usually, it just won’t.

“But how can saying no to a prospect really help my company?”

  1. By not over-promising on what you can’t ensure quality on.
  2. By demonstrating that your company values honesty with clients.
  3. By using the opportunity to clearly outline to a prospective client what you do provide, and how you place emphasis on quality.
  4. Oh, and pssst! Word of mouth referrals!

People like honesty. People thank me all the time when I tell them no.  Example: “I called that Mark guy about A and they don’t do that, but they told me straight and didn’t try to wing it like most agencies will. I really respect that. And it says here on their website that they do X,Y, AND Z, and so I thought of you Jim…”

If you don’t think your character plays a role in whether people want to do business with you when they DO need what you provide, you should just watch how you yourself respond to a company that tells it like it is in the same situation. If the rep tells you what they do provide, and then tells you that they don’t happen to handle what you mentioned, this at least is an opportunity to make an impression as a straight-shooting stand-up company that is committed to delivering quality, not shoddy workmanship or overblown promises that don’t pan out.

Demonstration of company culture and values goes a long, long way with any prospect, turns potentially bad clients into good clients, and generally creates a lasting relationship and a long potential for referrals. In the age of social media, your network is watching and spreadin your rep whether you know it or not, via Twitter, LinkedIn, even Facebook. Do yourself and your company a favor and demonstrate your values by clearly defining your boundaries.

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Mark BrimmMark Brimm is Founder and Editor-in-Chief at and is author of AdWords University: The Complete Guide to AdWords and other previous related books on search marketing. He is currently working on a forthcoming book on social media strategy.

Mark consults on SEO & SEM, general web marketing and social media at Interface Communications Group where he is Partner and Director of Digital Marketing. Some of his specialties include SEO (search engine optimization), social media optimization (SMO), as well as PR campaign concepts, marketing plans and general web marketing related project management.

About Mark Brimm

Mark Brimm is President of, the Founder of, and runs a personal blog on social media, marketing and entrepreneurship at He also runs a blog on SEO & SEM at

  • Very valuable advice, Mark. Overpromising and underdelivering kills companies quickly, especially in a world where reputation is so easy to suss out. Word of mouth, as you note, is now global, and the fact that you’ve passed on a quick buck to make sure a would-be client gets the right service can be worth more than almost anything else. It’s funny…having been through business school, I can tell you no one really gives you this long-term view…the one with the foresight to say, “I may not make this dollar today, but that’s right for the overall plan.”

    Good on ya, mate. Always a pleasure to see one of your posts.

    • Interesting to get an MBA’s perspective on it, Will. I know what you mean. After proof-reading all those MBA papers for the wife back in grad school, I began to feel that a bit myself.

      I can’t get over how many prospects have come back around to me after being impressed with the rather simple way I said no to a project that was outside the rim. I finally decided to share it with others, especially after all the stories these people inevitably tell me about how rare that is for them.

      Much appreciated! 🙂

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  • Anonymous

    Certainly true in my experience. And the biggest agencies make the mistake of trying to assume outside expertise into the equation. Just doesn’t work.