The Courage to Say “No” Will Make You a Better B2B Marketer
BY Bill Conn
October 14, 2022

Good marketers are hardwired to please people. Whether that’s your agency client, your customer, your boss, or some other stakeholder in the marketing mix, it’s natural to want to say “yes” as frequently as possible. It makes sense, since saying yes leads to opportunities for success—both personally and for the organization you’re supporting.

But in reality, saying “no” more will make you a better marketer. As Warren Buffet once said, “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.” 

I don’t know about you, but I’d like to be really successful.

Ready to start saying “no” more? (Well, say “yes” here first and read on.)

A Lesson Learned as a Young Marketer: When “Yes” is Wrong

Picture this: Years ago, I was a young marketer at a tech startup company. It was my first Big Job, and because it was a startup, I was tasked with doing just about everything that could possibly have a marketing label slapped on it: leading our inbound strategy, getting a marketing automation tool up and running, shaping the brand, and supporting sales. Resources were limited (me and another person), so we had to be really picky about where we spent our time.

On the brand awareness front, our CEO became convinced that getting our story in the New York Times would unlock our sales. Well, sure. It’s the New York freaking Times. Of course, it would unlock our sales pipeline (and bolster his ego in the process), but there are so many issues with that request. Is our audience there? Probably. Would they know anything about us or bother to read about us? Probably not. Would an editor entertain a story about a little startup doing good? Absolutely not.

But I said “yes” to him. I wanted to impress, make it happen and win big for myself and the company. And that was my fatal mistake. To try and chase that pipedream, so many other initiatives—ones with real power to change our trajectory—had to be put on the back burner. 

And then I had to say a whole bunch of no’s when I didn’t want to. No, we didn’t reach that inbound marketing goal. No, we didn’t get the automation tool rolled out on schedule. And no, we still never made it into the New York Times.

Luckily I survived that mistake and went on to help the company achieve great things. But I learned a valuable lesson about being slow to say yes, and quick to say no.

“No” is Hard—Here’s How to Find the Courage to Say It

If you’ve bumped into Scribewise’s marketing at any point over the last month, you’ve noticed that we’re making a stand for Courageous Marketing—and if you haven’t seen it yet, I encourage you to check it out … it’s slightly irreverent and defiant, and, more importantly, helpful. You’ll find a framework for helping you and your organization take the necessary steps to become more courageous.

The first pillar in the Courageous Marketing framework is Knowledge, which is your challenge to truly figure out what you stand for and what your company goals are. But it’s the Confidence pillar in our framework where you’ll find the courage to say “no” a lot more than you do now. I wish I had asked myself a few of these questions, which you’ll find within our deck (bookmark these slides!), way back when I was being asked to break into the New York Times:

  • What are you afraid of at work—losing your job? Of status? Of prestige? Every member on the team needs to be honest. 
  • What are the biggest fears that you must confront and shrink? Detail how you will address each fear.
  • What blind spots do you have?
  • How will the naysayers attack your Big Idea?
  • How strongly do you believe in your idea?
  • Are important leaders at the company on board with your courageous POV? Will they have your back when a distributor or customer aggressively disagrees?

I hadn’t thought through the answers to these questions thoroughly, which meant I didn’t have the confidence to say “no” to the impossible task in favor of what I knew would work better. No, we won’t break into the New York Times; but yes, focusing on these themes over the next two months in our inbound strategy will help us win new customers. No, you won’t see your name in the newspaper, but yes, marketing automation will help us learn more about customers and engage them with and find out what they really want and need. No, we won’t see our company name on a national stage just yet, but yes, focusing locally and on trade publications will help us get there.

What’s the next “no” you should say? Answer the questions above, rally your team around your Big Idea and then hand out a bunch of no’s when they don’t fit with the vision. It’s the fastest way to get to the right yes.

Let’s talk about growing your company.

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