Avoiding what is bad for us based on our stage of growth is as important, if not more, than what we say yes to.

You want to grow? Learn to say no

Avoiding what is bad for us based on our stage of growth is as important, if not more, than what we say yes to.

There’s no lack of articles or blog posts out there about how to build.  What to add:  tech stack, people, roles, processes.

What’s a lot harder is knowing what to say no to, or what to reduce. And even harder than that…actually saying no.

So, as you’re starting to build out your sales let’s discuss what to say no to. And, at the risk of possibly pissing off the VC who owns this site, ‘growth’ without a foundation might not be the best option. Which is also why I like working with Notion….because they understand this and also I can say stuff like that without getting booted off the site.  I think. [Strike one! Ed.]

As a founder and/or CEO  you need to know what stage your company is at.  Are you still figuring out the Product-market fit?  Got that?  Cool.  Let’s assume you have that fully nailed.

Now can you honestly say you have Go to Market Fit (GTMF) sorted?  Think of this like a Yes/No decision tree.  If you don’t have both of those sorted first, go back a level.  If you don’t have the right GTMF, then I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you will have even harder decisions to make down the road that impact a lot more people.

So what does GTMF mean? There are a few key pieces here that it’s worth your executive team sitting down and fully dissecting.

Sales structure:  

  • Sales-Led?   Have you gotten your first few customers on board, with vaguely similar processes?  Have you been documenting all your meetings so you can start to enable others and not have to lead every sale—ie getting the knowledge out of your head and in a consumable manner for others?  Do you have a sales leader in place that you feel comfortable that you’re setting up for success, and is comfortable with the stage of the company you’re at?
  • Or, is your solution better suited for a Product-Led play, where your GTM should be designed around the acquisition and enablement of users?  Do you have the demand gen, ops and assist teams ready to ensure great experiences for the users so they’re more likely to convert?

For Sales-Led:

Which segment of the market are you going after?

  • Enterprise:  Do you have sales reps who know how to orchestrate deals and work across an organisation (both of the prospect and internal to your own company?)? Do you have the support structure for onboarding and maintaining these companies once they’ve signed?  Does your product team have a clear roadmap and vision so your whole company doesn’t start veering to the wishes of a few huge clients that might make it harder to build a product that suits a wider audience?  Are you prepared for the dozens of security questionnaires that will be needed to be fulfilled?
  • Mid-market: Is this a more transactional sale where you know there will be a higher quantity of deals? Are you enabling your likely-more-junior sales team to be able to manage and reduce the sales cycle to ensure CAC is correct?


  • Do you know who you’re going after and why? “If you build it, they will come” probably only works in baseball movies. If you don’t know what pain you’re solving for your customers and know why you’re doing this in a better way than anyone out there, then relying on customers to figure it out doesn’t usually end happily.  

There’s a lot more but those are the basics.  

Now what to say no to until you’re really ready for the next stage:  scale to fit.

  • Wrong salespeople/leaders for the stage of business you’re at.  

Yes, there are exceptions–but I’ve seen way too many times to count very early-stage startups hiring out of the behemoths of tech assuming they’ll bring that institutional knowledge. But when you don’t have all your systems down to a T, all the collateral sorted, sophisticated marketing teams and engines to drive pipeline, and the need to really roll up your sleeves and GSD….it’s a massive culture shock.  If they’re used to selling to the enterprise…that doesn’t work with faster midmarket deals, and vice versa.  So say no to team members who aren’t truly prepared for the stage that you’re at, otherwise, it’s an expensive and time-consuming problem that can set you back months.

  • Overly complicated tech stacks. 

Especially now, you don’t need every whizzy solution out there.  I’m not saying skimp on the basics, but keep it simple to start. It’s insane how quickly lots of tech solutions start stacking up and get expensive really quickly. Say no to spending more than you need to right now.

  • Selling way outside the ICP.  

It’s tempting, I know especially when a great brand wants to give you money. But if that client requires far different solutions or expertise to support, or you won’t be able to make them successful, you’ll just end up with a churned client and a really frustrated internal team who aren’t set up to make them happy.  A metaphor I like to use is that if your company is a tree, make sure it has incredibly strong roots so landing that big elephant doesn’t topple the whole thing or force it to grow in a sideways direction.  Say no to the wrong customers that you aren’t going to learn from, that will help you attract more in your ICP and you know you’ll be able to make successful.

  • Insane growth targets.

Avoid signing up for growth targets you’re not fully prepared to be able to support while you’re still figuring out GTMF.  Make sure you have a reasonable number of really solid and happy customers first.  There’s a saying:  slow down to speed up.  If things aren’t running like clockwork do some deep analysis. What is the true problem:  is it acquiring the right customers?  Is it successfully and systematically onboarding them?  Or is it making them demonstrably successful once they’re a customer?  Say no to unachievable numbers that force you to take on customers that you know you won’t be able to make successful or will churn, or that put such a strain on your team that you end up losing both the customer and the team.

  • If any of those three is a challenge—acquiring, onboarding or making successful, that’s when you start saying no until you figure out the problem and how to solve it. 

Only then are you truly ready for the scale stage.  If you have problems when you’re still small, just imagine what a beast it will be to fix when you’re operating with a lot more clients.  It’s a lot more fun to be able to say ‘yes’---but that’s only fun when you’ve got the basics right.  Scale-to-market fit is hard too—but SO much more fun and enjoyable when the GTMF is right.

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