Self Selecting Out of a Deal

Once upon a time, my little team won a massive client. They developed excellent relationships with stakeholders throughout the organization. We were doing excellent work, and things couldn’t have been going any better. And then I was asked to meet with the decision-maker, the real authority in the deal.

I presented information. He pushed back. I shared some of our insights that would have helped the decision-maker and his team produce even better results. He reflexively shot them down. It had nothing whatsoever to do with the information, ideas, or insights. It had everything to do with me.

This decision-maker didn’t care for me. For him, I didn’t add anything to the deal, and there was no reason for me to be there. It was clear to everyone in the room–me included. When we returned to my office, I told my team I was no longer going to help them with this client. There were no protestations to the contrary!

We made the same decision to self-select out of deals dozens more times, mostly while the client was still a prospect. If someone isn’t the right fit for a particular client or stakeholder, they’re not the right fit. No reason trying to force a fit.

  • Self-select out: If you aren’t the right fit for a client or stakeholder, don’t do the client, your company, and your team a disservice by being so territorial as to cost everyone what could be a long, productive, and profitable relationship. Take yourself out of the deal.
  • Trade up: This is tough to do with today’s geographic territories being what they are (and with organizations drawing geographic lines that serve them instead of their customers), but you can trade up for an opportunity where you might be a better fit. If your group and territories are right, swap prospects with someone you believe will be a better fit. Trade one of yours for one of theirs.
  • Acquired taste: As always, there are exceptions (and exceptions to exceptions). I had one client who had an exceptional employee whose sense of style and fashion was way over the top. But they needed him on a potential client because he produced rock star results. Unfortunately, this client was ultraconservative. It was a total mismatch. They called the prospect before the meeting and told them to prepare to be shocked by this gentleman’s appearance. They oversold it, too. When the fashion misfit showed up, the client was expecting Marilyn Manson. They weren’t all that shocked, and they loved him because of his deep expertise of the subject matter.


If you subtract value from an opportunity, remove yourself from that opportunity. But be smart about it, and work with your team to make smart trades. Go where you can create the most value.

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