Transparency Can Be Saying No

My clearest memory of how powerful transparency can be was in a discussion years ago with a Fortune 500 E-commerce VP. We’d successfully done a few million dollars of e-commerce work for them over the period of about a year and he was asking if we could develop about 15 sub-sites localized for places like Iceland or the Philippines on the cheap. They were hoping to get each of the sites done for $10k to $15k. My answer was simple:

While we’d love the work, we just aren’t setup for doing these small sites and you’d be better off going with someone else for developing small market sites.

At this point I was worried. You really don’t want to say no to a customer, in this case probably our second largest customer. The VP answered succinctly:

Thanks, Ed, we really appreciate your honesty.

They did end up doing the sites through someone else, but they kept our relationship intact and we ended up doing even more work for them that played to our strengths.

I replay this memory when I get hammered for pushing transparency over leaving someone out of the loop or only presenting the positive side to an approach.