How to Make a 60-Second Sales Pitch to a CEO

Read on below to learn what sales pitches pique the interest of the CEO of a multi-billion-dollar company.

I spent an evening with the CEO of a $3.6-billion company based in Minneapolis. We were at a conference held by the Young President’s Organization (YPO) at the Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C.

  • Email
  • Compass Payroll

    We walked and talked at the expo held for the construction industry. Really, he talked and I followed along to see how he conducted himself at an industry expo. I wanted to learn the secrets to how top CEOs get value from an expo since I have always found them to be time bandits. 

    Spoiler alert! He does not handle an expo like the rest of us mortals!


    When I say “expo,” you all know what I mean. There are tables of vendors set up around the perimeter of the expo hall and the food tables are in the middle of the room. The attendees of the conference are hungry, so they want the food in the middle of the room, but they have to carefully navigate the hall to make sure they don’t accidentally run into one of the salespeople eagerly positioned around the room. It’s kind of like running the Greek gauntlet in Homer’s Odyssey and trying to avoid Scylla and Charybdis (extra credit if you remember this obscure Greek reference from high school). 

    The expo salespeople stand by their tables and as soon as you come within earshot, they are eagerly reading your name badge, engaging you by asking where you’re from and then launching into a 60-second pitch about their product or service. They give the same pitch over and over hundreds of times per expo.

    I observed the following methods that my CEO companion used while tackling the expo:

    Get right to the point. The difference between how most of us handle ourselves in these situations and how this CEO works the room is simple: If a vendor doesn’t get to the point, and fast, the CEO of the $3-billion company will interrupt and say one of two phrases:

    Response No. 1: “Please get to the point.”

    Response No. 2: “You’re talking to the wrong guy. Do you have any other products or services that might be of interest to me?”

    Be polite but efficient. I thought he would be “Minnesota Nice,” but he was quick to interrupt if the salesperson was wasting his time. He often tried to help them understand why their pitch was not landing well. Some of the salespeople understood that they were losing him and deftly changed their pitch. Many just got flustered and restarted their pitch with the same or different words. He politely walked away to the next booth. I don’t want to give the impression that he wasn’t nice, just that he was completely intolerant of wasting time. He came to the conference with a shopping list and if what you’re selling doesn’t include what’s on his list, he’s not buying. 

    Ask good questions. When he did get interested in a pitch, he asked good questions. He listened. He asked more good questions. 

    Follow up when interested. If there are any salespeople reading this article, please know that the best you can hope for as an expo salesperson is that he will take your info and promise he’ll have one of his management team members follow up. As we were walking, I asked him if he was sincere about that or if it was just a line. He assured me that if he says it, he really is planning to have a manager investigate the new product or service. He doesn’t care if they buy it or not, just that they consider the new idea.

    In under an hour, we visited all 11 vendors at the expo. He gathered value from the ones that he found interesting. I am sure he’ll have his people call them when he returns to the company—the good ones at least! 

    Jonathan Slain coaches a very limited number of best-in-class contracting, staffing and entrepreneurial companies that want to double (top and/or bottom line) within the next five years. If you are ready to buckle-up, please go to or email

    Next up: How to Set Up a Board of Advisors

    How to Set Up a Board of Advisors

    “Never tell your problems to anyone; 20% don’t care and the other 80% are glad you have them.” --- Lou Holtz

    “Never tell your problems to anyone; 20% don’t care and the other 80% are glad you have them.” --- Lou Holtz

  • Email
  • Compass Payroll

    The quote above from the former Notre Dame head football coach was referenced during a recent COSE Strategic Planning Course discussion about how business owners should best go about asking for help for their business. For a little context, the panel of SPC speakers were saying that when an entrepreneur is in search of advice, the best place to find it is from other business owners. 

    That’s where a board of advisors can come in handy for a business. But what’s the best way to go about setting up such a board? The SPC panel provided the following advice on how to put together a board that can help you work through your toughest issues.


    Board composition and setup

    So, who should you target to be on your board? People like you! You thought CEO was an acronym for Chief Executive Officer? It’s actually short for Consoling Each Other. These are the people who are going to have the best perspective on the various questions you have about staffing, sales, IT, and such because they’re living it too. Find people who have experience in a skill set that you don’t have. You’re a sales wonder, but struggle with marketing? Find someone who fills that gap. Pick people you will listen to, but avoid customers or vendors. You’re looking for neutral third parties here who aren’t afraid to voice their opinion and hold your feet to the fire.

    The COSE Strategic Planning Course can be a good place to find potential board members for your business. In fact, several speakers said they continue to meet on a regular basis with the other business owners they met during their SPC class.

    To avoid ties, try to have an odd number of people on your board. Also, setting a one-year term for board members is a good timeframe to start with to ensure there is a good fit for both the company and board member and to give the board enough time to understand the ins and outs of your business.

    Running the meeting

    Once you’ve settled on the makeup of the board, you’ll need to decide how often to meet. Setting up quarterly meetings is a good timeframe to start with. It’s also a good idea to pass along a copy of the agenda and any related materials so board members can begin preparing in advance. On the agenda, consider listing out how long you plan to discuss each item (e.g., 15 minutes to recap last quarter’s financials, 30 minutes on staffing, etc.) Designate a timekeeper for each meeting whose role will be to ensure the board doesn’t go over time on agenda items.

    If running a meeting is not your strong suit, don’t be afraid to designate someone to take on that role. You’ll also need someone to take notes during the meeting and then to distribute those notes following the meeting.


    Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind about your board of advisors? Listen to what they have to say! It can be easy to coast along with your business. You need people who are going to ask you the difficult questions that you need to answer if your business is going to grow.

    Next up: HR Questions Every Small Business Owner Must Answer

    HR Questions Every Small Business Owner Must Answer

    As part of an ongoing series, Mind Your Business is sitting down with COSE Investor Level Members to get to know more about the issues facing their businesses. Today’s Q-and-A is with Cheryl Perez, president and managing partner of BIG-HR.

    Navigating the ins and outs of HR issues can be challenging for many companies, but perhaps particularly so for smaller enterprises. Whether it’s understanding what you need to know before terminating an employee or untangling everything that goes into I-9 rules, there’s a lot to get up to speed on. We sat down recently with Cheryl Perez, president and managing partner of BIG-HR and a COSE Investor Level Member, to understand some of the most important questions every small business owner must be able to answer. Here’s what she had to say:

  • Email
  • Compass Payroll

    MYB: How would small business owners know when (and if) they can terminate someone?

    Perez: Of course, one of the most frequently asked questions I receive whenever I am speaking with a small employer is: When can I terminate this person? Usually by the time I have received this question the employee has become so much of a problem that the employer can no longer even justify why keeping him or her on staff is critical. The best way for me to answer this question is really, unfortunately, with a question. And that question is: Where is the employee in achieving the action plan that you set during his or her most recent disciplinary or performance review conversation?


    You see, whether you can terminate someone depends upon the proactive nature of your disciplinary and performance review processes. The most critical piece of supporting termination is documentation, and usually if someone has been doing a good job at documenting poor performance issues then it is clear to all parties involved when that termination is going to take place. The action plan that you set forth, in your most recent conversation regarding the behavior, is what sets the deadline for termination. Your action plan should be specific and say something like: In 30 days if we do not see improvement we know we will part ways. The main problem I see in getting this question is that there usually has been no prior disciplinary or performance review process in place that limits the employer’s ability to terminate. You know when you can terminate someone based upon the expectations you have set along the way. You may be in a no-fault state, but no fault does not equal no potential for wrongful termination suits.

    MYB: What about breaks and lunches? Does a small business owner have to pay for those, or provide them?

    Perez: In short, the answer to this question is: It depends. Each state will confirm how many hours an employee must work before breaks and lunches must be provided, and it will also determine how long those breaks and lunches must be depending upon employee age. Typically, if you are providing breaks and lunches for an employee they are paid but, again, it just depends upon the employee status and what your state regulates. For instance, Ohio labor laws require employers to provide employees under the age of 18 a 30-minute uninterrupted break (unpaid) when working more than five consecutive hours. Ohio does not require employers to provide breaks, including lunch breaks, for workers 18 years of age or older.

    MYB: What’s the best way to handle I-9 regulations?

    Perez: Most employers during the course of hiring an employee collect an I-9 form to verify citizenship or authorization to work in the United States from a new hire. Without really knowing what to collect and what dates to use an employer can be putting themselves at risk based upon the time the I-9 form is collected, the date that the information is verified by the employer, and the signatures that are located on the documents as it relates to the hire date listed. It is critical that employers understand and know when they are collecting an I-9 form from an employee what could make the I-9 form invalid or require that the employer collect a new I-9 form once the old form expires. The I-9 form contains two major sections (sometimes three), with the employee needing to complete section 1 and the employer needing to verify and complete section 2. Section 3 is completed when an employer is rehiring a previous employee.

    The biggest piece of missing information that employers don't realize is that section 2 must be completed and verified within three business days of the date of hire listed on the form; otherwise your form is incorrect. Employers must retain I-9s for the later of three years from the date of hire or one year after the date employment ends. From time to time, the federal government may examine your employment records. If you fail to produce I-9s, you can be subject to civil and/or criminal penalties.

    MYB: Are 1099 contractors considered W-2 employees?

    Perez: 1099 versus W-2 is really related to the tax classification of a subcontractor or employee of an organization. The status refers to whether an employer should be taking out and paying taxes on behalf of the employee. If you are a 1099 subcontractor, the answer is no, the employer will not withhold taxes nor match them and you will be responsible for paying taxes on your own. If you are a W-2 employee your employer will withhold taxes from your paycheck and pay their portion for your employment. It is estimated that a high percentage of 1099 contractors are misclassified on an annual basis. If this misclassification applies then the employer is subject to severe penalties when, and if, an audit is performed.

    The best way to determine whether someone is a W-2 or a 1099 depends upon their treatment by the employer. With a W-2 certain things will be specific such as a schedule will be determined, training will be provided, equipment will be given, and expectations will be set (as well as other specifications). With a 1099 a project/task is usually contracted with very little to no direction, no training, and no equipment provided.

    MYB: And now for some shameless self-promotion: How have COSE events helped your business grow?

    Perez: I just love the organization and the opportunities. It’s chock-full of education. I make friendships with the networking events. And I also learn something every single time I attend an event or speak with someone because it’s full of small business owners just like myself going through the same stuff every single day. I make great friends, great clients and there are great networking opportunities, so I’d like to say thanks COSE!

    Cheryl Perez is president and managing partner of BIG-HR, which focuses on HR consulting and outsourcing. You can learn more about the company by clicking here. And you can also learn more about the benefits of being a COSE Member by clicking here. Or, contact our Membership Team directly via email at or by phone at 216-592-2355.

    Next up: If You’re Not Performing a SBU Analysis, You’re Holding Your Business Back

    If You’re Not Performing a SBU Analysis, You’re Holding Your Business Back

    Every business—even small businesses—are complex organizations with multiple business units layered inside. These are called Strategic Business Units.  SBUs have their own markets, products/services and pricing structures.

  • Email
  • Compass Payroll


    For instance, a painting company could count as its customers:

    • residential
    • office
    • apartment building clients

    This is an example of one company having different strategic business units (SBUs) embedded in its corporate structure.

    In the above example, let’s say that residential accounts for 80% of this company’s revenue; office comprises 15%; and apartment represents 5%. Would it make sense for this painting company to treat each of these silos the same? If you answered “yes”, then you could probably consider enrolling in the COSE Strategic Planning Course, which delves deep into the magic of SBU analysis.

    Can’t wait for the Strategic Planning Course and want a little SBU insight right now? As a former graduate of the course, I’m happy to oblige. Here are my thoughts on the benefits a thorough SBU analysis can have on your business, and they happen to revolve around the way you’re currently looking at your company’s financial reports.

    The traditional income statement doesn’t tell the whole story

    You’re likely used to relying on your income statement to give you a sense of how your business is performing. The problem is, this statement doesn’t provide you a detailed look at where you’re making—or losing—money because it doesn’t dive into a detailed examination of the profitability of customer groups and product/service groups. Accounting systems that lump all sales onto a single line won’t give you any insight at all into the individual services and products you’re selling. Similarly, that same bundling of labor and/or material costs doesn’t help you figure out the real costs and benefits of a given product/service.

    A SBU analysis, on the other hand, can help you dig into the profitability of each of your SBUs and give insight into which businesses you should think about growing, or, perhaps, divesting. It helps you figure out where you’re making money and how to effectively revenue manage your product or service to best take advantage of this profitability. Different matches of products/services, priced incorrectly, can lead to underperformance.

    This, of course, is just scratching the surface of both SBU analysis and is just one example of the many lessons you’ll learn from COSE’s Strategic Planning Course. Again, I am a satisfied former graduate of the course and would be happy to answer any questions you might have about it. Please feel free to email me at if you have any questions about how the course can help you grow your business.

    Bob Dianetti is the owner of Team Dianetti, a professional business coaching and training organization with offices in Hudson and Akron. Reach him via phone at (234) 284-2333. 

    Next up: Lesson Learned: Make the Business Stand on Its Own

    Lesson Learned: Make the Business Stand on Its Own

    The latest piece of our “Lesson Learned” series has to do with the actions a small business owner should take to ensure her or his business is able to stand on its own.

    The COSE Strategic Planning Course offers small business owners invaluable advice on a range of subjects to help them grow their business. We asked some recent graduates of the program what their takeaways from the course were and during the next several weeks, we’ll be relating to you their insights. Today’s “lesson learned” comes from Tony Skerski of Transaction Realty, who talked about what entrepreneurs need to do to ensure their business can stand on its own.

  • Email
  • Compass Payroll

    Q: Looking back at all the lessons you learned during the COSE Strategic Planning Course, can you pinpoint some things you have or plan to implement in your business?

    Tony Skerski of Transaction Realty


    Well one of the most important things I found from the class is I have to take myself out of the biz to make it an actual viable business to make it stand on its own.

    I can put procedures in place so that everyone throughout the company can do any of the jobs, and that will make the company be more sellable. And speaking of staffing, I also need to make sure I hire the right people and not train the wrong people.

    Some advice I would give other people who work in small businesses is that the old way of marketing your business is not the way of the future. You have to be giving content and that will give you the most marketing punch for your money.

    More COSE Strategic Planning Course takeaways

    Looking for more insight into the valuable lessons business owners learn while enrolled in the COSE Strategic Planning Course? Check out the other pieces of our “Lesson Learned” series

    Lesson Learned: Have an Exit Strategy

    Lesson Learned: Don’t Do It All Yourself

    Learn more about the COSE Strategic Planning Course

    Next up: Lessons for Small Businesses from the Cavaliers

    Lessons for Small Businesses from the Cavaliers

    Your small business can learn several lessons from this year’s Cavs team and the experiences they’ve gone through this season. So read on, and let’s go Cavs!

    This year’s Cleveland Cavaliers look very familiar. Just like the last three years, they’ve made the NBA Finals. They have the same head coach in Ty Lue and the same leader in LeBron James. They are also playing the same team—the Golden State Warriors.   

  • Email
  • Compass Payroll

    Yes, these are all a constant to every Cavs fans. But this isn’t the familiarity I am talking about.   What I’m talking about is how this year’s team resembles many small businesses, including my own. As I watched the season unfold, I kept thinking to myself how I can relate to the ups and downs the team experienced and how they persevered to make it to where they are today.  


    This year’s Cavs provide a number of lessons on team dynamics, competition and leadership that are relevant to today’s small business. Here are the top three lessons we’ve learned from this year’s Cleveland Cavaliers.

    Lesson No. 1: Building team chemistry is critical to optimal performance.

    This year’s team has eight new players when compared to last year’s NBA Finals team (this doesn’t include four more players that came and went this year: Dwayne Wade, Derrick Rose, Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder).

    With so many new faces at the beginning of the year and a set of trades in the middle of the year, the Cavs had trouble winning, at one point losing 14 of 20 games—something you rarely see from a LeBron-led team. Even though the Cavs made the finals, it is clear to see how team turnover has created challenges in performance and culture.

    Just like in basketball, our businesses thrive when we have a consistent team that gets along and cares about “winning.” Sometimes change is good. However, losing highly-skilled people (Kyrie Irving) or good character people can really have an impact on team performance.   

    Small business owners really have to be creative and intentional in creating an environment that reduces turnover. This could include building in team engagement activities or taking an active role in employee development.   

    Lesson No. 2: Continuous innovation and improvement are the best ways to beat the competition.

    Over the last eight years, the Eastern Conference has tried to stop LeBron James—with little luck. However, as we saw this year, teams such as the Indiana Pacers and Boston Celtics got very close to knocking off the Cavs. Other teams such as Philadelphia and Milwaukee are considered up-and-coming young and talented teams. The Cavs struggled in the middle part of the year and decided to make some drastic trades to revamp and reenergize the team. While the results are mixed so far, it should not be lost that the Cavs are committed to doing what it takes to compete now and in the future.  

    In business, the competition is not going away. Just like you, they are looking to “win” new business. The competition is increasing their investment in sales and marketing, developing new ways of doing business and hiring talented people. It is important to keep an eye on trends in your industry as well as what your competition is doing. Take action to make sure your business is relevant for your customers and innovative in its products and/or services.

    Lesson No. 3: Strong leadership can overcome.  

    For the Cavs, the unquestioned leader is LeBron James. He is not only the best player on the planet, but also the MVP every single year (or should be). There is a reason that, through changing teammates and management, LeBron’s teams have managed to make it to eight straight NBA Finals. LeBron’s core values center around leading by example, putting his teammates in a position to be successful and winning.  

    For many small businesses, the buck stops with the owner. A small business owner may be responsible for sales, financials, human resources, operations and strategy. But above all, an owner is responsible for leading his or her team.  

    As a small business leader, it is important to make sure that through the ups and downs of your business, you are able to exude confidence, provide leadership and mentorship to your team, and stay focused on achieving the goals you’ve set for your business.

    Nevin Bansal is the president and CEO of Outreach Promotional Solutions.