What if Your Business IS the Best Choice

As a follow-up to last month’s article on what to do if your business is not the best choice to fulfill a prospect’s needs, this month we are advising you on what to do if your business is the best choice.


Last month, we discussed some strategies to consider when you realize you’re not the right choice for a product or service your prospect needs. We had many positive comments about the piece and some people even indicated that they had never even thought about some of the strategies. 

So, this month’s topic should be obvious--What if Your Business IS the right choice? And some of the brief answers will be obvious, too. But, some won’t…so read and heed.

Step 1: Thank the client and review the agreement and timeline to make sure you’ll be giving them what they want, when they want it. I like an email or phone call for immediacy, but a hand-written note card for impact really works. 

Step 2: Ask what other providers they were considering, unless they told you up front. This information will help you analyze the competitive landscape.

Step 3: Ask why they chose you, your product or service. You need to compare why you think they picked you with why they actually selected to work with you. You may have focused your pitch on service when the client made the decision based on cost. This information will help you analyze your branding and brand promise. And, remember, your prospect’s perception is your reality.

Step 4: If you’re providing a product, give periodic status reports on design, production or delivery. Some variation on a project plan can be helpful.

Step 5: This is even more important with a detailed process or project. Your plan should include dates for regular client status updates.

Step 6: Make sure there aren’t any surprises. Whenever you encounter a problem, communicate quickly. If it’s your fault, fix it fast but let the client know about it. If it isn’t your fault, analyze probable causes and likely solutions for the client and collaborate on fix. And fix it fast.

Step 7: If the client asks for changes in scope, timing or content, carefully analyze the impact any changes will have in cost and delivery. Quickly share this update with them. Seek approval or negotiate options.

Step 8: Lots of small businesses wrongly assume the job is done when the check clears the bank. Not so. Follow up in a timely manner to see how the product, service or project is working out and gauge their level of satisfaction. Depending on the scope or details of the deal, check in regularly. Hey, if my dentist can call the next day to see how I feel, so can you.

Step 9: Where appropriate, consider customer satisfaction surveys, either created in-house or administered by a third party. If you can respond directly, thank them for their comments and suggestions. Periodically communicate the positive actions you’re taking to improve quality or service resulting from the surveys to your whole customer base.

Step 10: Create and launch a Customer Contact Program. It can include a grid or spread sheet with customer contact and current volume on the vertical axis and various ‘Customer Touches’ on the horizontal axis. Examples include holiday greetings, those notes seeing how things are going, articles of interest to them, especially if you wrote them and links to resources or events they might find useful. 

So, there’s a lot more to successfully interacting with customers when you win the business than simply thanking them and beginning work. These simple strategies will enhance your customers’ experience, helping you win more repeat business. 

Happy Pitching!

Phil Stella runs Effective Training & Communication, www.communicate-confidently.com, 440 449-0356, and empowers business leaders to reduce the pain with workplace communication. A popular trainer and executive coach on writing, communication styles and sales presentations, he is also on the Cleveland faculty of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program.   


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  • Next up: What Our Members Love About Running a Small Business

    What Our Members Love About Running a Small Business

    There’s a lot to love about running your own small business. Here’s what some of our members say top the list.

    Being an entrepreneur means you get to wake up everyday and do what you love. In honor of Valentine’s Day, we asked some of our members to share what they love about running their own small businesses. Check out what they had to say—and if you have a small business story to tell, scroll to the bottom of the article to find out how to share it with us.

    “Running a small business allows me to use a variety of skills and parts of my brain, which makes things fun and interesting. I love that I get to come in everyday and create something for my family and my team. Most of all, I love that I can see the results of my work and make an impact.”

    Nevin Bansal, CEO, Outreach Promotional Solutions


    “What I love the most about running a growing small business is the sense of accomplishment from trial and error. While it's frustrating when you realize something isn't working, you have to put pride aside and take it as a learning moment; there is value in making mistakes. On the flip side, the ‘a-ha moment’ when something is working is what invigorates me. Even a small win is still a win.”

    Nicole Ponstingle, COO, Partner, Pandata


    “It provides me with the opportunity to share my knowledge and experience with clients, employees and others that I hope makes a positive difference in both their personal and professional lives! Lastly, it challenges me to be a constant learner since I believe the key to success is knowledge.”

    Timothy Dimoff, President, SACS Consulting and Investigative Services Inc.


    “What do I love about running my own business? Well, I started my business after having been laid off four times (reorganization, buyout, hostile merger, and intentional downsizing). Running my own shop has meant I get to do the fun stuff, as well as all the admin and grunt work. I admit that over the years I have occasionally wished I was back in the corporate space where other people took care of the infrastructure stuff. But those moments are rare. Most of time I love the freedom I have to pursue work that I enjoy with clients that I love. I get to choose the direction of my company, and if I want to add a service line or change direction, I get to decide without having to bounce the decision off some corporate board. I get as much vacation as I want, and nobody gives me a hassle when I take time off. Finally, during the Great Recession I sometimes had to worry about cashflow, but you know what? I never worried about job security, because I knew my “boss” was not going to lay me off! That’s what I love most of all!”

    Jim Smith, PCC, The Executive Happiness Coach®


    “I love talking to entrepreneurs from around the country who are doing incredible work and, when they become clients, I love watching them evolve. Sometimes that evolution comes in the form of business growth and other times it comes as they move through a significant leadership growth moment on their journey to self-mastery. It brings me joy to help them get out of their own way so they can serve, grow, innovate in their businesses and their community.”

    Monika Moss-Gransberry, best-selling author, coach, organizational consultant, and creator of Life Mapping, monikakmoss.com


    “There’s no one else to blame for mistakes and failures—just me. No one else to share praise with from happy clients—just me. No one else to justify my actions, priorities or feelings to—just me. No one else to keep me focused, motivated and client-centric—just me. No two days are the same and no two engagements are the same. The constant variety keeps me focused, sharp and happy. No 'same-o/same-o' or 'SSDD' here. I've had the privilege of being in a position to touch hundreds of people's lives—if only for a brief moment or simple concept. That spirit of making an impact as a consultant, trainer or executive coach is always exciting.”

    Phil Stella, Owner, Effective Training & Communication, Inc.


    “I love the opportunity to work with and learn from some great people who are entrepreneurs. I am grateful for the opportunity to be a trusted resource for owners and their teams and to enjoy the progress we make together. I see endless possibilities for small businesses as they confront, overcome and gain confidence from new challenges in the free market.”

    Wayne Bergman, Business & Executive Coach, Owner, Consistent Business Growth


    “I love the community of support that has enabled me to run my small business—accountants, business development professionals, graphic designers and the social media folks. They are all small businesses themselves and without their encouragement and support (and COSE’s too), I would not be able to run my business and love my business. When I was still in big company corporate America, I had no idea about all the love shared amongst those in the small business community. Happy Valentine’s Day!

    Margaret M. Cassidy, Principal, Cassidy Law PLLC


    If you have a small business story you’d like to share or if you would like to be added to our list of contributors for future articles, please contact Marie Zickefoose.

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  • Next up: What if Your Business is not the Best Choice

    What if Your Business is not the Best Choice

    You can’t win 'em all. Here are five next steps to consider when your business isn’t the best fit for the client or proposal.


    It looks like this new series in which I respond to sales pitch questions from readers is a hit. Thanks to those of you who took the time to comment or ask new questions. This time, R.G. from Beachwood asked, “What should you do if you conclude you’re not the client’s best choice?”

    The answer may seem obvious, but let’s take a deeper dive to consider options when you realize that you can’t do it as fast or as well or as inexpensively as the prospect requested.

    Option 1: Just tell the truth. The simplest and easiest option is to indicate that you now realize that you’re not positioned to be able to give them what they need and want. Thank them and walk away. No shame in retreat here—it’s simple, honest and courteous. But, there may be better choices worth evaluating.                                              

    Option 2: Consider offering ‘just enough.’ Let them know what you can do and why and let them determine if that’s enough of what they wanted to choose you anyway. It’s their call, not yours, but do try to negotiate a win-win. I’ve had several engagements where I didn’t think I was the best choice for a prospect’s needs, but let them make that call. They went with me anyway and we were both happy with the results. You never know until you try!

    Option 3: If you can’t do it all, can you do part of it? Can you partner with a colleague or their in-house resources to do the rest? Part of the engagement is better than none of it. However, these partnerships need to be well established and vetted before suggesting them. And you always run the risk of your partner not meeting your or the client’s expectations. Ask yourself if you have the appetite for that kind of risk. But, remember, if you did walk away, you’d have nothing to risk…but nothing to gain, either. You miss 100% of the shots on goal that you don’t take.

    Option 4: Separate necessities from desires. If it’s a pricing issue and you can’t do it for less, can you do less of it and still keep them happy? Part of your cost may be speed of delivery, value-added components or timing of launch or delivery. Engage in a thorough analytical discussion with the prospect to clearly define their ‘gotta haves’ and separate them from their ‘wanna haves’ or ‘like-ta haves.’ Now, can you handle the ‘gotta haves’ at a price that works for your needs and theirs?

    Option 5: And, finally, be realistic. How thorough, accurate and practical are the requirements listed in the prospect’s RFP? They may be so unrealistic that no provider would be able to meet them and still make a profit. How accurately are you evaluating your own real capabilities compared to those requirements? You may be too self-critical. So, as mentioned above, clearly state your case and value proposition. Let the prospect decide how close you come to what is really needed and how you compare to the other providers in play.

    So, add these strategies to your growing Sales Pitch Tool Kit and commit to trying some of them. And don’t tell me something won’t work unless you can tell me that it didn’t work. One may actually help you accomplish both your sales pitch goal…and objective.

    Happy Pitching!

    Phil Stella runs Effective Training & Communication, www.communicate-confidently.com, 440 449-0356, and empowers business leaders to reduce the pain with workplace communication. A popular trainer and executive coach on writing, communication styles and sales presentations, he is also on the Cleveland faculty of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program.   

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  • Next up: White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council Visits Cleveland

    White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council Visits Cleveland


    Last Friday, the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council visited Cleveland and other parts of Ohio to continue its tour of Opportunity Zones. The Small Business Administration was also present to speak with small business owners about how the program can spur investment and drive local hiring.

    The meeting gave Cleveland’s OpportunityCLE coalition the chance to highlight key projects happening in Cleveland Opportunity Zones. OpportunityCLE is a collaborative effort between Cleveland and Cuyahoga County’s robust network of public, private, and philanthropic partners. To learn more about this work, click here.

    Opportunity Zones were established by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 with the goal of creating long-term investments in regions of low-income rural and urban communities. The program provides tax incentives for investors to re-invest within Opportunity Zones. Members from the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council were hosted by GCP this past May—and last week’s meeting served as a critical touchpoint to connect small businesses to resources.

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  • Next up: With State Capital Bill Underway GCP Gears up to Recommend NEO Projects

    With State Capital Bill Underway GCP Gears up to Recommend NEO Projects


    Per recent guidance from the Office of Budget Management, the state capital bill is underway. This is a legislative-led process that provides funding for community projects across the state. Over the next several months, the General Assembly will work with the Administration to determine and prioritize significant projects to support with capital funding. GCP has historically participated in this process by prioritizing Northeast Ohio projects and advocating their importance to the legislature and Administration.  

    GCP plans to work closely with the legislature to recommend a list of priority projects for the 2019-20 state capital bill. GCP will accept projects for consideration until November 1, 2019 with the intent of seeking approval from its board leadership by mid-November. For more information on the state capital bill or GCP’s process, contact Alesha Washington, Vice President of Government Advocacy.

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  • Next up: Year-End Planning is a Team Effort: It’s important to involve multiple stakeholders—including your banking partner—in planning for next year

    Year-End Planning is a Team Effort: It’s important to involve multiple stakeholders—including your banking partner—in planning for next year

    There’s no mistaking that fall is in the air, which means the end of the year isn’t far away. This is the time most businesses begin developing plans for the year ahead and reviewing existing relationships. Companies are starting to focus in on budget planning, looking for areas of opportunity to expand their business, and evaluating areas where improvement might be necessary.

    Thorough planning is as important as it has ever been. And, it’s important to involve external stakeholders in the process to ensure plans can be achieved while also being flexible to account for all of the uncertainty. As you take into consideration all the possible moves in the coming year, it’s a good idea to get your bank involved. That way, whatever the plan, it can be properly funded.

    As you develop your strategy for the coming year, here are a few key areas to review:

    • Improvements and enhancements: are you planning to make any improvements or enhancements to operations or product offerings in the next 12 months? A good place to start is by looking at areas where improvements either need to be made or can be made, as well as where growth opportunities exist and how the company will approach those.
    • Cash flow: make sure cash flow aligns with the capital needs of expansion plans. If a strategic move runs the risk of draining your cash flow, it could mean your company isn’t able to meet a bank’s lending standards or the cash-flow covenants in your loan documents.  
    • Bank financing: if you’re planning to work with your bank on financing this coming year it is important to keep in mind the  debt service coverage ratios banks have in place for the loans they make. If a company spends a dollar, it’s got to show the bank that it will make more than that on the return. If they can’t, they won’t get more money to expand or make capital purchases. That’s why it’s important to plan now so you can have these conversations with your banker and make the necessary adjustments to get the financing you need.
    • Relationships: the end of the year is also a good time to evaluate your business relationships. Do you have the right suppliers in place and team member positions filled? Will you need to add new team members based on enhancements planned? As a business executive, do you have the right financial advisory team supporting you to help aid in decision making and are they ready and willing to support you? Whether you need to budget for a new hire or source new vendors, these questions and many more are important to consider for the year ahead. 

    Aligning year-end planning with your five-year strategic plan is also critical. While it’s important to stick to a carefully crafted, long-term strategic plan, there will inevitably be things that change during the implementation of the plan, both positive and challenging. That’s especially true now as we all work to navigate the coronavirus pandemic.

    Apart from the pandemic, which still has many unknowns, several examples include; being faced with an attractive potential acquisition, or an opportunity to land a new, large customer. On the other side, a key piece of equipment might break and need to be replaced with a new piece which is more expensive than the current model—something that falls outside of anticipated expenses.

    Changes such as these require companies to adjust their financial plan. In these situations, you’ll want to stick relatively close to your five-year strategic plan budget, but allow for the flexibility to capitalize on opportunity and adjust to unforeseen setbacks.

    Who should be involved in the planning?
    Planning the year ahead should involve the leadership team, as well as a trusted CPA. Your bank will play a significant role in plans going forward. 

    Your banking partner can help in several ways as you map out your strategy. One area is potential acquisitions. It’s good for everyone to understand what the bank’s financing requirements will be if your company looks to acquire. For instance, what is the out-of-pocket obligation? What will be the debt-service ratios? And how will it all affect the banking relationship?

    Have a conversation about the structure, and give considerable thought to whether your company can meet those goals. If not, a major move such as an acquisition might not be possible, or profitable, and the opportunity should be allowed to pass.

    The time to plan is now
    Now is the time to start looking at your year-end forecast and compare it to your budget vs. the actual figures. You should project what you anticipate doing for the upcoming year and make adjustments to be able to feel confident the plan is achievable, focus on it and grow.

    The whole team, including the banking partner, needs to be on the same page in order to achieve success.

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