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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  • Next up: Pete Prevails: Zooming Through Sales Pitches

    Pete Prevails: Zooming Through Sales Pitches

    The global pandemic has brought about the need to conduct most things virtually—including sales pitches. Learn how to combine sales pitch best practices with virtual meetings best practices.

    Foonman Enterprises Senior Sales Rep Pete Andrews arrived at work early Tuesday so he could help his boss Tony prepare for the big sales pitch to Glitz’O’Matic that afternoon. He hadn’t even gotten his coffee when Marketing VP Ralph burst into his cubicle.

    “Pete, I need you to handle the pitch this afternoon. Tony slipped on the ice in his driveway this morning and being treated for a fractured his foot.”

    “No problem-I got this,” said Pete, who was actually better at sales pitches than Tony and enjoyed them more … but that’s another story.

    Then, Ralph said something that changed everything, especially Pete’s confidence. “Oh, almost forgot—the client wants the pitch via Zoom. Can do?”

    “Can do …” said Pete, starting to panic. He’d delivered lots of sales pitches before. And he had also led many meetings via Zoom … but he’s never delivered a pitch via Zoom! He stared out the window, hoping for a magic answer to his problem.

    RELATED: Using digital media to connect during a pandemic.

    Then, the solution hit him. “Well, duuhhh,” said Pete to himself. “I’ll just combine sales pitch best practices Ive used for years with Zoom meeting best practices I had to learn quickly because of COVID …  and see what happens.” 

    And what happens is that Pete nails the pitch, closes the sale, and earns a nice bonus. Pete was happy, and Ralph was very happy; Foonman Ent. had been trying unsuccessfully to sign Glitz-O-Matic for months.

    Since the devil is in the details, let’s go back to square one and see what Pete did to win the day.

    First, he reviewed and checked off these seven sales pitch best practices to make sure his messaging complied:

    1. Realize the difference between the pitch goal and objective.

    Check. His goal is to win the business, but his objective is to provide the Glitz-O-Matic team with all the information they need to make factual, smart, and fast decisions. 

    2. Do all your homework in the discovery stage by asking lots of good questions to learn what they need, want… and can afford.

    Check. He and Tony had spent the time asking smart questions. They had learned that the rebranding project was very important to Glitz-O-Matic because they were positioning the company to be attractive to a VC firm. And the last provider didn’t work out because of cost overrides and poor quality of the deliverables.

    3. Ask what kind of information they want in the pitch.

    Check. Based off of their conversations, he was confident that they were appropriately positioned to deliver what the prospective client wanted.

    4. Create a prospect-centric proposal.

    Check. They were using the sales pitch format template they had spent weeks last year designing. It avoided acronyms or jargon and communicated in simple language. And, it nailed the introduction by indicating Glitz’O’Matic’s investment of time, staff resources, and dollars up front.

    5. Ensure the information you share clearly reflects what they said they needed or wanted.

    Check. Pete’s restatement of the prospect’s limitations of time, scope, and budget showed that he had understood their needs and paid attention during discovery.

    6. Stress your value proposition.

    Check. Pete really enjoyed telling prospects why they should buy from Foonman with enthusiasm and confidence.

    7. End your pitch with a strong, concise, and enthusiastic summary.

    Check. They would end by indicating how they were ideally positioned to provide Glitz’O’Matic with what they needed, wanted … and could afford. And, ask for the sale, of course.

    Pete leaned back in his chair, sipped what was now a cold cup of coffee and realized the pitch content was totally ready. “But, what about delivering it via Zoom?” he thought. “That changes everything … or does it?” he wondered.

    RELATED: Networking in the age of COVID-19.

    So, he grabbed his virtual meetings best practices checklist he had created when COVID first hit their office. “This should be just like a virtual meeting,” he realized. “But with a lot more riding on it.”

    So, he carefully went over the checklist.

    1. Know the technology.

    Check. He was already comfortable with the technology, but he reviewed the tutorials one more time anyway.

    2. Use the most updated versions.

    Check. Since he had just led Zoom meeting last week, he knew the technology was up to speed and he didn’t need a practice session.

    3. Ensure an effective setting.

    Check. The lighting and microphone quality in their virtual conference room was top notch with a high speed WiFi connection and phone line back-ups. The background was muted and didn’t distract.

    4. Get a good shot.

    Check. They used an external camera. They set it up at his eye level so the shot didn’t include too much ceiling or too much of his lower body.

    5. Perfect slides and screen sharing.

    Check. Pete had created a few effectively designed slides that emphasized key points and he knew how to seamlessly screen share.

    RELATED: Read more by Phil Stella.

    He was ready to rock and roll. He confirmed plans via phone and started Zoom a few minutes early. The pitch was concise, focused, and smooth. The prospects asked lots of good questions and Pete had succinct answers as he had anticipated each one.

    He went for the close by asking if they needed any other information to help them decide to work with Foonman. The three prospects on Zoom looked at each other and said the magic words for Pete, “Yes, you have the account.”

    So, pitching business should not be a problem if people have a great message and are totally comfortable with the delivery method. Pete certainly was. How about you? Are you ready to Zoom through your next pitch?

    Phil Stella runs Effective Training & Communication, 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: 10 Can't-Miss Ways to Supercharge Your Content Marketing

    10 Can't-Miss Ways to Supercharge Your Content Marketing

    Couldn’t make it to Content Marketing World? We’ve got you covered! Here are our 10 takeaways from this year’s show.

    Before this year, I was a Content Marketing World newbie. So before attending this year’s CM World conference, I had no idea that everything, and I mean everything is orange—right down to the orange-dyed deviled eggs in the morning and the orange push-ups for dessert. I had no idea that actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt had his own production company (or, in full disclosure, even who he was. But in even fuller disclosure, I have three girls under the age of 10 so if he doesn’t star on the Disney Channel, I’m not going to be familiar). And mostly, I had no idea I could spend 20 intense hours with a bunch of strangers, discussing content marketing of all things, and come out wishing there was another 20 to go.

    The takeaways were endless, but I’ll focus on just the following five:

    Tip No. 1: Build an audience first, then sell them something. In his opening remarks, CM World founder Joe Pulizzi gave the best example of this advice: Star Wars. Creator George Lucas famously negotiated for the exclusive rights to Star Wars merchandise, which has made nearly $20 billion. It wouldn’t be so without that enormous audience of faithful followers.

    Tip No. 2: Know who you are. Identify your secret sauce and how you’re going to get that across to your audience. What sets you apart? What’s your tone? How are you going bring your company’s personality to life?

    Tip. No. 3: Sell the means, not the end. Serta doesn’t sell you a mattress, they sell you a better night’s sleep. Disney doesn’t sell me a vacation, they sell me a week full of family memories. Focus on the end result, the desire fulfilled, of buying your product or service.

    Tip No. 4: Tell all the stories. Every company has stories to tell, and a lot of times they are right under our noses. Talk with as many people as possible. Find the stories that are relatable and change the lens through which people view your company. Once you find these stories, tell them in a variety of ways using different technologies.

    Tip No. 5: Identify your Influencers. And then use them. Maybe they’re your faculty if you work for a university, or the doctors of your hospital, people who sit on your advisory boards or, of course, celebrities (including popular bloggers and vloggers)—anyone who has influence over your target market. Tag them on social media, tweet at them, encourage them to share your posts and tag you back. Create a buzz around your products or services through your influencers and continue to court them all along the way.

    Let’s dig deeper

    Those are some of my overarching takeaways from my experience at CMW. Now, let’s dig a little bit deeper.

    Tip No. 6: Don’t rely on vanity metrics on social media. This seems to be the latest marketing lingo, but it rings true. So what if one of your posts got 357 likes? Did it lead to anyone purchasing, signing up, providing contact info, seeking more info, etc? Building a brand is important, no doubt. But actual engagement is really where it’s at.

    Tip No. 7: Create secret boards on Pinterest for company personas. Pin things you think interest or appeal to these personas, or that just remind you of your personas (colors, textures, activities, quotes, foods, etc). Share the boards with your team and revisit them every so often for inspiration.



    Tip No. 8: Watch it! Six out of 10 millennials prefer watching a video to reading a newsletter. And we’re all seeking the attention of millennials, right? They are the latest group of consumers, so put some serious thought and effort into making a video!

    Tip No. 9: Caption it! Speaking of videos, did you know 85% of videos on Facebook are watched without sound? Whether it’s that they just don’t care to hear it, or don’t want their coworkers to hear them hearing it, people are foregoing audio. So, make sure your videos are captioned. Not only is it better for SEO and accessibility, but certain words might spark someone’s interest while scrolling through Facebook.


    Tip No. 10: Feel it! When writing, start your piece where it gives you goosebumps. Sometimes it’s at “go” and sometimes it’s not. Focus on the kinds of emotions that trigger goosebumps (shock, awe, sympathy and nostalgia) and draw those out in your story.

    As they said in the opening keynote this year, “Marketing is like a race without a finish line.” All marketers want to get there first. But even when you do, you just have to wake up the next morning and do it all over again. So perhaps the best tip is to just get a good night’s sleep. You’re going to need it.

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