There’s no maybe in business

other day I asked one of our executives whether a client profile would be
appearing in The Wall Street Journal. "Maybe," she responded.



word just sat there and stared defiantly at me. Eventually, it provoked a
visceral response from me, "Eva’" I wrote, "there’s no maybe in business."

loved the phrase, and have asked our lawyers to trademark it ASAP, hoping those
lost souls on FB, Twitter and LinkedIn who, lacking an original thought, could
include it when they publish someone else’s words of wisdom (note:
inspirational quotes need to go! If you don’t have a POV, don’t spam me with
one from Locke, Edison or, even worse, Joel Osteen).

to the matter at hand, though, there are far too many maybes in business. To

prospect contacted us recently, and asked us to pitch their business. When we
asked for details, the point person replied, "We may be making a change in our
agency of record status." Oh. We declined to participate, suggesting they
contact us when maybe changed to will.

once asked a Drew University intern whether she’d completed a research
assignment. She sighed: "Maybe." Nonplussed, I followed up with, ‘What,
exactly, does that mean?’ She rolled her eyes to the sky, and sniffed, "Look,
dude, I just spaced on it, ok?" To which I said, "Look, dudette, you’re fired,

with a breaking news story that cried out for a client’s follow-up analysis, we
dialed our contact and asked if the CEO could address the subject. "Absolutely," she responded. Thrilled, we asked if we could arrange some
interviews. "Maybe," she said. Taken aback, we asked why we couldn’t jump on
the opportunity. "Because Mark is golfing today, and I’m thinking maybe he doesn’t
want to be disturbed," she confessed. To which I sighed, "Then, why did you
hire a PR firm in the first place?"

course, there are other times when maybe is the ideal answer. To wit:

years ago, I was part of a pitch team that was in the midst of wowing a
prospect. Having been badly burned by a large agency promising front page
stories in every leading business journal, the prospect was very wary of
guarantees. Our CEO arrived late to the pitch. I began briefing him when he
interrupted me and boasted, ‘We can get you on the front page of the
Journal!’  So much for that new business lead.

about every prospect asks if we guarantee our results. The best answer is nope
since, in a free society, no one controls the press (Fox and MSNBC
notwithstanding, of course). But, a maybe will suffice (i.e. ‘Well, if we can
provide references and bottom-line focused customer success stories, there’s a
good chance we can generate the publicity you seek. But, it’s up to your sales
team to close the deal, not us.’).

senior hire once asked us how soon he would receive equity in Peppercom. The
conversation occurred after only a year or so of mixed reviews on his part. "If, and when, you begin delivering major clients, we’ll discuss equity. But
even then, it’ll be a maybe," we said. The executive didn’t care for the
response, and moved on. And, we were both better off as a result.

So, what’s your take on the word maybe? When is it appropriate and when
is it a complete cop out? I’m a black-and-white kind of guy. So, when I spy an
e-mail with the word maybe in it, I typically see red. Unless, of course, it’s
from a team member replying to a client request for guaranteed sales leads.

8 thoughts on “There’s no maybe in business

  1. Thanks so much, Jeff. May be would make for a superb brand promise. ‘Peppercom: may be.’ It could mean anything. Peppercom may be your dream agency. Or we may be your worst nightmare. Keep the ideas coming, Jeff.

  2. Thanks for the clarification, Bob. I do believe maybe would work well for both political parties. To wit:
    – Will Paul Ryan admit he never ran a three-hour marathon? Maybe.
    – Will Democrats admit Joe Biden is a liability? Maybe.
    – Will Mitt Romney release his tax returns and, in the process, further distance himself from the realities of lower and middle class Americans? Maybe.
    – Will President Obama admit that he didn’t deliver on a good number of his 2008 promises? Maybe.
    Then again, maybe not.

  3. With task oriented questions, “maybe” is a no go. When in search of solutions, it’s a polite way of bringing up pathways and alternatives.