As much as we don’t like to admit it, setbacks are unavoidable in business. But what really makes the difference is not whether we encounter failures – because we all do – it’s how we respond to them.

The experience of a setback in business reminds me of the Journey song “Don’t Stop Believing.” Even when the odds are stacked against you, you have to persevere for your sake and the sake of your company. It’s a situation I’ve certainly experienced before.

“Don’t stop believing,

Hold on to that feeling”

— Journey

The Setback

Twenty years ago I was with a telecom company that offered high-end data services. It doesn’t sound like much now, but back then we were developing 10-megabit and higher connections between cities. This was around the time when services of even 1.5-megabit was advanced!

One of our clients during this time was one of the major investment banking companies in the same league as Merrill Lynch and JP Morgan. They were using our 1.5-megabits service since we hadn’t yet fully developed our 10-megabit service. Unfortunately, our company wasn’t performing up to our service level agreement.

The client called us into their conference room to discuss our mistakes, and they video recorded us like we were providing congressional testimony. They sat up on a stage looking down at us and went through EVERY single error we’ve made over the past six months. It was brutal! In the end, they decided to end business with our company. We were devastated!

The Response

As I walked out the door with four other team members, our sales executive inquired about the idea of giving them 10-megabits service between all cities in the United States. It was almost ridiculous to even suggest at the time. The highest speed the client ever had nation-wide for this type of service was 1.5-megabits – the client hesitated just for a second and then replied, “No, I don’t think so. We’re done here.”

That night the client called and said, “Maybe we should talk about that 10-megabit service.” The president of our company flew out on the red-eye from the west coast, and we met with the client.

After hammering out logistics, we agreed to move forward with the groundbreaking, cross-country high-speed data service. Before leaving the client said, “Well, don’t screw up again, because once we put our employees on this high-speed service, there’s no turning back. You guys have GOT to make this happen.”


We put together a roll-out plan…executed as if our lives depended on it…we made it happen and we exceeded their expectations. The client was so impressed and said we really stepped up. The client was so happy with the effort, they gave our operations team Christmas presents that year!

The challenge actually helped us. Not only did we save the client, but we were also able to prove our vision wasn’t just vaporware!

While pitching to larger prospects, we would mention this high-profile client with 10-megabit service cross-country. Soon, more companies wanted our services. Our company continued to grow in value, and was eventually sold in the late 90s.

“Don’t stop believing,

Hold on to that feeling”

— Journey

The selected lyrics ring especially true when starting a business. The excitement of innovation is what keeps you pushing forward through difficult times. The reason we were creating the 10-megabit service wasn’t just for the speed – it was to create something new that had never been done before! And as they say, “The Rest is History” as we have 100-megabit service into our HOMES now!

The Lesson

We could’ve easily admitted defeat when we encountered our setback. If we conceded defeat, we wouldn’t have been poised for a triumphant comeback. The success of the company was due to our resilience. We didn’t stop believing in our product and ourselves.

Do you believe in your product or service? Are you creative in handling tough customer situations? Are you able to get back up swinging when you and your company encounter a setback? If not, adjust. If yes…use the story both internally and externally to catapult your company to success!

Brian’s Musical Inspiration:

RIFF: Don’t Stop Believing was on Journey’s biggest studio album “Escape”. Recording sessions began in April 1981, and lasted until the middle of June. Escape was released on July 31, 1981, and immediately, the album became a mainstream success. The album, which has thus far sold nine times platinum, went to number one on the album charts later that year.  And of course, we all remember it as the song played at the end of the final episode of The Sopranos.

BAND ON WIKI: (band)




When you first onboard a new customer, you immediately enter the honeymoon period.  You’re thrilled to be working with them, and they’re thrilled to have your services.  You go above and beyond to make them happy. After a few months or even years, the honeymoon period is over and you no longer make them feel special. Instead, you shift your focus to adding new customers because you are trying to grow your top line.

The honeymoon phase reminds me of this song currently playing in my head:

Welcome to the Hotel California
Such a lovely place (Such a lovely place)
Such a lovely face
Plenty of room at the Hotel California
Any time of year (Any time of year)
You can find it here

Unfortunately, you aren’t the Hotel California.

“Last thing I remember, I was running for the door
I had to find the passage back to the place I was before
‘Relax’ said the night man, ‘We are programmed to receive.
You can check out anytime you want, but you can never leave”

Even if your service is “sticky,” or you are so deep into your client’s business that it is difficult for them to leave, you still aren’t the Hotel California.  They can and will leave you if you don’t treat them properly.

I often hear stories of how a long-time client suddenly left for a competitor.  Firstly, a long-time client shouldn’t ever surprise you by suddenly leaving.  If that customer is important to you, then you better make absolutely sure you are in touch with them and tuned into their needs.  Secondly, you shouldn’t assume your customers would be with you forever.

You can do many things to keep them happy or loyal or better yet, a raving fan of your services.  Unfortunately, there is plenty of competition and innovation beyond the exterior of your company walls, so you have to work hard to keep customers loyal and engaged.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

I head CEO and Executive peer groups via Vistage International, and we work on every business issue you can imagine. On the particular topic of client retention, my favorite quote that came out of a session was the phrase “Incumbency is not a strategy.” In other words, don’t hang your hat that all of your existing customers will stay forever while you map out your strategy. You are very likely to have at least some customer churn. However, there are also some things you can do to engage your customers to keep the churn low.

  • Use a CRM system. At the very least, you need to have some system in place to stay in contact with your customers on a regular basis.  If you don’t have a solid CRM system to help you keep track, get one as soon as possible! It’s important to track your progress, because you can’t manage what you can’t measure.
  • Send out a company newsletter. Newsletters are effective, especially if you are communicating general information your clients can utilize.  I prefer one-on-one correspondence.
  • Conduct business reviews. Quarterly or semi-annual business reviews are a great idea, and you may find in those meetings that your customers need more of what you have. You can also clue you in on where their needs may be changing, giving you innovation ideas for your business.
  • Add value to their lives. You can send them an article or book that can help them personally or with their business.  Top sales people will tell you to get to know your customers, as well as their spouses and children.  If you go out of the way to put them in touch with a Spanish tutor for their daughter, they’ll stick with you if your service and cost are even close to your competitor.  Nothing beats relationships.

Make Your Top Customers Feel Special

My client, TIPCO Technologies, is a fluid solution supplier for all industrial hydraulic, and high-purity applications to include industrial grade hoses of all types and sizes. They are the largest stocking distributor in the Mid-Atlantic region.

TIPCO started their TIPCO Platinum Preferred (TPP) program for their premier customers.  They even developed a logo, so it’s visible to all TIPCO employees, to remind them to go that extra yard with the TPP clients. The logo is also on all TPP customer paperwork so they feel special. Eventually, TIPCO’s co-owner Rob Lyons would like to have all customers getting that same level of service – deeply embedding the process into the company culture.

Imagine your company being a different version of “Hotel California” – one where your customers can leave, but they don’t want to.

The key to retaining your customers is remembering this: Incumbency is not a strategy.  What are you doing on a regular basis to keep your customers?  If it is not an intentional, measurable, formal customer retention plan, then start one today.

“Welcome to the Hotel California
Such a lovely place, such a lovely place”

Brian’s Musical Inspiration:

RIFF: The narrative twists in the Eagles’ title track for ‘Hotel California’ grew out of an admiring for the tandem work of another classic rock act, Don Henley has said. “Steely Dan inspired us, because of their lyrical bravery. So, for us, ‘Hotel California’ was about thinking and writing outside the box.”