How to Deliver a Business Ultimatum

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Be prepared to follow through on your ultimatum.
Be prepared to follow through on your ultimatum. (Image: XiXinXing/iStock/Getty Images)

When a business situation or relationship isn’t moving forward, continuing to pursue it can be a waste of time and money. Issue an ultimatum that gets the problem off the fence and forces an action or decision.

Personal Touch

If you need to deliver an ultimatum to a longtime client you know well and value, do it in person so you can gauge reaction and measure your words. Don’t be rude, unprofessional or demanding, but let the other person know that the dynamic needs to change. A gentle way to express your boundaries would be something like this: “Bob, I’ve appreciated having your accounting business for the past several years, but I’m concerned you haven’t filed your quarterly taxes. My reputation and credibility are on the line here too, so unless we can get together sometime this week and go over your books, I’m going to have to assume you’re going another direction with your accounting needs.”

Last Chance Offer

When a customer is behind on payment and attempts to contact them via phone, mail and email fail to produce, send a last-chance offer by certified mail. Recap the charges, the outstanding balance due, the previous efforts to collect and your bottom line: “If we don’t receive payment in full by June 1, your account will be turned over to a collection agency.” The customer will have to sign for the letter, so you can be sure of its delivery.

Final Call

If you’ve been working a promising lead that never materializes, issuing an ultimatum by voicemail can spur the prospect to act -- or tell you to get lost, in which case you can cross her off your call list and move on. One example of how to deal with it is to write, “I’m calling to follow up once more on the meeting we had a month ago where we discussed your company’s printing needs. I’ve left several messages and dropped off a packet of sample papers at your office. If I don’t hear back from you, I’ll assume you’ve gone another direction and won’t trouble you with any further calls.”

Dangle a Carrot

The prospect of losing a business relationship can spur decision making. Consider a “limited time only” approach, such as, “We only have one time slot left for weekly pool cleaning services, so if you want to grab that while it’s available, call me by the end of the day,” or “We have a lot of people interested in this position, so if you want the job, I’ll need to have a signed contract by the end of the week.”

Follow Through

Whatever ultimatum you issue, be prepared to follow through. If you threaten legal action for noncompliance with a contract, contact your attorney when there’s no response. If you warn an employee that another missed deadline will result in suspension, draw up the papers and issue them immediately. False threats can come back to haunt you, and you may not be taken seriously in the future.

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