Gini Dietrich

Red Flags in Business Relationships Create Success

By: Gini Dietrich | March 3, 2016 | 

Red Flags in Business Relationships Create SuccessBy Gini Dietrich

This afternoon, Nicole Rodrigues has a blog post running here that I love.

It talks about the importance of clients participating in their marketing and communications program(s).

I won’t ruin it for you, but I will say that it’s led me to think a lot about the topic (well, since I read it on Monday afternoon).

As you may have experienced, all too often, a client will hire a PR firm, team, or professional to help them…and then walk away.

We once had a prospect tell us his goal was for us to make the phone ring, but that he didn’t have time to answer it.


That’s sort of not how it works.

What the Red Flags Represent

On the flip side, though, often we fail to ask the right questions to get to those kinds of answers. The answers that become red flags that help us walk away from the opportunity.

Most often, walking away after the initial meeting saves you a lot of time, money, and angst. But you have to ask the right questions and really dig into the answers.

When I asked this prospect what success looked like after a year of working with us, he said, “I want you to make the phone ring.”

I then asked him to give me some details about that: How many phone calls in a day? What kind of revenue does that represent? What were his expectations in our generating those kinds of leads? Who will we work with to address that influx of new requests?

After all of those additional questions, I discovered there wasn’t anyone on his team to answer the proverbial phone. Nor was there anyone who would be our day-to-day contact. He told us he simply didn’t have the time and that we should just take the ball and run with it.

Abort! Abort! Abort!

Combine that with some other things he said (“we don’t really have budget set aside” and “is Oprah still around? I’d like to be on her show. I mean, I know we’re B2B, but it’d still be cool!”) and it was easy to make the decision to walk away.

I say that with the caveat that your business is in a position to make those kinds of decisions.

If you’re just starting out, you almost have to take anything and everything to generate some cash so you can become a business that can walk away when you see red flags.

But a prospect saying he doesn’t have time to work with the PR firm, that he doesn’t have budget, or that he wants to be on Oprah tells me three things:

  1. He expects high return on dollars spent without spending the time training or coaching or helping the firm learn his business.
  2. You are going to be way too expensive when he does review your proposal and you’ll never hear from him again (hence, you’ve just wasted an inordinate amount of time).
  3. His expectations are way out of whack.

Of course, you have to weigh the business opportunity against the red flags and also know where you’re willing to bend.

Questions to Ask Prospects

In working with some of my coaching clients, I’ve created a list of questions you should ask of every prospect.

  • What are your business goals?
  • What do you want to achieve in the remainder of this year?
  • What is your vision for the growth of the business?
  • Who are your competitors? What do they do that you admire? What do they do that you hate?
  • How has the competitive landscape changed in the past year?
  • What are your current key messages? Are they being delivered effectively?
  • Have you experienced any unintended messaging, meaning are there negative things out there about you?
  • What kind of market share do you have?
  • What do your competitors say about you behind your back?
  • Who are your target audiences?
  • What tactics do you expect me/us to employ?
  • What is your perception of PR?
  • What’s already working?
  • What’s not working?
  • What have you tried in the past, but abandoned?
  • What are your expectations in working with me/us?
  • What does success look like after we’ve worked together for a year?
  • What tools do you use; content management system, data and analytics, customer relationship management system, marketing automation?
  • What is your budget?

Each of these questions may have subsets of questions that you’ll ask as you dig, just like I did when the prospect told me he wanted us to make the phone ring.

Look for Reasons Not to Take the Business

After working with start-ups these past few years, we also ask if they’re funded. And, if they haven’t at least gone through Series A, we won’t work with them. We’ve been burned one too many times.

Treat the relationship as if you are considering investing a million dollars of your own money.

If you were doing that, you’d ask all sorts of probing questions. You’d want to know the company was going to give you a return on that investment.

Just because you’re not investing money into your clients doesn’t mean you shouldn’t treat it the same way.

You are investing time and resources and a lot of sleepless nights.

Don’t only ask the questions, but know what kinds of answers you need to pursue the relationship.

I always tell my team to find the red flags. Hunt for them. Have a goal of digging until you walk away with at least five.

That makes it really easy to make the decision. Because, if you walk away with that many red flags, they aren’t the right fit for you.

And if you love the person or their business idea, but there are five or more red flags, it makes it really easy to take the emotion out and make a decision based on your potential investment.

But if there aren’t any red flags?

That’s the perfect client for you.

Now the floor is yours. What do you do in new business meetings to ensure a great client relationship follows?

image credit: shutterstock

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

  • Bill Dorman

    Time = money; use it wisely. By asking the ‘right’ questions you typically can find out in the first meeting how much ‘time’ you should devote to this prospect. Walk-away power saves you money in the end. Know what your ‘ideal’ customer looks like and try not to deviate from that.

  • Yes, yes, yes! I love it when you do a post that is so applicable to any business or organization! This list of questions is excellent and should be Business 101. Once upon a time, I had to cold-call as part of a job – I hated every minute of it, but I was pretty successful because I NEVER spent time trying to make potential customers “fit” the mold. I learned quickly that an uncommitted bad fit was worse than a no…so, I humbly submit that the #1 question should be – Are you, or a key decision-maker on your team, committed to the time [insert anticipated amount here] to ensure successful execution of the plan? If they waffle on this one, there’s no point in even asking the rest of the questions and it’s on to the next! 🙂

    • Yes, I talk about that in the post, but didn’t include it in my list of questions. Duh! Yes, you are right!

      And cold calling? Ew.

      • Liz Reusswig

        Ew is right! But definitely learned a lot from it!

  • That list of questions is pure gold. Taking all of them! The key point of these is they help set the base-level expectations. If they can’t answer these, they have to know if, as Elizabeth pointed out, they’re willing to put in the time and the work.

  • Gini – long time listener, first time commenter 🙂

    I love the idea of thinking of reasons not to take the business – it’s advice I’ve never been given before, and I think that’s the best kind of advice.

    Quick question – what do you say to business owners who find themselves in situation where they are desperate for new clients?

    • Hi Steve! It’s super fun to see you here!

      That’s a difficult one, for sure. You need the cash, but it’s never worth it if it’s not a good fit. I have a coaching client who is experiencing this right now. She needs to new business and she’s getting a crazy number of meetings and requests for proposals. I’ve honestly never seen anything like it. But I would venture to guess 90% are not a good fit for her.

      So we’re spending a lot of time taking out the emotion and focusing her efforts only on the 10% that make sense for her. It’s hard, but she’s seeing much more success this way, even though she feels like she’s not as busy (because she’s not in new business meetings every day).

      All that to say you should always try to find reasons not to work with clients through this process. It saves a lot of time, resources, and angst in the long-run.