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

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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