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9:03am EDT September 13, 2001

Landing a client like General Motors isn't easy. It takes months of preparation and meetings, not to mention the risk to your company if you don't win the contract.

But if you're successful, the rewards can be sweet.

Just ask Arthur L. Healan, president of PPI Technical Communications in Solon. PPI was awarded the contract for GM's documentation control center for its Truck Division this year. The project will likely double the size of the 40-employee technical publishing firm over the next 12 months.

How did Healan land such a deal?

"We listened to them," he says. "We asked, 'What do you like about what you're getting now? What don't you like about what you're getting now?' We came back to them with a proposal on how we were going to address the issues they had with their present supplier and would get the job done."

Healan used the same tactic to land a lucrative contract with fluid system components manufacturer Swagelok, also in Solon. Healan heard Swagelok hired a California company to translate its manuals into other languages, but the job was overpriced and not getting done.

"We sell our clients on a project execution process," Healan says. "Through trial and error and many years of experience of what works and what doesn't work, we've developed a template for project execution. Knowledgeable customers that see this process -- and we graphically illustrate it to show it to them --understand the value of it."

Here are Healan's tips to find and attract big clients away from your competition.

Be accountable

Companies sometimes take advantage of a large client's deep pockets, and GM's concerns about that were no exception. To soothe those concerns, Healan offered GM a real-time, Web-based progress report displaying what percentage of its project was complete and how much of its money had been spent.

"Don't take any customer for granted," Healan says. "Whether it's a small local company or a General Motors, business, at least in a service business, is based on trust and relationship-building. We take that very seriously."

Build on your partners

PPI is a division of Contract Professionals, a $54 million technical staffing company based in Waterford, Mich. Contract Professionals often supplies engineers, designers and programmers to General Motors, which helped Healan and his marketing staff land an appointment with GM management.

"It's important to keep your ear to the ground," Healan says. "If you listen to your customer long enough, they'll tell you what their problems are. And then it's whether you have a viable solution or not, or if you can even refer them to somebody if it's not you."

Diversify

Healan has invested more than $750,000 in internal computer servers, new Web servers, storage space and software programs since he acquired PPI in 1998. With the new technology, PPI's services expanded with the growing needs of its client base.

"As we got out there and talked to more clients, many of them were asking us, 'We've got a problem in this area, do you do that?'" Healan says. "It's a building block process. There were a few blocks missing in that first tier so we took care of that first tier. Now we're up to four tiers of blocks in place.

"We've expanded our offerings and built sound business practices and processes that we've tried to adhere to and follow closely."

How to reach: PPI Technical Communications, (440) 498-9254

Morgan Lewis Jr. (mlewis@sbnnet.com) is senior reporter at SBN Magazine.

PPI Technical Communications website