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12:08pm EDT February 26, 2002
The sales manager of a one-time vendor of mine did not return four phone calls over four days.

When he finally called after a week, he asked, "What's wrong?" I said I had not been calling about a problem but to place a large order. He was very pleased and set to book it until I told him that after not being able to get through to him for four days, I used another vendor.

His failure to promptly return phone calls cost his firm a substantial sale. And although this occurred nearly 20 years ago, it remains a clear example of how not to do business.

The manager worked for a large firm that should have had controls in place to ensure against such behavior, but the company was fat, happy and lazy. The commodity in which it dealt was in tight supply, and every firm in that industry was doing well.

Subsequently, the market corrected, as it always does, and profits began to drop. Customers had been ill-treated, resulting in no customer loyalty. The vendor was sold and the sales manager fired.

Many people claim today's entrepreneur has a different mindset from the lumbering old economy leaders, particularly when pursuing sales and capital. Yet poor business practices have survived, and even thrived, in start-ups. I enjoy working with entrepreneurs, in part because they will walk through the wall for a new client or capital. But these same aggressive entrepreneurs can act equally as bad as that sales manager of years ago.

The biggest failings seem to be in communications.

A potential client sent me data with a request that I review it and call him. I called two days later, then again two days after that, leaving voice mail each time. He finally returned my call 11 days later with a lame excuse for having taken so long to get back to me. This entrepreneur was desperately seeking help and had his back to the wall, yet it took him almost two weeks to follow through on a contact he initiated.

Within the last year, four of my clients greatly delayed getting their business plans and pro formas completed by being slow to respond to my requests. Your consultant, attorney or accountant cannot do their job if you, your staff and your documents are not available. Your professionals work for you, but they are absolutely dependent upon working with you.

My client engagement contracts have always had a representation of my firm's qualifications to perform the work. We recently added a paragraph in which the client represents that it will cooperate fully in granting reasonable access to personnel, and that it will provide information and documents on a timely basis. This should be a given.

If you want the maximum benefit from hiring professionals, you need to work with them. We are your hired guns, but when you engage a professional, be available, responsive and prompt.

If you don't commit the time and effort required for that professional to do a terrific job, you have only yourself to blame. Erwin Bruder (ebruder@primcapital.com) is managing director of emerging enterprises for Cleveland-based Prim Capital Corporation. He can be reached at (216) 830-1111, ext. 2220.