Some of Nancy Barr's most important lessons in client relations have come from listening to those who have left her competitors.
"A common thing we hear is, 'The service was not great,'" says Barr, president and COO of Lord, Sullivan & Yoder Marketing.
The comment reminds her of a rule she uses when dealing with her clients: Don't get complacent.
"Always treat your clients you've been working for for a long time as if you were trying to gain their business," she says -- and treat the client's business as if it were your own.
Finding out what went wrong previously is just one step in Barr's formula for prospecting new business. Doing your homework before you approach prospective clients, she says, makes it easier not just to gain their business, but to keep it.
It's an important step for a company like LSY, which handles ongoing needs for many clients as their agency of record.
"We've been very fortunate in retaining those relationships, and some of them are very long-term relationships," Barr says. "We have a client in Maryland we have had for 36 years."
Barr says one of the most important things you can do before you solicit a clients' business is research --not only about their company, but also about their industry.
"Understand the dynamics of the arena in which the prospective client is striving every day," she says.
This means learning about the marketplace, the competitors and the brand of your prospective clients, as well as how they differentiate themselves from their competition.
Here are some methods she uses.
* Ask a lot of questions.
"Generally when you're going after a piece of business, you have a contact at that business," Barr points out. "They're generally helpful because they want to find the best partner they can find."
Also consider talking to the company's customers or sales force.
"You just need to make sure you're not stepping on anybody's toes, so we usually ask permission from them," she says.
The situation is easier if you're responding to a request for proposals.
* Find out about the individuals you would be working with if you win the business.
"If you find out how they like to work, then you have a better chance of establishing a comfort level," she says. "For example, if they're hard-charging and you're the leisurely type person, it may not be a good match."
* Be flexible.
"I think sometimes the way companies approach prospective business is maybe too rigid," she says. "We always try to approach prospective clients with a degree of flexibility ... to let them know we will tailor our working arrangements."
* Find out what their biggest and most urgent needs are, even if those needs fall outside your expertise.
"Sometimes we run into a situation where the one most urgent thing the company is dealing with is they're trying to hire someone," Barr says. "We are not recruiters, but we have many times made recommendations."
For example, a resume may come across her desk for a position she does not need to fill, so she passes it along.
"Sometimes you have to go outside your immediate area in order to go the extra mile," she says.
* Most important, be sincere with potential clients, and show them you're passionate about your work.
"I think when a client understands you are critically interested in helping their business grow," she says, "there's a comfort level." How to reach: Nancy Barr, Lord, Sullivan & Yoder Marketing, 825-1816 or email@example.com
Joan Slattery Wall (firstname.lastname@example.org) is senior editor of SBN Magazine in Columbus.