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Client relationship scenarios described by senior practitioners in professional service firms

A deadly slow courtship... is it going anywhere?

Q I have been pushing very hard to get in front of a potential client and my key contact is very keen on a series of short workshops we can deliver.  I have followed up on this every 2 months over the last year but without making ground.   I have also had a couple of lunches with her where she has said that she is keen to introduce us to the rest of her team (which is what I am really after) but nothing has happened.  How long do I keep this up?  If necessary, how do I go about by-passing her and getting myself better, more productive, contacts within the organization without causing her offence?

A You need to ask yourself a couple of questions before proceeding:

  • Is this prospective client worth pursuing?
  • Can you afford to dedicate more time to this relationship?
  • How can you be more effective in your relationship building?

Assuming the answer to the first two questions is yes, you have to accept that some relationships require ‘polite perseverance’.  Some ‘slow burners’ can turn into great long-term work.  At this point in the relationship, you may be struggling to differentiate yourself from other suitors and that is slowing the pace of the relationship.  To take forward the offer of workshops, think how the provision of such training could make her look good in the eyes of her colleagues – tell her that you would like to pop into her office to discuss with her colleagues their specific needs so that you can produce the most relevant material.

There is no need to by pass her unless she is obstructive to the broadening of the relationship.   Is there some industry event you could invite her and a couple of her colleagues to, alongside a couple of your colleagues to broaden the current level of contact?  Should the next lunch of coffee be two on two … again to broaden contact? 

You may want to prepare some high quality ‘can opener’ questions for your next meeting on the subject of how she and her team works, how work is distributed to external advisers, how strong are relationships with those advisers – i.e. get more information and understanding of her work, her level of influence and who else you really need to meet to extend your level of influence.  Ideas will flow from such conversations to achieve this.

In summary, persevere, get more information, look for a “wow” factor in what you offer by way of support and help to make a step change in the relationship.

NEXT: Broken bones can mend stronger – your approach can turn a negative client situation into a better relationship, if handled with real care.