Last week, I was presenting at a conference for a global network of accounting firms. One of the points I asked the group to consider was, how easy is it for a new competitor to emerge in this industry. The answer, of course, is VERY EASY. As one delegate rightly put it, all you need is ‘an Internet connection and one client.’ Very true.
The conversation then turned to how best to manage clients so that they are not susceptible to the advances of competitors (old or new). I often think that if accountants treated ALL clients like they treat NEW clients, they would be in good shape. I’m sure you’ve experienced this; you bring in a good new client and everyone ups their game. Phone calls and emails are responded to quickly. All efforts are made to exceed expectations regarding deadlines set. Everyone working on the job shows an interest in the client’s situation. Client service levels go through the roof. But sooner or later, that new client becomes an ‘old’ client and the attention is transferred to the next, new, shiny object.
Given upwards of 80% of new clients come from referral, it makes sense to consider how to better manage your existing clients. One way to do that is to mind your language; if a client asks you ‘how’s business?’, a response of ‘we’re flat out’ is unlikely to result in a referral. Instead, ‘business is good and we’re looking to grow - if you happen to know anyone like you who would benefit from our services, please feel free to introduce them’, might at least put you top of mind if your client does happen to come across anyone looking for a new accountant.
Perhaps more importantly, however, are your processes around client management. Remember, with any referral, the risk sits with the referrer - if it goes wrong, who is the new client going to think badly of? So with that in mind, it’s critical that every interaction you have with a client is supported by strong, client-focused processes in the following areas:
Project execution : whatever the project, be it a piece of compliance work or a value-based advisory project, consider how well you scope the work, price the job, gather information needed, communicate during the work, deliver the finished ‘product’ and wrap up the engagement. You might know this as ‘workflow management’ and it is a core competency that every professional service firm needs to work on constantly
Client classification: in many firms, client service suffers because either the wrong sort of client is accepted or because there is no way to determine how important a particular client is to the firm. Not all clients are equal. What are the dimensions against which you judge your clients, and how do you weigh their importance? For example, you might consider the following dimensions across your client base:
- Size of client
- How active they are in their business
- The extent to which they are open to using your products and services
- How frequently you interact with them
- How often they refer new clients to you
- The extent to which they are easy to work with
- The longer term outlook for the industry in which they operate
- How profitable the client is for your firm
A client scoring well on several of these dimensions should be treated differently from what you might describe as a ‘D’ class client
Ensuring every client is offered every service they need to achieve their goals. The prerequisite here is that you understand what their goals are, of course. This also speaks to soft skills that often need further development, such as client interview techniques and sales skills, not to mention developing products that your clients need (and being able to deliver those products adeptly)
Client administration:making sure that the right people are doing the right things. Efficiencies and client service can both be driven by employing professional administrators to take care of all of the administrative tasks that are a part of any professional service interaction, leaving the accountants and other high level team members to do what they are best at.)
Managing clients is often overlooked as firms gravitate towards finding new clients. But when you shine new light on your existing client interactions, you’ll likely find that not only will client service improve, but also referrals will increase and your firm will grow as you develop those important relationships already in your client base.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Director & Co-founder at PANALITIX
Colin is a Chartered Accountant who, having spent almost 10 years with one of the fastest growing and most innovative firms in the UK, has since invested over 20 years helping business owners to improve their businesses with a focus on attracting new clients, better managing existing clients, developing new products, building an engaged team and strengthening internal business processes.
Colin's primary focus at PANALITIX is on product development and business improvement content. He is the author of the bestselling book “Accountants: The Natural Trusted Advisors".