While getting new business is nearly always a priority it is also important to pay special attention to the gold mine which exists in the form of the firm’s current clients. Maximising additional revenue from client’s is important – it not only makes good business sense it is also a key component of high-level client service.
To reinforce this from another angle, allow me to draw attention to a survey that confirms that a major reason for spending time with clients is demonstrated by a Lou Harris poll. This survey uncovered the reasons why clients leave professionals:
- Didn’t spend enough time 51%
- Wasn’t friendly 42%
- Didn’t answer questions competently 40%
- Wasn’t knowledgeable and competent 37%
- Didn’t explain simply 30%
- Wasn’t up-to-date 29%
- Didn’t treat you with respect 27%
- Wasn’t always available when needed 27%
- Fees weren’t reasonable 25%
Notice how high a priority ‘caring’ was given by respondents, and how few changed professionals due to fees.
Consider this: if an independent survey was conducted of your clients, could they give an accurate description of everything they are able to buy from you? Or do they know only what they currently buy from you? Maybe they are buying other services from another firm because they never knew you could serve them in this area? Or worse, not being served in an area of need at all.
“Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.”Stephen Covey
Author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, USA
It’s hard for people to differentiate between firms when they first meet so that is why there is a tendency to default to price. You need to invest in your brand and your service quality. The challenge is for you to not only look different, sound different but to be different! Your brand goes to the very heart of who you are, what you do and how you do it. It is your core strategy. Look for the big issue areas – they always give rise to unprecedented opportunities.
Your clients are consciously and subconsciously making decisions about your services and all of them are looking for value so they can elevate us beyond the level of just doing compliance to keep the regulators happy.
You want and need a USP – start with your extension services. Many of your competitors are generalists. If you do not have a clear USP you are in competition with everyone else, including those who are specialists.
One of the benefits of having a niche range of services is your ability to gain a reputation for client service in order that you can meet clients’ needs beyond the requirements of regulation.
Audits: We know this is not our best loved service. Clients generally don’t look forward to the audit as they tend to want to know “how much is this going to cost?” For many business owners the audit is a major cost and one for which we need to demonstrate that there is a ROI beyond compliance.
Your first meeting with a new client: When you have gained a client from another accounting firm make sure you ask these two questions:
- “What was the main reason you are leaving your previous accounting firm?”
- “What do we have to do in order for you to regard us as great accountants?”
Your goals – how compelling are they?: In the 1950s five people in a garage constructed this vision; together they developed this vision statement:
“We aim to become the company that most changes the worldwide image of Japanese products as being of poor quality.”
The company? Sony.
About the same time Boeing’s was:
“To become the dominant player in commercial aircraft and bring the world into the jet age.”
The point about these vision statements is that they are simple and succinct as they consistently and powerfully describe one thing – the impact that the company will have on the outside world.
“Catch someone doing something right.”Kenneth H. Blanchard and Spencer Johnson
They define the difference the company will make. And when they do frame their position in relation to their competitors (as implicitly as Sony and Boeing do) it is through being the chief agent in achieving that external impact. And what’s more, you can recognise, because most of these are historical examples, how the companies concerned went on to achieve those visions even though the details are immeasurable in both cases.
Vision statements should naturally be able to be turned into a number of ‘and therefore…’ clauses. That is the difference between those that get achieved and those that don’t.
A PS or two on vision…
- In the 1960s Nike’s vision was to ‘Crush Adidas’
- “The most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight but has no vision.” Helen Keller (a blind American educator)
Your mission: Is it possible to say it more simply than Clifton Gunderson?
Growth of our people
Growth of our clients
All else follows
“The best way to predict your future is to create it.”Peter F. Drucker
“You are a change agent – changing culture, growth and visibility.”Allan Koltin
“It’s your responsibility to identify if anyone is holding the firm back and then do what it takes to cut the line and set people free.”Sam Allred
Upstream Academy, USA
DO YOU HAVE A SABBATICAL POLICY?
At the time I sold my publishing business and while negotiating my new employment contract I introduced a request for a sabbatical. I had worked full on building businesses for over 25 years and wanted a break. I still had the passion to drive the business forward but as the buck no longer stopped with me, I thought there were a few other things I wanted to do. It was eventually agreed that I could have an extra 30 days time out and so, like it or not, that is what I had to accept as my sabbatical.
Firm leaders need to allow partners to recharge and refresh their skills and enjoy a different taste of life. Many firms build in automatic entitlement to a sabbatical as they know that mounting workloads and maybe the time to enhance expertise are just some of the very valid reasons behind the sabbatical. Firms wish to keep their key people working for them – however, they recognise that many have ambitions they wish to realise and rather than lose them to the firm they accommodate this need. Some firms allow three to six months away after a certain period of working in the firm, typically 15 to 20 years. In other cases, firms allow an unpaid sabbatical after maybe five years. In fact, during tough times firms have used sabbaticals to trim their team, enabling them to reduce costs and retain expertise.
When it comes to remuneration entitlement during the sabbatical there are a number of options. In some firms the partner draw remains unchanged while bonuses are adjusted according to the time spent on sabbatical. Some firms provide partial pay while others none.
Benefits generally continue during a sabbatical regardless of the approach to pay.
KEY QUESTION: What is the biggest insight you’ve learned about yourself during your tenure as MP?
CLIENT SERVICE QUOTES FROM MANAGING PARTNERS AT MANAGEMENT CONFERENCES
Clients and client service
- What new client service centres or new services need to be developed? Should you acquire new expertise, or maybe merge?
- Do all you can to develop deep areas of specialisation and have rainmakers for these services. In so doing you will take yourself out of the price war environment.
- Do you have clients that are realising 60 per cent or less? Here’s what you need to do – increase their fee – or move them on and out of the firm’s client list.
- Meet with the firm’s top 50 clients (this number needs adjusting so that it maybe covers 5 to 10 of each partner’s highest fee-paying clients). One managing partner did this and gained over 20 per cent new business with these clients.
- I think there should be a client service plan for at least the firm’s biggest clients – maybe those 20 clients with the highest sales income and also clients with larger net incomes/profit. Looked at from another viewpoint, empirical evidence suggests about 50 per cent of the time you will gain new business.
- Client service is of course one of my all-time favourite management topics. Please permit me to challenge you with a couple of suggestions:
- What can you do to take your client service up a level or two? If you are not receiving a large number of client referrals that may be an indicator that service levels could improve.
- Keep a running plan that looks forward two years and charts the improvements in client service, and in particular, the introduction of new services.
- One managing partner when asked the “what keeps you awake at night?” question replied, (1) “significant transactions for the firm” and (2) “risk – who are we really taking on as clients?”
- It is your responsibility to promote competiveness and to make tomorrow better than today.
- Manage your margin. When I ceased being managing partner of my accounting firm and started a publishing company, I was fanatical about managing the margin. I knew that if I could manage the margin when we were grossing £10,000, I could manage the margin when we grew to £15m – which we did – and I did [manage the margin]!
- How do you communicate with your staff? Visit YouTube and look at the videos of Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple. He had an amazing way of engaging with everyone around him and encouraging them to buy into his vision and his strategy. Yes, we know he was a genius, but your staff want to know who they are led by and what it is that is driving the firm. Many years ago, I was privileged to work with the managing partner of a 400-person firm based in New York. I toured with him as he presented his ‘state of the firm’ address. It was captivating and compelling – a verdict I think that was shared by all partners and staff. Why? He shared about the firm’s successes, its community service, its PR and the plans for the future. He communicated that what the firm was doing really mattered. He shared how the firm was investing in its people to build new services and markets.