Business development – the client base

When asking professional services’ marketers what their firm’s ideal client base should look like in 2-3 years time, John Monks of The PACE Partnership has found that invariably they say it would be different to the current one and refer to a ‘dream client portfolio’ that brings:

  • a better and more enjoyable quality of client relationship
  • kudos – from having ‘high profile’ clients that generate other new client interest
  • the type of work that stimulates the firm
  • specialisation in a particular industry sector
  • specific financial rewards

Underpinning all of these they desire higher profitability.

Why firms rarely get what they want

Dream client bases can become reality and marketers have a tremendous opportunity to help their firms achieve them. Firstly the dream is rarely defined. We may want to increase fee income by x percent or by y number of clients. However, without deciding who these clients are and how to gain their business, success is elusive.

Secondly firms are often ‘too busy’. Too busy doing the wrong type of work with the wrong clients. A tendency to say yes to every opportunity and never say no. Back to poor profitability again. 

Defining the dream

Marketers can help fee-earners gain the dream client portfolio by first establishing what their aim is. This should link into firm-wide objectives and cover any, or all, of the following:

  • type of work that the fee-earner wants to do
  • level of fees they need
  • industry sector they want to proliferate
  • profile of the clients they want.

Then look at the existing client portfolio. How wide is the gap from the dream? Which clients need to be kept (and protected from competitor advances), which do not fit the dream and need pruning. How many new clients are actually needed

Protecting

Establish a key client plan for clients that need to be protected. The plan will help to ensure we fully understand their industry, their business and the needs and wants they may have for the firm’s services. Set out objectives and actions to maintain regular contact and build the relationship.

Pruning

Don’t be afraid to prune clients that don’t fit the dream portfolio. This often meets resistance – ever heard any of these excuses?

  • I’ve had such a long-standing relationship with this client
  • The client is also a personal friend
  • The more clients I have the safer I am. My clients are my insurance policy in case there is a head-count reduction in the firm
  • I can’t prune my client base, I don’t know what’s around the corner. 

Everyone is already very busy. Help fee-earners to look objectively at their work and see how much of their time could be better spent elsewhere.

For example, a property firm recently undertook an assessment of their clients and their services. They concluded that they couldn’t profitability service clients generating fees of under £1,000. The firm bravely made the decision to prune these clients. A year later over 50% were still with them, but generating greater fees. These clients valued the firm and were prepared to pay more.

Defining your offer

Marketers and fee earners need to assess what the firm can offer. This involves asking:

  • Do we, as a firm, have the right expertise to service this client?
  • Do we have sufficient resources to service this client?
  • Is the quality of our service superior to competitors?
  • How strong is our relationship with the client?

Without a competitive advantage or a compelling ‘story to tell’, it is unlikely that we are going to differentiate ourselves and be successful.

Drawing up a target list

To win new clients to achieve the dream client portfolio, you need to build a target list. Beware however the curse of lists! Being told to bring in extra business (and now!) creates panic and a scattergun approach to marketing and business development. Scatter gunning assumes that if we tell as many people as possible about us, then we’ll probably win something (well hopefully!).

On the contrary, a more targeted approach, where fee-earners build and demonstrate an in-depth knowledge of their target prospects, usually generates a greater success-rate and longer client relationships.

Setting the priorities

It’s all very well listing the prospects we want, but just because they meet our criteria doesn’t mean we meet theirs. Some prospects may also be harder to win than others, so we set priorities and actions based on triggers and filters to help focus.

For example, the prospect may be known to acquisitive or may be experiencing change in management / ownership. Or the incumbent advisor may be too big / small to serve their needs or we have a track-record in the prospect’s marketplace.

Knowledge is power

Intelligence dramatically influences our choice of action, and with superior intelligence we have a stronger chance of ‘outwitting’ our competition. When targeting a new client, fee-earners need to know as much as they can about them. Otherwise any offer they make will be ill-informed and unsuccessful. Marketers can help fee-earners conduct an information gathering exercise. This will draw on many sources such as published information, sources within the firm, other suppliers and even people within the client. 

Developing an action plan

Having a plan is essential. The plan will be guided by our understanding of the prospect. It will highlight firm-wide our ‘corporate’ marketing activities needed and guide fee-earners on the individual activities they need to build the relationship. A typical plan comprises the following elements:

  1. Objectives that need to be achieved
  2. Activities that are to be undertaken
  3. The timescale these are to take
  4. The people who are involved
  5. Financial / budget requirements
  6. Measurement points to review progress

Review

Although the timescale between targeting and winning a client can be very long, never lose sight of the dream. If the dream is to be achieved, progress needs to be monitored and reviewed and actions planned to achieve the next stage.

Summary

We passionately believe that many firms are working flat out for the wrong clients. We also believe that a targeted approach by fee-earners, guided by their marketers, will make dream client portfolios a reality and make professional services firms more successful. So be brave – tell me what you want, what you really, really want. Remember, if you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.

 

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