Using protection

Paul Matthews and Kevin Walker put forward strategies for keeping your best clients to yourself and maximising your relationship with them.

The cost of gaining new business from an existing client is much lower than winning a brand new client, yet many accountancy firms devote huge energies to wooing prospective clients while missing new business opportunities within their existing client base.  So what methods can you employ to nurture your clients and protect them from competitors?

The who?

First, it is important to identify those clients where proactive relationship building will pay dividends in terms of related business.  In essence, whose loss would have a severe detrimental effect on your practice – either in monetary terms, loss of kudos, loss of referral business or any number of other reasons?

Having determined which clients need protecting, it’s important to establish how strong your relationship with them is currently.  The aim is to show the positive sides of the relationship that need to be maintained and to highlight weak spots that need addressing.  A useful tool for testing the strength of the relationship is PACE’s relationship protection index (RPI).

How strong is the relationship?

There are four stages involved in constructing and using an RPI.

Stage one

Factors are selected that are indicative of the quality of the relationships with key clients and scored.  These factors include things like the number of relationships you have with the client’s board members, the number of your people involved in client management, the number of your services utilised by the client, the regularity of service review meetings, client source of referrals, recognition by the client of your ‘added value’ provided.

Stage two 

Taking each key client in turn, scores are measured against benchmarks.

Stage three

On the assumption there is a shortfall between the score that a key client has achieved and the maximum it is possible to achieve, an objective for a higher score to be achieved by some point in the future (typically three to six months) can be set.

Stage four

A plan of action is formulated that will see the client RPI score increased to the desired level.

Building allies

Often, client relationships in accountancy practices are built around the personalities of two key people – one from the client, one in the accountancy practice.  If one of those people leaves their current employer, the relationship is at risk.  Therefore, the more key people you know and who are supporting you in the client organisation, the more protected your relationship with the client will be.  A model, which accountancy firms can use to measure these factors, is called the relationship analysis model (RAM) – see diagram.

In many major clients there are potentially important individuals where:

  • you are unsure of their stance in relation to your firm; and/or
  • you are uncertain as to their level of influence.

These people are registered in the lower box in the model.

Once the analysis is complete the next step is to formulate a plan that will:

  • neutralise, or win over, protestors and enemies;
  • consolidate the strength of the relationships built with friends and allies;
  • turn neutrals into friends and allies; and
  • build understanding of, and relationships with, those registered in the bottom box.

Tell me what you want

In order to turn as many contacts in the key client organisation into allies and friends, you must first understand their expectations and what key issues they are facing.  The more knowledge you can gather, the more value you can potentially add to the client and therefore make it incredibly hard for a competitor to replicate.  This means talking to key contacts in the client organisation to understand not just what they want from you, but also what the key issues are that affect them and their part of the business.

Key client plans

Having analysed the factors that are indicative of the strength of your key client relationship, the contacts that you have in the organisation and the issues that these people face, you now need to convert your findings into a plan that will enable you to strengthen the relationship, counter any competitive threat, exploit any opportunity, and above all ensure that the client truly values the relationship it has with your firm.

A good plan will contain three or four quantifiable objectives that you seek to achieve over the next six to 12 months by allocating actions to individuals who have agreed to be responsible for their execution.  The plan therefore needs to evolve and be updated as the relationship develops.

Client review meetings

Client review meetings also present a great opportunity to strengthen your relationship with the client.  These meetings should not be seen as simply an event to discuss progress on a piece of work.  They can be much more.  They can test what the client likes or dislikes in relation to the way that you manage their relationship.  They can establish more information about issues and people in the client organisation.  The meeting can identify opportunities outside the expertise you are currently providing and, if appropriate, allow you to cross-sell the services of other parts of the firm.  They can also be a way to keep in touch even when there isn’t a specific piece of work being undertaken.  These meetings are vital to maximising the possibilities lying latent within the client. 

All too often there is a tendency to focus on the pursuit of new clients.  While this is important, there are often tremendous opportunities closer to home in a firm’s existing client base.  These opportunities just need a little more analysis and a more proactive, planned and team-focused approach in order to come to fruition.


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