2007 Summit Panel Topic Two: Managing the client-advisor interface: How are roles evolving in the relationship between professional service firms and their clients?
- Rich D’Amaro, Chairman & CEO, Tatum
- Alan Deutschman, Executive Director, Unboundary
- Glen Jackson, Co-founder, Jackson Spalding
- John Spiegel, Retired CFO/Vice Chairman, Suntrust
Summary of session:
The second panel focused on how client service organizations are redefining their roles in the market and why this movement is critical to their ongoing success.
1. Professional service firms are rethinking their relationships with clients and moving away from the traditional vendor role to a client advisor role.
- From reacting and reporting - to being proactive and anticipatory
- From providing arms and legs - to providing ideas and a fresh perspective
- From filling manpower gaps - to filling gaps in experience
- From a compliance officer - to a thought leader
- From a focus on what is broken - to a focus on what needs to be fixed
- From surfacing problems - to avoiding future problems
2. Building advisory relationships takes time. Valued relationships must be built on experience, knowledge, trust, and credibility. There must be enough time to create an emotional tie. If relationship building is rushed, trust breaks down.
3. Professional service firms need to start small and be specific about their message in order to stand out from the crowd. “Be famous for something.”
4. Professional service firms need to set a tone up front to position themselves as advisors. They need to earn the respect of management quickly through examples that demonstrate their added value. It helps to have a high ranking client-side sponsor. It also helps to agree explicitly to crisply defined objectives with the client and to follow a structured framework for executing the engagement with planned follow-up. The most successful professional service firms stay with their client even through difficult times and this inevitably builds long term loyalty.
5. Client professionalism is an essential trend that we should collectively encourage and, perhaps, teach. All clients are not “sent from heaven.” Bad client relationships may not be all the fault of the professional service provider. Sometimes, it is better to walk away from less than desirable clients. Difficult clients generally are over-served for the compensation provided. They drain and depress your firm’s resources. They beat up employees and chase them right out of the firm. They provide poor referrals and destroy employee morale. Focusing on existing clients and developing new clients who motivate top performance out of the team by recognizing the importance of focus and encouragement are the kinds of clients you want to attract and keep.