How Professional Services firms can make their key client programmes a success
It is a business truth, that not all clients are created equal. Some are sophisticated and transactional, others relationship-based. Some are price-sensitive, and others are value-driven.
A key client programme based strategy acknowledges this inequality by identifying those clients that are critical to your organisation and require a range of different services from your organisation.
Establishing and committing resources to a key client programme is essential in a B2B and professional services context because a key account programme is the process of building long-term relationships with your organisations most valuable clients. These accounts make up most of your business’ income.
However, you cannot ignore culture! If your organisation lacks discipline or is not professionally managed, there is little point in establishing a key client programme or even assembling a team. The framework will be ignored, and your client(s) will see through the facade. To overcome this, you will have to have some open and honest conversations and a clear plan that all partners/directors sign up to, to ensure your essential key client programme is a success.
If the converse scenario referred to above is your situation, and you have a healthy client centric culture, your key client programme will evolve and mature over time. This means your organisation will benefit from year-on-year growth across the whole portfolio of key clients.
Let us start at the very beginning
How do you determine a client’s applicability to be included in your Key Client Programme (KCP)?
To determine the client’s applicability to be included in your KCP, here are some suggested questions to consider:
- Insights – do you understand their business drivers and strategic objectives (“do you know what keeps them up at night?” and “What their opportunities for growth are?”), do you know the competitive landscape and understand work opportunities – where you can provide your services across their business?;
- Are they a repeat instructor – one that feeds work or could feed work into multiple areas of the business?;
- Are you known as one of their “Go to” service providers – this might be the current situation, or it is an aspirational goal?;
- What will it take to acquire a client and maintain the relationship?; and
- Growth potential – does the client have significant growth potential?
Where to from here…?
To make your KCP successful, I would recommend you follow the 5 step plan below:
1. Define your key client strategy
The elements of your strategy should include:
- The team (see details below) understanding and agreeing your team’s strategic objectives (and how they align with the client’s objectives).
- The team must develop clear and agreed goals over a 6, 12-18 timeframe.
- The team needs to develop financial goals individually and holistically.
- The team needs to meet and discuss at regular team meetings their progress on hitting the agreed goals and financial targets set.
- Alignment to the firm / organisations business development and marketing strategy.
2. Assemble your team
Your team should include:
- A dedicated Client Relationship Director, a Manager, relevant Partners/Directors and fee-0earners in the business, a Business Development / Marketing Advisor and an Administrator (it is suggested that the administrative support is best provided by the personal assistant of the Client Relationship Director). For smaller firms, this will need to be adapted to utilise the resources available and you may even need to consider using consultants.
- Committed representatives from across your organisation representing various business units who are engaged by the client.
The client team should meet at regular intervals, i.e., on a 4-6 weekly basis.
The client team should be familiar with all client information which they should be across from daily updates that have been set up via a news monitoring service and annual reports. The Client Director could arrange for key members from within the client to be invited to attend a team meeting and share insights on a quarterly basis.
The role of the Business Development / Marketing Advisor is to make the team members want to participate actively in serving and nurturing the account and helping to execute on the strategy. Also, to coach and provide advice on how to get meetings with the client and how to effectively nurture and strengthen their client relationships.
In my experience, key account managers are most effective when they focus on the long-term issues of strengthening the relationship. If an account manager sees themselves primarily as a salesperson, focused on generating more fees from the client, they are less well accepted and become less effective.
3. Action plan key elements
Your action plan should include:
- An overview of what you know about the individuals within a client and classify them (decision makers/economic, influencers, buyers, blockers etc); who you know at the client and who knows them from within your organisation.
- An outline demonstrating how you will engage with the client e.g., events, seminars, publication / ways to demonstrate your expertise and quarterly relationship check-ins.
- Other proposed engagement ideas, for example a strategy session. Both the New Year and End of Financial Year lend themselves to a strategy session, where you can understand the client’s objectives for the next 12-18 months.
- Innovative ideas to take to the client.
- Opportunities which you can classify: “Opportunity” to “Qualified” to “Proposal submitted” to “Won/Lost”.
- Include any reporting/administrative requirements and ensure that these dates are diarised and that you have the necessary support from your finance team to meet reporting requirements.
- A way to measure and track the opportunities which you have discussed at your team meetings.
4. Understand what success means to your client and deliver it
What does success look like to your chosen client? Examples may include:
- high quality, commercial and strategic advice;
- certainty on costs – no surprises;
- effective management of transactions and partner accessibility; and
- an introduction to contacts that help them achieve their wider business objectives.
Manage expectations and be transparent!
- Ensure that the client receives your top priority and service in all their interactions with you.
- Share learnings, successes across the client team and more broadly across your organisation.
5. Monitor and measure your success
Simply put, make sure that you are measuring the right things – relationship progression, successes, areas for improvement and profitability.
It is also strongly suggested that you institutionalize a formal feedback process.
There are numerous benefits, which include:
- Provides an opportunity to follow up with satisfied / dissatisfied clients
- Helps you identify gaps in your services
- Provides an opportunity to celebrate positive results
- Gain insights about the organisation’s strategy
- Discuss innovative ideas with your client
Internally it also allows you to report on individual KCPs as well as the full KCP programme. This allows the management team of your business to assess the success of the programme and make decisions on future budget allocation for the KCP.
Conclusion – The 5 non-negotiables of a key client programme
- Select the right clients for your KCP. This can include aspirational clients if you wish to invest time and money in trying to win a new client in the next few years.
- Appoint the right people to the right roles within your internal key client team.
- Let the internal team know what is expected of them.
- Prepare clear and robust key client plans.
- Monitor, measure and report on progress on client engagement and satisfaction.
For a successful KCP, it requires a culture of dedication with a laser-sharp focus on everyone delivering their committed actions. If you follow the recommendations set out above, you will have a successful KCP – it is that simple!