Many professional services firms, even the highly successful ones, are unclear or have little visibility over their winning and retaining clients’ lifecycle. However, it is essential that practitioners and the management of these firms understand and know how to manage the process of winning and retaining clients to achieve success. This lack of visibility into this critical process, often results in missed opportunities and lost clients.
For professional services firms, winning and retaining clients goes beyond just promoting and marketing their services. It involves building trust, providing exceptional service, and nurturing long-term relationships. In today’s digital landscape, clients have access to a plethora of resources and have a wide range of service providers to choose from, which means it is more critical than ever to focus on client experience and relationship management.
In most cases, while each professional services firm will go about things slightly differently there are some fundamental principles and steps which are universal. Below is a breakdown of the process of winning and retaining clients for professional services firms.
The first step in the client lifecycle is attracting potential clients. Potential clients have always done their research before engaging or speaking with a professional services firm. Whether they responded to an advert (less likely) or asked their networks for a referral and some information (more likely), research has always been key. Now with digitally empowered buyers, clients will do a great deal of this at their desks.
In terms of how the process works, typically, when a client has an issue, they will research to find a solution. As mentioned above, the majority of this research is done online, but clients may well also ask their network for recommendations. Therefore, it’s essential to have a strong online presence and to cultivate relationships with existing clients who can recommend your services.
When you analyse the above, also consider whether your website or social media pages and profiles have any client recommendations or testimonials visible. If clients research online, and like to know what their industry peers think, it makes sense to have these available to prospective clients on your digital channels.
Once a potential client has found your firm and made contact with you, the next step is to meet with them or have a call to qualify the new lead. The client will contact your firm, and you’ll set up an initial meeting to discuss their needs.
During this initial meeting, two things will generally occur. Firstly, the client will outline their specific needs and the issues/challenges they need help resolving. Secondly, you’ll be trying to determine if your firm is the right fit for the client and if the client’s needs align with your firm’s services.
It’s crucial to be transparent about your firm’s technical capabilities and available resources. It can also be a good place to discuss the client’s potential budget at this stage, and where appropriate, provide some guidance or ball-park numbers around your associated fees.
If the client decides to move forward, the next step is to engage with them. The services to be delivered and the associated costs or method of charging (i.e., hourly rates) are agreed on. It is vital that the scope of work and timelines for delivery (where possible) are agreed at this stage.
Whether in a formal contract/engagement letter or a simple email, the scope of work needs to be formally agreed to by the client. This is more a means to protect you, it also establishes a framework for delivery which allows you to focus and will help you to exceed your client’s expectations.
Once the engagement begins, it’s time to deliver the agreed services (project, transaction, matter etc.). Throughout this stage, it’s essential to keep the client informed about progress and to deliver the work to their expectations.
Communication is vital. A common flaw in professional services is that practitioners go into solutions mode and don’t inform the client enough about where the process is, and invariably present the answer at the end along with an invoice!
Clients generally prefer to be brought into the journey and like to understand what is happening at regular and timely intervals. Getting onto this habit also means that should the scope change or the fees start to escalate over and above the original provided estimate, the client can be informed early in the piece.
The delivery stage of the winning and retaining clients’ lifecycle is also an opportunity to build a deeper relationship with the client. While this can be done by going above and beyond to meet their needs, it can also be supported by taking more of an interest in them and understanding more about their role, responsibilities, and aspirations.
The feedback stage is critical for understanding how the matter went, and if there are areas for improvement. It’s an opportunity to gather feedback from the client and address any issues they may have. It’s also an excellent time to ask for a referral (assuming the piece of work went well). The feedback you receive can be used to improve your firm’s processes and communication with clients.
It is vital that any feedback is not only acted upon, but that you also tell the client what you have done to address it, and when you did it. For larger or key clients, it is a great idea to get someone independent from the delivery team to gather client feedback. This always produces a more honest and frank discussion, as many clients find providing feedback directly to the team a little awkward.
The final stage of the lifecycle is retaining the client, building and enhancing your relationship with them. It’s essential to keep in contact with the client outside of the work delivered and to add them to your marketing and mailing lists. But more importantly than this, finding ways to stay in touch and meet with them, regardless of whether you’re working with them or not. This is something that many professional services practitioners struggle with, but it is vital to know how to effectively talk to your clients after you’ve completed the work.
Where you can, it is a good idea to introduce them to your relevant contacts and/or other clients. By nurturing your relationship with the client, you can increase the chances of repeat business and referrals.
The importance of understanding the winning and retaining clients lifecycle
In conclusion, the winning and retaining clients lifecycle for professional services firms is a process that requires a strategic approach and a well-understood system.
By understanding each of the stages, firms can then focus on their strengths to help continue to grow their revenue and also target areas of weakness. After all, many firms are excellent at retaining clients but many also struggle to attract new ones, which makes year on year growth, somewhat of a challenge.
If a simple summary was to be provided for the above, the key is to provide excellent service, establish trust, and nurture relationships with your clients.