Thursday, November 13, 2008

Client Advisor Dialogues – Part II

Last month we introduced you to some of the best practice lessons from the 2007 Client Advisor Summit, part of the Client Advisor Awards. The Summit is an invitation-only portion of the Awards program which involves roundtable discussions among Client Advisor Award finalists, sponsors and select invited guests. As a follow up, here is the executive summary from the second panel of the 2007 Summit focused on how client service organizations are redefining their roles in the market and why this movement is critical to their ongoing success.

Rich D’Amaro, Chairman & CEO, Tatum
Alan Deutschman, Journalist & Published Author
Glen Jackson, Co-founder, Jackson Spalding
John Spiegel, Retired CFO/Vice Chairman, Suntrust

Some of key points shared during the session include:

1. The best professional service firms are revitalizing their roles on behalf of clients in order to avoid commoditization and the pull to be labeled a "vendor" instead of an "advisor." They are instituting behaviors which help them move the nature of their client interactions:

- 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 serving as a compliance officer - to serving as a thought leader
- From a focus on what is broken - to a focus on what needs to be fixed
- From surfacing and fixing client problems - to helping clients avoid future problems

2. Building strong advisory relationships takes time but Managing Partners want quick client development results and Client sponsors want immediate (and low cost) solutions. Successful results stem from strong relationships that are built on experience, knowledge, trust, and credibility. Both client and advisor must allow enough time to create trust-based, not just fact-based, decision-making partnerships. If relationship building is rushed, trust breaks down.

3. Professional service firms need to start small - that is, consider offering a small "sample size" offering - and demonstrate specific - not generalist - expertise in order to stand out from the crowd. "Be famous for something."

4. Professional service firms need to demonstrate their difference and expertise as early as possible prior to being hired - preferably in real-time - to position themselves as advisors.

5. Client professionalism is an essential trend that we should collectively encourage and, perhaps, teach. All clients are not "sent from heaven." Bad client advisor relationships and failed engagements are not always 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. Focus on retaining existing clients and developing new ones who motivate top performance out of your team - jettison the dysfunctional clients as soon and smoothly as possible.

We hope that you’d find these thoughts helpful and we look forward to seeing you at the 2008 Client Advisor Awards.

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