Aug 18 '14
If you’ve been following this series along, by now, you’ve started work on assessing your existing clients. It will be a dispassionate, scientific process, based on clear measures and criteria that you’ve set out. We’re sure it’s a work in process, as we speak. So, now what? Once you’ve got your list of key clients, what should you do with them?
There is a reason we’ve got you to do all this legwork to date. By setting out a clear process for selecting your key clients it allows you to learn a great deal about them (and the opportunities) in the process. You will know more about these clients by the end of the selection process than you probably realised possible.
Change of focus
But now it’s time to turn the focus, a little, onto you and, in particular, your relationship with your clients. The first rule of developing key clients is understanding what their expectations are. What service level do they consider standard? And what’s added value? For example, you may consider employment law training added value but if everyone is offering it it stops being a differentiator… it starts becoming standard… so what are you going to do about it?
Let’s ask them. This is the fundamental point of the fabled ‘client care review meeting’. It’s not actually so you can answer the question “so how are we doing” it’s so you can ask them about their expectations and needs… their commercial objectives, worries and plans… their market and sector developments… as well as learning about changes in their organisation that might impact on the level of service that they expect. In short, it’s a chance to find out what’s important to them. Not, what they think about what you already deliver. The focus should be on them.
From this you’ll be able to train up the members of your client team, share knowhow and develop new services and offerings that respond to client need. Importantly, none of this is wasted effort… because, if one client wants it there’s a chance others will too. Innovation in terms of service offering and added value is rarely limited to only one client, so it’s time well invested.
Opportunity development and management
Once you have a good understanding of your key clients (combining the original selection process intelligence and the results of your client review meetings) it’s time to sit down as a team and discuss the opportunities for development that you’ve identified. These might be ways of improving existing service delivery or opportunities to cross sell or expand your offering.
There are 101 consultants out there, willing to share their views and processes for doing this right. Our view is that the theory is all very well but really it should be common sense. You should be able to sit down and talk through each opportunity that you’ve identified for developing that client and assess not only how far down the process to ‘happening’ it is but what you need to ask yourself to complete it.
Here at EC Towers our approach is to set out four stages of opportunity development:
- Setting it out on the table
- Numbers & details
- Fine tuning
- Making a decision
For each of these stages the first job we do with clients is agree a number of questions that they need to answer before they can move on to the next section.
- In the first stage, for example, these questions are likely to be around understanding the problem or opportunity, whether it’s possible and whether we think our key client will be willing to pay for this?
- In the second it’s about the nitty gritty of numbers and facts. Do we understand the impact this will have on their business? The costs for us and added value to them? Do they have the money needed available? Is this sustainable? Do we know everyone who would need to be involved at their end? Do we know how the process will work to roll this out? Do we know who will make the final decision? Have we agreed timescales?
- In the third, it’s about crossing the ts and dotting the is. Has the client agreed that they like what we’re suggesting? Are they seriously evaluating it? Is everyone in agreement that this is the right course of action? What competition is there and is this realistic? How will we communicate this? What is our marketing angle?
- Finally, the last section is about moving this through so that the opportunity becomes reality. Has everyone agreed? Have we addressed all concerns and issues (both internal and external)? Have we had confirmation that we’ve won this work? Has the process started for confirming this on paper? Are we aware of how this has impacted on the client/supplier relationship?
It’s important that these questions are bespoke to your organisation and the opportunity. It’s also important that these are set out at the start, before you start work. They will form part of your framework for assessing (and reporting on) progress.
Writing a plan
The final stage in the planning process is (surprise) writing a plan. You’ll notice that we’ve referred to your client team in this article and we’ll talk more about that later this week. However, working together to articulate a clear plan of activities is important. You need to agree what, as a team, you can manage and maintain… as well as how this is going to work across the firm as a shared vision and goals.
Your plan needs to include both your client selection research and your opportunity management ratings. Each client needs a plan that works to the same format – so you can plot progress along the way as a complete KAM programme. The fundamental parts of your plan will come as little surprise:
- Objectives – what does success look like
- Background research – why have they been selected
- Opportunities – and process
- Action points – who needs to do what, where and when
- Measures – how will you know you’re succeeding
Keep it simple! You don’t need IT to set you up with a whizzy CRM system… you need little more than a two-page Word document to get going.
Cross selling – The Holy Grail
Although cross selling should technically fall within the opportunities section, I would be remiss in not mentioning it here and now as a fundamental objective of most KAM plans. Let’s be honest, all firms struggle with it and look for ways to get better. The first thing we need to ask ourselves, when reviewing the opportunities for cross selling, is how the client views us – have we asked? Do they view as a realistic contender for other services? Is the relationship with one person or the firm? Are there silos (both internally and externally) that need to be addressed? What’s the internal structure of the firm’s relationship with the client – is it focused on need or legal discipline? What are the common points of culture, viewpoint and approach? Can we understand how this is currently impacting on cross selling?
In a nutshell, if you’re failing to cross sell effectively then it’s is likely to be down to a lack of knowledge and understanding – both your client’s knowledge and understanding of what you offer as a firm but, more importantly, your lack of understanding of the needs they have and the benefits to them of introducing a wider range of services. A very simple place to start with KAM is to apply the processes set out thus far but focus exclusively on cross selling opportunities.
Watch out on Thursday for our final article in The Summer of Client Love series, talking about making KAM work within your firm.
About the author: Helen Hammond is Managing Director at Elephant Creative. After ten years of working in law firms and chambers in the UK she set up Elephant Creative to take a different approach to professional services marketing. Working with firms in the UK and US, Helen specialises in delivering common-sense, practical advice, focused on clear business development objectives. She has worked on KAM and CRM projects at a number of firms, and is particularly known for her commitment to workable solutions, rather than consultancy hot air.