You are a successful professional services organisation with a proven track record, so why would you want to question your client management? Perhaps your client is suffering from consultant fatigue, having undertaken several major consultancy projects over the last year and feels the use of more consultants going forward will lead to criticism of their management of resources. A client may postpone the next phase of a proposal – saying they will go out to tender, there is no rush; the budget will not be there until next year … etc. You know that if they delay they are unlikely to get continuity of consultants. Sound familiar? If so, what practical steps can you take to prevent impasse and ensure the best outcome?
The following questions, framed within six stages, will challenge how far your current practices and processes of client management match up to best practice.
Planning Stage: Linking client management tactics to your strategy
- How well do you convert revenue targets into achievable account plans and plans for target client organisations?
- How do you establish accountability for existing and target client relationships? (Do you refer to “account management” or “client relationship management? What’s the impact on your clients of this vocabulary?) How important is chemistry of relationships compared to seniority in these decisions?
- How do you create career progression for successful salespeople without destroying relationships?
- How do you plan to involve the deliverers and support services in your selling process so they are able to identify and anticipate potential needs early?
- What sales training do you provide your technical service deliverers with? What technical (consulting) skills do you provide your salespeople with? Do you train them together?
- How do you plan to coordinate the efforts of both the salespeople and specialist consultants in your bid process? How do you recognise and reward success?
- How frequently do you review progress against plans? What happens when sales are ahead or behind budget? How do you manage cost of sales?
- How do you review the progress of leads in the sales funnel? How do you anticipate your forward order book? How do you manage the risks associated with utilisation feast or famine?
Initial Stage: Building the relationship that will lead to business
- Which marketing tactics produce the best leads? What measurement and learning processes have you evolved to sharpen your lead generation year on year?
- How do you qualify the opportunity as good business for you – or too high risk?
- How do you establish the clients’ objectives and the client’s primary problems and/or opportunities? How do you ensure that there is a fit with the overall strategy of the client organisation?
- How do you scope prospective client needs so that both you and the client have a common view of the territory to be covered and the issues to be addressed. What approaches do you employ for reconciling client views with your own or differing views within the client organisation?
- What are the key differentiators in the professional service/client relationship compared with the product/service customer relationship? How do you ensure that you will be perceived in the (higher value) former category? What behaviours are critical to establishing this professional relationship?
- How will you differentiate the relationship you offer from that of your competitors?
- How do you proactively engage your client’s interest while demonstrating the quality of your service?
- To what degree do you think about clients’ business solutions rather than technology solutions or product sales targets to meet?
- When should you move into serving, rather than selling? How do you establish that your people will be great to work with as well as credible?
- How do you establish common ‘ground rules’ with clients that enable them to manage you effectively and create joint accountability for the success of projects?
- What are appropriate ways to establish your commitment?
- How do you avoid just ‘giving services and consulting away’ whilst staying responsive?
- How do you extricate yourself from working with dubious client organisations? (How do you know they are dubious?)
Committing Stage: Achieving the first sale
- What aspects do you have to satisfy to achieve the sale of a professional services assignment?
- What process do you use to identify (and then manage) the logical, emotional and political elements in a complex decision-making process?
- How do you handle competitive bids?
- How do you present your credentials as the right provider when your experience is limited? (Especially in a situation where everybody is in the dark) How do you reassure clients about your objectivity?
- What is the best way to price professional services? How do you present your price so that is will be seen as good value? What are the implications of revealing daily rates? How can you avoid it?
- How do you establish that you can do the work without giving the process away to the client or the competitors?
- How do you reduce cost of sales, year on year?
Delivery Stage: Managing perceptions of quality and value
- Who actively manages the relationships during the delivery stage of the project? How do they coordinate their efforts?
- What tactics do you use to ensure that your clients will be delighted with the quality of your consultants, and the outcomes they produce?
- How do you and the clients measure progress and achievement during the engagement?
- What processes do you have to deal with complaints?
- How do you manage to rotate your consulting staff without irritating the client?
- Which parts of client handling are really seen as valuable by your clients? (And which are frankly irritating? How do you know?)
Expanding Stage: Growing the scale of business within the client company
- How do you plan to grow the business within client organisations? (How does this link to your service line strategy, project management process and overall account planning?)
- Who is responsible for sell-on? Is it the same as the person responsible for sell-in? Why (not)?
- How much do you do for free as part of the selling-on process?
- How do you build relationships in other departments, business units etc?
- What do you do if you realise that there is no real business future in the relationship with this organisation?
- How do continue to create value in the medium term? What do you do about “consultant fatigue?”
Securing Stage: Developing the client over the longer period/keeping out the competition
- Who manages the relationship after the project is finished? How do you decide how much to spend on this?
- What sort of interventions will be seen as valuable by clients at this stage in the relationship?
- How far do you take these relationships? What boundaries are appropriate? How do you establish long term professional relationships with clients? How do you create references and advocates?
- How many of these relationships are you expecting salespeople to manage? What sort of conversion rate is expected? How do you know this is reasonable?
- What do you do when your client hires other specialist firms? How far should you introduce other specialists outside the sphere of your organisation’s competence? Should you take a cut for introducing them?
- What do you do when you see a competitor/gatekeeper trying to influence your client to look elsewhere for your service?
- How should you manage pricing over a longer period of time/over long projects? Are discounts for volume a good idea? What if your client insists?
If any one of these ideas strikes a chord, contact us and let’s discuss.