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A bird in the hand: Make the most of your current client base. By Richard Sergeant

30th Jul 2007
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Bird in the handRichard Sergeant explains how a good website can help maximise the value of your existing client base.

Existing clients are still prospects

Ask yourself this question:

“How confident am I that my clients know the complete range of services we have to offer?”

Over the last year I have put this question to over 150 firms. The answer seems to be pretty much the same for all: “not very!”

I’ve also heard a (not so untypical) tale in which a firm was amazed to find it was providing some significant services to a business and yet the payroll is was done by a local competitor! When they asked the client why, the answer was: “we didn’t know you did it.”

Of course, it would be great if the client asked for a thorough rundown of the your services, but it is as much up to you to advertise your wares! Existing clients are just as much prospects for other services as those you have newly aquired.

Cross-selling services – Setting up your website to maximise product presentation

Wthout focus an accountant’s website is nothing.

You know you have certain services you want clients (and prospects) to take up, and you know what kinds of clients you would like to offer them to, so the simple thing to do is to map this out. An effective way to do this is to group services under headings, for example:

  • Type of client: Start up, sole trader, growing businesses, larger businesses, individuals
  • Sectors: Professional partnerships, charities, construction
  • Other businesses: Corporate finance, IT consultancy, financial services

I recommend mapping this on a spreadsheet with the services grouped under the main headings - remember that the same service could be linked from a number of different pages. The table below shows a typical example:

Grouping allows users to place themselves on the table and follow a path to more information. It’s also an effective way for you to retain a degree of control over the user’s journey and direct them to areas of your site that are of the most interest for them.

Once you know what services you want to offer and under which heading, you are well on the way to providing some real focus for your site.

Signposting means providing clear links to other pages (in this case service pages). This is essential on the home page - although we must also assume that not everyone will arrive via the home page, more on which in a moment.

Signposting is usually achieved using either links built into the text, or if you want to create a more designed feel, boxes with the links inside.

Whatever approach suits you best, try and limit your home page to a minimum of descriptive text and allow users to quickly move on.

Robust Service Propositions
At the end of your user journey, you must create the service proposition itself. My approach, and that used by PracticeWEB, is to use a very simple usability theory based on a triangle of content, resource, and contact.

These headings can take on a slightly different context depending on the page, but in the case of a service page this means having

  • Content - a description of the service.
  • Resources – related links, ie, links to information designed to stimulate fee enquiries and compliance based information, not technical content or advice.
  • Contact - either directly off the page page or via a link to the relevant partner profile or a general contact page.

By doing this we are not creating a service description with a dead end, but instead creating a mini homepage for each and every service. The user can find out all they want to know about how the firm can help and who can help them; read around the subject and gain a greater understanding and identify possible questions for when they do decide to make contact.

Partner propositions
Partners are often the spearhead of client development and profiles should be set up in the same way as services. Content should include the partner's biog, contact including telephone and email address, and resource links to the service, or group headings most in line with their skills and interests.

Experience shows that if you link partners to services and services to partners you start to open up the possibility of enquiries from existing clients who had no idea that you also offered service x, or that other areas could be of interest.

Clients Only Area
You might also define an area of your site that is restricted to existing clients. It is important to make a distinction between a product which engages your clients on a one to one relationship (access to their information, etc), and a general area that is open to all clients.

I would start with a generic Client Only Area (i.e. something open to all clients). Most website companies should be able to do this easily and cheaply. In this area you can place more information that you are comfortable with your clients seeing and using but would not be so with casual visitors. For example, specific tools or resources, access to certain forms and generic documents (a much better place for a small number of HMRC forms than your public site if you ask me).

This area could also include a specific client focussed message, and provide more detailed signposts to specific service pages, ie: “Have you had a VAT health check recently?”

Transactional Services
OK, not quite fees as such, but increasingly, there is information out there that can be supplied by third parties which your clients could find useful and from which you could earn commissions. For example, credit checks, director searches, market reports, online company formations: these can build your image as a progressive firm and earn you extra cash. For some services a firm can often negotiate better prices based on volume, but your clients don’t know that!

As long as it is reasonably priced, leveraged on your brand by being as much part of the site as any other page, and promoted regularly, you could find it a nice source of additional revenue.

Offering Services Online
For some, this is really where the future lies.

Some obvious candidates are online accounting systems and online payroll. The pitch - greater efficiency and access to information - has not brought the rush that was expected, but I think this will change. In the initial stages, it will be a matter of carrot and stick, but increasingly clients will become used to being driven by a new process. It takes a brave firm to make the switch and be confident that clients will pay for it. But I think, in time, users will come to expect that they can do everything online and process driven services will be an essential part of the mix.

Services like Secure Document Exchange, which encourage existing clients to engage with your website and satisfies a growing expectation among clients to have access to their documents. I’ve have seen successful models in which firms have charged clients up to £5 per month for this kind of service.

Existing clients are prospects too
I’m sure the above will generate much debate. But if I can leave you with a couple of thoughts:

  • Why wouldn’t you want to cross-sell services to existing clients?
  • Can you afford to not to be seen to engage with and support existing clients?
  • As users expect more services and transactions to be facilitated online – shouldn’t your website keep up?

If you would like to explore any of the above in more detail, please do feel free to contact me.

Richard Sergeant is the Client Relationship Manager for PracticeWEB which has been providing content rich, unique designed, secure websites for accountants to UK practices since 1999.

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