A lot of investment and time goes into attracting new clients, but Philip Fisher believes just as much attention should be paid to your existing clients.
Over the years, the writer has lost count of the number of times at which he has been the yawning victim of motivational speeches claiming that the only way to expand an accounting practice is to bring in new clients. While this is undoubtedly a very necessary part of practice development, it can be a misguided approach.
Far too often partners who specialise in selling, usually the loud-mouthed extroverts, spend significant parts of their lives in bars, restaurants and at social events desperately trying to persuade the unwilling to listen to them and buy the services that they are offering. This is highly commendable and undoubtedly pays off, although the hit rate tends to be very low.
What many running even significantly sized firms fail to realise is that they could potentially utilise super rainmakers and the talents of technical experts to keep existing clients through providing great service and using charm offences that will be much better appreciated.
There has been much literature generated over the years about the cost of bringing in a new client to run accountancy practice, as opposed to keeping an existing one. The multiples vary but everyone agrees that attracting new clients is expensive.
On the other hand, existing clients should love your firm. They are likely to offer new projects either without even being asked or in exchange for arranging the occasional meeting or on the telephone line. Going a step further, you don’t need to offer them loss leaders, although they may eventually drive fees down. There are also usually going to be your best referrers.
In this light, it should be obvious that anyone who is client facing in an accountancy practice ought to be charged with taking time to develop close relationships with existing clients so that they are in the right place when new work opportunities arise but also can find out at a very early stage if there is any kind of dissension developing.
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All too often, whatever might be said about fee levels, the reason why a long-standing client moves on is the feeling that they are no longer cared for.
In exit interviews, hidden messages may often translate into something along the lines of “nobody from your firm has come to see me in the last year but someone from a competitor invited me to their box at Chelsea followed by a night at the opera and then offered to do the audit for 20% less”.
The stupid thing is that the key people you need to know, whether they are a sole trader or finance directors, managing directors or others are generally the kind of people to whom you can relate and with whom you have much in common, since you know all about their business affairs and probably very much more. Therefore meeting them or chatting with is often a really enjoyable experience, as well as a lucrative boost to the profitability of your practice.
In summary, treat your clients well, look after them and don’t take advantage. In return, the vast majority will show loyalty, pay fairly and help to advertise your practice at no cost.