If you want honest feedback ...
Third-party interviews of “A” clients reveal
areas of discontent or service issues that clients may not share directly with the firm —
and it’s too late once they switch providers.
Interviews also reveal important competitive differentiation and service opportunities
that accounting firms can leverage now to
boost brand visibility and revenue.
Besides launching a new brand, Freed is
emphasizing differentiation through strategic
consulting and making sure that clients are
more than “fine.” “Opposition firms will identify your firm’s weaknesses during the prospect interview and scoping process. Don’t
give your clients a reason to go out to bid or
seek another provider,” Majchrzak added.
er wise know about,” he said.
LvHJ reaches out proactively to clients
throughout the year. A successful marketing
contest last fall included the entire staff on
numerous opportunities to regularly communicate and share important information with
clients. The tactics in the contest emphasized
key themes that emerged from the client interviews, including the desire for service at all
levels of the organization and flexible strategies to help clients deal with change.
BY dawn wagenaar
Survey says: You need third parties to handle client interviews
when clients say that things are fine, firm partners should look a little closer.
MAKING GOOD GREAT
At Freed Maxick, a New York-based Top 100
Firm, client interviews provided research for
a new brand that better represented the firm’s
larger market presence.
“We chose our ‘A’ clients for this exercise
because their experience really represents
what makes our firm successful,” said marketing director Eric Majchrzak. “Knowing why
they choose us and stay with us becomes part
of our brand.” The interviews resulted in some
dominant feedback regarding Freed Maxick’s
integrity, which supported a new brand tag-line: “Trust Earned.” They also were pleased
to learn that clients value the firm’s commitment to community involvement, as well as
its consulting beyond tax and compliance.
ADDRESSING CLIENT CONCERNS
Jim Kraft, a partner at Lindquist, von Husen &
Joyce in San Francisco, preaches to staff that
technical skills must go hand in hand with
LvHJ conducted client interviews to create
client service standards. They also identified
the firm’s true market position and value.
The interviews validated that clients relied
on their technical skill and attention to detail
and deadlines. But the client feedback also
reminded Kraft that accountants can’t lose
sight of service in the deluge of work.
“It was a blessing to hear where we could
find ways to improve. The feedback was very
candid and it’s helped us strengthen long-term relationships in ways we wouldn’t oth-
STRENGTHENING THE RELATIONSHIP
John Edson, a partner with BPK&Z in Minneapolis, was surprised by comments from
a couple of long-term clients who weren’t
familiar with all of the firm’s services. “Since
those interviews, we ask clients questions
like, ‘Is there anything we’re not providing
now that we should?’ or ‘What keeps you
awake at night?’ It reveals new opportunities, especially when we’re considering a new
service offering,” he said.
BPK&Z also learned that its ideal relation-
ships begin with the owners of closely held
businesses, and are augmented by the chief
financial officers and internal accounting
staff. Going beyond expectations with those
audiences can strengthen their loyalty.
Dawn Wagenaar is chief operating officer
and co-principal of Ingenuity marketing
group in St. paul, minn. reach her at
email@example.com or (651)
side. That means doing at the beginning of
the process what the managing partner in the
example did toward the end: actively solicit
the partners’ opinion. In a small firm, that’s
relatively easy, but scale brings major difficulties. Which brings us to one of our more
obvious statements — managing partners
shouldn’t try to do everything themselves.
They need the help and support of the partners who can influence other partners’ behavior. Sometimes, that’s the partners in
managerial positions, but more often than
not, it’s the heavy-hitting client partners.
So, the MP’s first task is to get this group of
influential partners onside. That means getting them all together (in as many groups as
necessary and with the help of a facilitator
who understands professional services firms)
and getting their thoughts on the vision, the
how to, the milestones and the benefits.
;Getting the remaining partners onside.
The principle underpinning how to do this is
From page 40
exactly the same with the remaining partners
as it was with the influential group. With scale,
this means multiple groups in different locations, with the leadership of the individual
groups split between the managing partner
and members of the influential group. After
all of the groups have taken place and the
output been distilled, it’s critical that the MP
and the influential partners get together to
confirm the final story that will go out to the
partnership for final confirmation.
;What should a compelling vision contain? While we still see some visions that
talk about becoming the leading player in a
state or region, we are also seeing a real recognition that a vision is a lot more than the
statement we used to see firms use across accounting and the other professional services
sectors. The accompanying box (“Big visions,”
at right), for example, details the common
ideas from the visions of the Big Four firms.
As you can see, there are references to clients
and people, the two markets that every professional firm operates in, and the ways that
the firm endeavours to persuade people in
Common ideas in the visions of the
Big Four firms:
;Doing the right thing for our
clients, people and communities.
;Helping our clients improve
their business around the globe.
;Putting the best people at our
;Setting the standard/being the
best at everything we do.
;Inspiring others to compare
themselves to us.
;The way we work with our clients and each other.
;Being the best place to work.
;The quality of our professionals’
;Diversity of backgrounds, experience and minds.
;Responsible business is good
both markets to choose their firm, rather than
; The “how to” is as important as the
vision statement, if not more so. With so
many firms, not just the Big Four, trying to
do broadly the same thing, the focus immediately switches to the “how to” and to what
we all know — that success is an execution
game. The successful firms are the ones that
invest time and energy in getting their strategies right and making sure their people have
the capability to deliver them.
When it comes to engaging the partners,
the vision doesn’t have to provide the fine
detail of each of the strategies. But it does
need to provide the picture of what the firm
wants to build. No partner wants to know every single detail, but each partner expects,
and needs, to know the key moves the firm
will be making and what the implications are
on what they will be doing. So, if the firm is
planning to invest heavily in geographic expansion or growing a new service line, the
partners need to know the detail of the growth
See engagIng on 46