Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A “Conversation” With Your Clients – Part 2

Congratulations! For so many of you whose professional life is driven by the Form 1040, I applaud your survival of the annual scramble to put four pounds of work into a two pound bag.

To continue the theme from the last post, I am writing from the perspective of a consultant who is suggesting some options you might consider to maintain a close relationship with your practice’s most valuable clients. This is important because- assuming other factors are essentially similar – client retention rates are greatly influenced by how the professional relationship is viewed from the client’s perspective. More contact is better and less is, well, worse.

Of course, you can overdo it, but we’re talking about 3 – 5 “quality” contacts a year as a nice base. This is enough contact to develop a real relationship – which will include some personal elements – as opposed to a professional, working only relationship. If your client is someone you meet with monthly or quarterly on a steady basis to, for example, review financials, you still need to ensure there is some personal time thrown into the equation. This can be a relaxed lunch, golf, attending a baseball game or the like.

The best way to do achieve and maintain connection with a client is to have an ongoing “conversation” with them. By “conversation,” I mean you find the means to engage them several times throughout the year. Some of these “touches” can be remote (e.g. send them an article relevant to their situation along with an accompanying note) or personal (e.g. have lunch together). The most important thing is that the touches not be “canned.” In other words, sending out the same Christmas card you send all your clients and contacts is not a touch as we’re using the word. It has no personal quality about it. However, if you sent the client a personalized card; addressed to them individually with a hand written note enclosed, that would pass the test.

What action steps might make up a well-crafted plan designed to accomplish this goal, and how do you know which clients you should select for this effort?

First of all, we know that not all of your clients are really important to the success of your practice. However, there is a minority that you consider to be really important. They may be valuable for several reasons, e.g. their annual billings are among the highest from your client base, they send you great referrals, they are expanding rapidly, they are a center of influence, etc.

My recommendation is that you select these special clients and develop a communication plan for each one. This doesn’t need to be as formal as it sounds, but it should include a number of touches spaced relatively evenly throughout the year. Suspend the plan in your (or a staff member’s) calendar so you will be reminded on a timely basis to, for example, invite Ted to a Charger’s game or Gail to lunch.

Maybe send a personal note of congratulations when Marsha’s son graduates from West Point or the local college. Or, make a habit of getting together with each of them right after tax season and have a “so-what’s-the-upcoming-tax-year-look-like” meeting. It’s a good time to talk about long term plans, goals and strategy. Generally these discussions get into personal aspects of the client’s life. It affords you an opportunity to weave the financial picture and personal elements together and make sure what you are doing for them really is helping the client get where they want to go monetarily and personally.

You are only limited by your imagination in terms of what are the most effective or desirable touches for each special client on your list. You’ll come up with good ideas so long as you make sure they aren’t cookie-cutter, formularistic or otherwise impersonal.

By becoming closer with these premium clients, you are creating the foundation for very long lasting and rewarding relationships characterized by excellent revenue, interesting work and long-term tenure.

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