“That’s been one of my mantras – focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex…” – Steve Jobs
Historically all but non-existent, Client Planning at legal and accounting firms has gone through a rapid metamorphosis to become one of the primary focus points for most businesses. Now, more than ever, Professional Service firms must tune into their clients’ business needs if they hope to survive in this increasingly competitive market.
However, in an effort to make up for lost time, many firms have jumped straight to complex planning processes. The plans often have limited relevance to their clients, take an inordinate amount of time to administer, and bear little fruit at the end of all that labour.
Taking it back to basics, and incorporating the following 5 steps, will ensure that you have a Client Planning process that improves your long-term client relationships and drives revenue growth:
1. Keep it Simple.
If a Client Plan is 26 pages long, people simply will not read it, let alone engage with it going forwards. Go back to the ‘plan-on-a-page’. Set out succinctly the core objectives that the team should deliver this financial year and the actual tasks required to deliver those strategic goals.
Make sure the objective are SMART, in particular making them measurable – lack of clear measurements is the single biggest point of failure in most firm plans. If an objective has no measure, then you don’t know what constitutes success or when you need to allocate more resources to support the delivery of that aim.
2. Think Like the Client.
The best firms involve their clients in the planning process. They mutually agree what the firm will focus on for the upcoming financial year, how this will be reviewed and how the relationship might develop into the future.
At a minimum, it is essential that the plan be written as if the Client will see the content. “Win more work from x client” might be your overall aim, but it is not an objective, in and of itself, that will get you where you need to be. Instead, focus on the areas in which the client operates and what you can do to help them be successful – more success for the client will lead to more revenue for your firm.
3. Regularly Review Progress.
We do not live in a static world. The geopolitical landscape, markets and individual client needs flux continuously, and the most successful firms are the ones that can be dynamic and adapt to the ever-changing environment in which they operate.
In a planning context, this means that your plans too should never be static. Once agreed at the outset of the year, regularly review progress to date, discuss relevant events as they occur and adapt the strategy where necessary to make the most of the various opportunities that arise.
4. Cross-pollinate the Relationship.
Client relationships are always stronger, longer-lived and more productive where multiple Practice areas, Departments or Offices within the firm are introduced and embedded into the relationship.
Just as importantly, there is now a growing body of evidence (most notably coming from the work that Professor Heidi Gardner has undertaken at Harvard Law School), which clearly shows firms that successfully collaborate around their clients generate far more revenue (and more profitable revenue) than those that choose to operate in silos.
5. Embrace Innovation.
Take a glance at most professional services firm websites and the word ‘Innovative’ will no doubt feature prominently. However, are firms truly pushing the boundaries of accepted wisdom in the industry, or is this just a buzz-word referenced because that’s what clients expect to see?
To genuinely innovate, firms must nurture a culture that promotes free-thinking, empowers individuals to voice new ideas and teaches people to be receptive to new concepts that will generally feel uncomfortable at first. Client Plans offer a great opportunity for embedding such a cultural change, from simply opening the planning process to ideas from different people, to building focussed objectives around innovating the products and services provided to clients.
In summary, Client Plans should be simple, focussed on the client, and supported by technology that facilitates regular review, cross-firm collaboration and innovation. If your current plans are lacking in any of these areas, it is likely that your Client Planning process is not exceeding client expectations nor delivering what your firm needs to be even more successful.
At ObjectiveManager, we have developed goal-setting software to help professional services firms and their people define strategy and improve performance through continuous feedback to power growth.
By simplifying the way firms conduct the entirety of their strategic planning from Sector/Client progammes to Partner Remuneration, we help them improve collaboration and optimise conditions for growth. Our innovative software turns individual gains into big business impact by making individual and firm-wide objectives visible, constant and actionable.