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The 4 Cs to Help You Become a Client Champion

Nigel Clark, Editor of the Professional Services Marketing Handbook, Explains How to Increase the Impact and Influence You Have on Your Firm as a 'Client Champion'

In the Professional Services Marketing Handbook, recently published by Kogan Page, we argue that with clients now asking for more from their professional services advisers, there is the opportunity for marketing and business development (MBD) professionals to take on a new role in their firms as a ‘Client Champion’. For us a Client Champion is someone who really understands and represents the views of the client and, therefore, is ideally placed to help shape and deliver the complete client solution and experience. These are professionals whose instinctive response to any opportunity or issue is “What is the best outcome here for the client and how do we shape a solution to maximise mutual benefit?”

This is a big step up for most MBD professionals and a significant change from the typical roles of ‘discipline specialist’ or ‘relationship guide’, which we also talk about in the book.

If you are up for increasing the impact and influence you have on your firm and want to become a Client Champion then here are 4Cs to help you on that journey:

C1: Competence – the core of a professional

Professional services are titled as such, not because other services are inherently unprofessional, but because there is a culture and heritage of professionalism across the various sectors: law, accountancy, surveying etc. based on standards, usually established by law or governing bodies. It is these standards that set the rules of engagement and underpin the professions’ profile of high standards, prices and rewards.

Critically, competence in the professions is not judged purely on current advice or performance. It has greater tangibility and substance built on qualification, life-long study and proven experience.

As a MBD professional you should seek to match that ‘professionalism’ and demonstrate equally a portfolio of competence. If the importance of planned and committed marketing and business development is still questioned in some firms – especially when it concerns dealing directly with clients – then your hand will only be strengthened if you can demonstrate a body of competence to match any lawyer, accountant or surveyor.

C1 Action: Build and invest in your body of competence. Demonstrate your advice is based on best practice, current learning, experience and precedent.

C2: Connection – more than just a combination of Communication or Content

If you have established your Competence, both within and outside your firm, then your second consideration on your road to being a Client Champion should be Connection. In the Professional Services Marketing Handbook we dedicate a whole section to the theme of connecting.

MBD professionals see themselves as great communicators. Marketers in particular are often pigeon-holed as ‘communicators’ and sometimes feel most comfortable when asked just to advise on and manage communications and public relations (PR). Some corporate communications however have quite rightly received a bad press (literally!) as firms look as if they’re just showing off or ‘shouting’ at their audience. This impression tarnishes the reputation of MBD professionals.

One MBD response has been to obsess about content: making sure your message is underpinned by original thought and insight. The concept of ‘thought leadership’ has come right to the fore in recent years. Strong, original content is important, but it still risks generating communications that are one-way. It may no longer be ‘shouting’, but ‘thought leadership’ doesn’t always stress the importance of a two-way conversation and the value in making a Connection.

Connection is important because it underpins mutually beneficial relationships. Conversations and exchanges that consider both parties’ circumstances and drive shared outcomes.

You may be able to demonstrate Competence, you may even have the best available content shaped through expert communications skills, but if you can’t establish a Connection – whether inside your firm with a partner or director or outside with a client – then you won’t succeed in your ambition to be seen and deliver as a Client Champion.

C2 Action: Identify your key relationships, both inside and outside the firm, and work deliberately at building your connections with those individuals. Really understand their agenda and make it your goal to help them achieve that.

C3: Client-centric – an ugly word that explains a beautiful concept

Client-centric, client-focused, client first……I have even heard of one firm adopting a ‘Client Only’ strategy. These are all similar concepts that have been taken up in one form or another by most professional services firms in recent years.

But what does client-centric really mean and if all firms have adopted the approach wholesale, why would any firm need their MBD professionals to profess an ambition to become a ‘Client Champion’? Surely that role is either already taken or redundant because it’s embedded in everyone’s job description?

Despite this wave of client-centric strategies, I would challenge most partners / directors and their firms to confirm their instinctive response to any opportunity or issue is, as asked above, “What is the best outcome here for the client and how do we shape a solution to maximise mutual benefit?”

I still think most firms and their leaders are inherently internally focused and approach any opportunity or issue from the perspective of the ideal solution for the firm, not the client. For more on this see my recent article “ Cross-Selling: Be a Client Champion By Taking an ‘Outside-In’ Approach”.

That is why I think the ‘Client Champion’ role is needed – to pull the needle on the scale back towards the client’s interests and identify mutually beneficial solutions. That role could be performed by anyone, but I think MBD professionals are perfectly positioned and skilled.

C3 Action: Identify client opportunities and issues and practise developing ‘Client Champion’ responses. Test those responses on your key relationships (Connections) and test whether they share your Client Champion views.

C4: Culture – always the hardest C

I have been party to conversations about changing culture that skip through the subject so easily that you would think it is as easy and straightforward as changing a light bulb!

Culture is complex, multi-faceted and difficult to grasp. It’s a bit like a cloud of smoke: you can see it but you can’t get hold of it. And if you try, it will only frustrate you.

One senior partner I had the pleasure of working for held the view that the more you try to describe and capture in words a firm’s culture, the less tangible and distinctive it became. At the time I said the firm needed a statement of values, he said we didn’t: he won! I now agree with him.

However, if the culture of your firm or of your client relationships does not embrace the concept of a ‘Client Champion’: or that culture cannot envisage how a MBD professional can contribute to that role, then you have a problem. You can be the ideal ‘Client Champion’, but culture will blind people to your contribution.

That will be frustrating, but while culture is hard to change it can and will over time. And you can be an agent of that change. Be ambitious and positive, but accept that change takes deliberate, reinforcing actions over a period of time. You will also need other champions for change in the firm, so seek out other positive influencers to help lead the charge!

C4 Action: Identify and test objectively whether your firm is ready for you as a ‘Client Champion’. Plan actions and milestones and work with others to help you move from where you are today to where you want to be.

Learn more about how to build relationships, grow your firm and become a client champion by reading the Professional Services Marketing Handbook.

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