The Manager’s Guide to Effective Client Relationships
Client management is the cornerstone of any successful business, and nurturing existing relationships is just as important as bringing in new business. Managers are responsible for both, and by effectively doing so, can significantly aid in their organization’s productivity and advance their career.
Focus on Current Clients
A significant amount of time and financial investment can go into bringing on a new client. Focusing on prospects and expanding the business is fantastic, but it is even more imperative to not lose sight of existing clients. Current clients need to feel as important as the day they engaged with the firm, and it is up to managers — who are the face of the engagement team — to deliver stellar service to keeps clients happy. At Sax, we strive to ensure that every client feels like they are our only client, and that mindset has proven vital to retaining and growing our client base.
Effective client management is similar to waiting in the emergency room for your doctor to provide an update. When there is an issue, you want consistent updates to feel comfortable. This applies the same to your clients when they have an issue or questions that needs to be addressed. Even if the update is as simple as “nothing has changed, but we are continuing to work on it,” this open line of communication goes a long way to assuring a client that a resolution is on its way and that they are top of mind.
Manage the Engagement
The manager is arguably the most important person on an engagement. You’re tasked with managing the team in the field, providing constant updates to the client and ensuring the work is being completed on time and accurately. As this critical point person, you also need to have your eyes and ears open to any potential red flags and/or client growth opportunities. Red flags could be deadlines not being met, lapses in communication or the team not meeting their promised deliverables. In addition, the manager should always be looking for growth opportunities for their client, such as new tax strategies or credits, creating efficiencies in the internal controls process, or recommending new accounting or reporting software. These value-added suggestions go a very long way in setting you apart from your competition. By doing so, you prove that you are more than just a vendor, but rather a partner who is invested in the success of their business.
Become a Trusted Advisor
Once you become a trusted advisor for a client, you are a much more meaningful component to their business and therefore carry more weight in their decision-making process. This is not something that happens overnight, but rather over time and through demonstrated results and expertise that garners trust. Clients will call on you for advice and recommendations on business decisions that might expand beyond accounting or finance. These are the clients you will have for life.
Each advisor in our firm has a chart at their desk that illustrates the road from a vendor to a trusted advisor and what each level means to a client. We constantly evaluate each client against this chart with the hope that we’ll ultimately get every client to consider Sax that valuable in their business. While all clients need to have accounting and tax compliance completed annually, the value we can deliver to our clients through an advisory role is nearly limitless. Saving clients money and reducing liabilities by proactively identifying opportunities and/or suggesting various strategies is really the goal of every client relationship.
Setting proper expectations is critical. If you under-promise and over-deliver, you’ll always be successful. If you commit to a deadline, don’t be afraid to submit the work a week or even a month early. Not only will your client be impressed you’ve prioritized their company, but it’ll go a long way in solidifying the long-term relationship. Each client wants to feel like a priority, and no one wants to worry whether their work will be completed by the deadline. Clients should never have to worry. Communicate on your deliverables, be honest if expectations cannot be met and be vocal when issues arise. Talk to the client about their timeline before committing to a date. Having that open dialogue and coming to mutual agreements on deliverable goes a very long way to ensuring you’re able to service your client to the highest level possible.
Excellent client management is important to any business, but it’s vital to a professional service industry like accounting. The happier your clients are, the less attrition the firm will experience, which leads to longer client relationships, more referrals to the firm, a better reputation in the market, an increased chance of attracting new talent to the firm, increased stability on engagement teams, and so much more.
John Z. Murphy
John Z. Murphy is the head of business development at Sax LLP. He is responsible for increasing overall revenue and client service for the firm and works directly with senior management to secure new business opportunities that aid in productivity and overall growth.