Turning Clients Into Advocates Can Make You A True Winner
by Byron G. Sabol
There are various paradigms that individuals follow to build and sustain a profitable business practice. For some practitioners, being recognized as a technical expert and maintaining that status is their ideal model. Technical expertise is important, but much less so in today’s market. Studies continue to show that the vast majority of purchasers of professional services do not have the knowledge to adequately judge technical quality. As the managing partner of a client firm told me: “When prospective clients come to us, we do not talk about how good we are. That is a given in the minds of clients today”.
Today’s model continues to shift from technical expert to a much broader set of skills that will benefit not only clients, but also service professionals. Technical expertise is the foundation of this model. Upon this technical knowledge is built the focal points for the service professional interested in building a profitable practice.
The model calls for the fee earner to increase the number of individuals he or she can claim as an advocate. An advocate is one who not only has great confidence in the fee earner’s technical skills, but also values the service professional’s business acumen. Turning clients into true advocates is one of the most efficient means for building and sustaining successful practice. Advocates feel comfortable in introducing the fee earner to those who can use the fee earner’s services. The advocate says favorable things about the service professional without the professional even knowing it. The coach is one who opens the door within his own organization for the professional to meet others who may have a need for his services or for the services of others within the professional’s firm. A coach is one who the service firm professional can ask for help in meeting targeted prospects. Three is a very important maximum I have observed from working for clients in three continents: The more advocates one has, the more money he or she makes.
To develop clients into advocates requires that the fee earner add value to their relationship. Identifying methods for adding value becomes more apparent when the service professional understands the client’s business agenda and his or her personal agenda. What does this client want to achieve in his capacity as CEO, Managing Director, Financial Director, etc.? What does she want to achieve on a personal level for her company, division, or department? Where does she want her career to take her in the next three years? Knowing how to help the client achieve these objectives produces the kind of utility that clients value. Introducing clients to deal makers and influentials, or providing information unique to his or her business/industry are examples of activities clients value.
Understanding the mission or the strategic direction of the client company is an important step within our paradigm. Many company leaders, including those who I have interviewed on behalf of my service firm clients, consider that knowing the client company mission is the most important criteria they use when considering outside service providers. Demonstrating knowledge of not just talking about a client’s mission is one important way for the service provider to separate himself from the competition.
Providing clients with business counsel is another important step in this paradigm. This counsel goes above and beyond typical discussion of client work projects. Providing clients with information and advice having little, if anything, to do with one’s technical expertise is business counsel. Responding to client inquiries that call upon the service professional’s business judgment and experience is counsel that separates the technician from business counselor.
Not all clients become advocates. Those who do, make building a successful practice all the more enjoyable and all the more profitable.