What state is your key client programme in?

Apr 16, 2010

It seems like a good time to ask.  Most of our clients are beginning to emerge from recessionary trauma: intact but trimmer.  During the tough times, we have all been glad of any work to come our way.  But now there is a growing sense that rebuilding requires focus and that the focus should be on our most important clients.

The problem is that very few firms had well run key client programmes before the recession – even fewer now.  Back then, the obstacles were largely the result of success.  We were all too busy and making good money without the additional burden.

Times have changed. We need a programme that works, and window dressing to tick the “key client” box will not suffice.

There are many reasons why key client programmes fail to deliver.  In a moment, I’ll reflect on our view of the key ingredients for successful programmes.  First though, an observation- something strange has happened!

Most key client programmes fail because they become, or even start as, a burdensome process which fails to bring the client’s voice into the organisation.  In the end, if your key client programme doesn’t make your clients feel more valued, it’s not working.  Numerous clients tell us just that.  They are indifferent to or oblivious of their advisers’ key client programmes.

Here’s the weird thing.  Many of those self same firms also conduct some sort of client research – not always good quality and too often compromised because it’s not independent – but nevertheless they do it.  Somehow the feedback doesn’t link up with the key client process.  They are treated as seemingly different things.

So let’s tear up the old way and put in place some new wineskins here.  The figure shows what we have in mind.

Develop an approach where the key client programme drives proper intelligence gathering.  Part of that (though by no means all) should be independent feedback from the client.  That feedback should be giving the key client team clarity over:

  • The client’s top of mind issues and concerns
  • How the client makes decisions (now, after reorganisations etc)
  • How your firm and the relationship handlers stack up at the moment
  • What is your share of wallet?
  • Where do you have permission to sell – what are the best opportunities?

These questions will not be honestly answered if it’s someone within your firm asking them.

And getting the feedback itself is not sufficient. Your firm needs a means of engaging the client team and doing things differently and better than your competitors.

And so our view of the critical success factors:

  1. The client voice must be heard
  2. The programme must have top down support and commitment. That means its progress must feature as a regular Board agenda item
  3. Accountability – the relationship manager/leader must operate as a team leader and be trained and empowered to do so.  They need to be held accountable for progress
  4. The team has to feel and function like a team (think if these were footballers, how would they work on the field)
  5. There needs to be a regular injection of energy and creativity

It’s a short list – and to deliver to it is a longer list of activities.

But looking at that list, let’s ask again the question we started with:  What state is your key client programme in?