Many firms are realising that they should invest more effort into building relationships with important and profitable clients. Most firms will have a high proportion of business with only 20 – 30 clients. These clients obviously need a lot of love and they need to know what else you can offer them! But how can firms get partners to really adopt best practices in key account management?
I’ve run the key account programme for one of the global consulting firms and set up the programme at one of the top 20 law firms. I’ve consulted to other firms more recently. Here are some tips for equipping partners with the requisite skills:
- Partners will need to training in some of the skills in developing relationships. A lot of training is delivered in isolation. For it to pay back the training should be linked to strategy. Every partner must know what part they are playing in achieving the objectives of the firm and of their practice group.
- It will be useful to include some kind on personality diagnostic in the training. This helps participants know how people are different and what they might need to do more of or less of to build rapport with different client types. It will also guide the facilitator you use to know what type of intervention will work best for each individual ie group training,1-1 coaching, etc
- Any external facilitator you use must know the business development processes that the firm uses. Each component of the sales cycle needs to be understood eg targeting, assessing needs, getting meetings with target clients, first meetings, proposal writing, presenting, negotiating etc. A good trainer will check that all these systems work well before running any workshops. The training should come after the processes are embedded.
- Include key stakeholders in the design of any intervention – buy-in and sponsorship are critical factors for success. Programmes should have full involvement from the internal BD function
- Be clear about how you will measure the success of a key account programme. Most organisations have one measure, typically how much the fee income has grown! But it’s more helpful to recognise that this is an output. Such an output will be delivered if we focus on getting the inputs right. The kind of things I suggest measuring are:
- Number of relevant BD events attended,
- Number of presentations at conferences/seminars,
- Articles published
- Blog posts
- Face to face BD meetings
- Number of meetings introducing other partners
- Strength of relationships with key opinion formers (one client uses a 10 point scale)
- Number of pitches and pitch win rate
6. Market and product knowledge are essential elements of becoming a ‘Trusted Adviser’. BD skills training will help your people become much better at asking questions designed to get below the water line of the client’s world. Partners are unlikely to make much progress unless they can add real value by demonstrating their knowledge of the market and trends. My suggestion is that partners should always have prepared five topics to discuss when they have BD meetings
7. Leadership and management are other crucial elements to success. Too many firms think that half a day BD training will convert partners into super talented BD specialists – it doesn’t! The training must be one component of a more holistic approach to developing people and forming new habits and that involves on-going coaching and mentoring by the leadership team – as well as the senior partners leading by example. The board might also consider having 6 month reviews with key account partners to ensure progress is being made.
Finally I know a lot of firms need to cut back on spending. However I can think of no other area that is more likely to lead to improved business performance.
If you want more on this important topic, here’s a link to some useful research I’ve done with top firms: