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The Developing Role of the Client Manager in Professional Services

Within international professional services firms, the role of the Client Manager is still developing, where responsibility is given for global Clients and/or sectors. Some firms call the role Strategic Client Manager. Experience has shown that having such a focus on the development of specific Clients leads to improved business results.

When selecting Clients for strategic investment and treatment, it is useful to review their level of satisfaction with your firm. 'Satisfied' Clients are those giving average scores when surveyed; the firm is likely to retain that Client at a certain gross margin level. 'Delighted' Clients are usually buying many services and this usually results in higher than average margins. 'Enchanted'

Clients are real advocates of your firm and generate higher margins. These are usually those with the highest Net Promoter Scores.

Other strategic Client selection factors include whether the Client is in a sector where your firm has an excellent reputation, the potential income expected over the next 5-10 years and related gross margin potential.

A strategic Client manager, or partner, usually leads a team, comprised of those specialists who can be made available to provide solutions for Clients across the service range. If your firm is considering investment in strategic Clients, it will require managers who are responsible for a small portfolio of Clients. Here is an example of the desired attributes of such a role.

Role Description for a Strategic Client Manager in a Professional Services Firm

• Responsible for the achievement of a broadening of the firm's offering in the Client, requiring visible and dynamic activity; it is effectively a general management role.

• Unable to hide. It is clearly apparent who is in charge of coordinating activities across the firm. It is therefore a high-risk role.

• Limited in direct authority. This varies according to the Strategic Client Manager's position, but it is usually necessary to negotiate for resources and support from a wide network of people inside and outside the firm.

• Expected to cut across normal organisational boundaries and Clients and needs to be unconventional in approach; dealing with resistance or opposition is very demanding.

• Often working in new areas for the firm - new technology, new markets or new approaches to old situations. The unknown and unpredictable will often be feared by many in the mainstream of the firm's organisation. Credibility in the Manager role starts at a low level and may need to be built up.

Overall role: a relationship builder

• Responsibility for profitable revenue maximisation and growth of a portfolio of selected Clients (strategic/key accounts) across the firm.

• Co-ordination and tailoring of the firm's total offering to key accounts through Client knowledge, DMU analysis, Client surveys and Client account planning.

• Facilitation of multi-level, multi-functional contact to achieve the appropriate level of relationship with Clients over an agreed time period.

• Championing the Client management approach within the firm.

• Communicating Client interest in the firm's approach within the firm.

• Regular communication of results achieved through review meetings.

• Management of stakeholders and the performance of individuals not reporting directly to the Strategic Account Manager.

Typical competences

• Team leadership ability.

• Sufficient knowledge of the firm's overall competences to be able to increase work scope when opportunities arise and sell the benefits of the firm's solution.

• Interpreter of Client's culture, values, needs and priorities.

• The ability to develop, communicate and implement a succinct Client account plan.

• Diplomacy and other political skills to assess the readiness of parties to work together.

• Negotiator for resources to ensure the best available account team is established.

• Consultant on business issues affecting the relationship.

• Information broker, including of understanding of open-book working.

• The ability to locate areas of added value to increase Client's and firm's margins (and firm's cash flow/profile).

• The ability to make things happen without constant reference to head office.

Skills of the strategic client manager

• The ability to assess the current stage of a Client relationship and select appropriate approach and account team members.

• Understanding the potential level and scope of the relationship which could be developed and agreeing with the Client the stages of taking this forward.

• The ability to understand the Client's business to identify the areas where the firm can add value.

• Presentation of a differentiated offer, justifying it to match the Client's objectives.

• Agreeing how increased value to the Client translates into improved profitability for the firm.

• Developing specific account teams and plans.

Strategic Client Managers are expected to prepare and present plans to develop relationships and business with their Clients. In the following tool box there is an example of the format for a plan and a bidding/proposal process, followed by a specimen plan.

FORMAT OF A STRATEGIC CLIENT PLAN

• Executive summary.

• Client profile.

• Income history.

• Market analysis.

• Competitive comparison.

• Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats analysis of Client situation.

• Assumptions for the future.

• Objectives.

• Strategies.

• Action programme.

• Client reviews.

Strategic Client plans must be signed off at senior level and should cover:

• Executive summary of why the Client is selected for relationship development.

• Business issues faced by the Client related to the firm.

• Critical success factors to win business with the Client, including necessary strategic alliances with third party influencers.

• Client profile, including an analysis of the decision making unit and needs / priorities of its key members.

• Details of the firm's recommended offering, including clear statements of how the firm will be differentiated from its competitors.

• Strategic Client Manager's expectations of support needed from various management levels (Board downwards) in the firm.

 
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