Running Out of Rapport?

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IMGCAP(1)]Business strategy means a lot to firms nowadays. Growth from new clients is stagnant at best at many firms these days. Your main initiative is to fend off the constant raiding of your customer base by smaller firms offering lower prices, or larger firms soliciting your partner base to join them and bring their clients with them.

If the planned strategy of a firm is correct, any number of tactical leadership mistakes will not impact the overall success of its mission. What is strategy? And what is your strategy? And how do you implement it?

There are myriad of definitions of strategy. Heck, I even have one in my vocabulary book for partners, but regardless of what definition you use, it all comes down to what vision you have for your clients.

What? Do I mean the firm’s strategy is not some chess-board play to get growth by acquisition of other firms? No, your strategy depends upon your vision for your clients, but getting all the partners to think in that direction is a significant hurdle for the managing partner because each partner has his or her own hooks of “rapport” with the client they manage. It is obvious. Who knows best what the vision for the clients should be, but the partner who acts as the authority on the client? That should be an absolute truth, but then why don’t we have significant growth for each client? We must need more rapport!

Maintaining growth in a firm is the apparent problem, not the real problem, but what can you expect from a profession so specialized as the CPA profession? Just look at the cross-section of Web sites between your own site and those of your top five competitors.

Other than the webmaster’s magic in graphics, is there any difference in the services you offer on your Web site than what the other five offer, whether it’s in taxes, audit, business advisory, wealth management, etc. Oh, here’s one that’s a bit different, so I click on “Complete Business Solution” and what comes up? Taxes, audit, business advisory, wealth management! Hmmmmmm….

No, the real problem is that the firm does not have a strategy that places the persona of your client at the heart of new services. As the economy starts to finally grow for all businesses, the strategy of most firms is to contemplate how many more hours of tax, audit and financial services they can extricate from the clients during this growth. This is based upon the rapport which the partner has with the CEO of each client company.

Here’s the true skinny. Your clients are just recovering from the Great Recession and are beginning to plan and scheme for growing their products and services within their markets, so what is your firm’s vision of services to help them? More Taxes-Taxes, Audit-Audit, Business Advisory-Business Advisory, etc? I can just hear the CEOs of your best clients saying, “Give me a break. I’m running as fast as I can and I don’t need more financial services?”

So what IS your strategy? What is your long-term vision for services that will help your clients and at the same time insulate your firm from the marauding pirate firm that is selling the same service at a 40 percent lower cost to the client? More Bulls or Lakers tickets? More rapport?

Your client is embarking on a growth path that is fraught with risk, without the management depth to pull off maximum growth, or a formal strategic initiative in writing to ensure success, and you sit there with the firm’s strategy of building more rapport with all the same Web site services.

Or, what about all those clients you have under your “Wealth Management” mantra? Most are owners of their own small businesses and over 62 years of age and preparing to exit somehow. Is your strategy to fill the need they have for succession merely a financial solution again, when the founder needs help in transitioning his son or daughter to the CEO role? No, utilizing the same services with more rapport doesn’t hack it.

The strategic problem for firms is resolved by identifying the growth persona of each of your clients, and providing them with the services that will control that growth or allow the company to continue to be successful in any transition.

Here is where the managing partner comes in, because that gets into a new vision of the firm itself, and remaking the structure and attitude that each partner has for all the firm’s clients, and not just his or her own.

That is what strategy is all about for the firm in the 21st Century, because without such a strategy the firm will just be another vendor of private label services of tax, audit etc. And as we all know from the supermarket, private labels all look and taste the same.

Greg Weismantel is president of Epic Group, a management consulting firm and advisor on strategy for small and large firms and companies. It partners with clients to identify their primary driving force while recognizing strategic opportunities of their markets, products and services that will deliver the highest value for ongoing growth and sustainability. Epic is a management consulting firm and advisor on strategy for small and large firms and companies.

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