Your firm has just closed a deal. Someone is tasked with writing the press release. They start in the traditional manner.
Partner A is proud to have led a team at [firm] advising [client] on ……
The more client-centric firms will go further and include a line or two congratulating the client. The client team duly shares it, they might even tag in the client in their social media posts.
What is wrong with this, you might ask? Nothing, fundamentally. The firm is rightly proud of their achievements and they want to thank their internal team. They are no doubt pleased for the client too.
We recently saw a social media post that sparked a debate about whether such a press release was a good idea. Was there a better way it asked? The conclusion was that there was indeed a better way (jump to the end if you want to see what that was). A way that the client might prefer.
The debate did not go into what was driving this type of post in the first place, beyond the superficial. Arguably though, it is a product of a client-centric approach. One where the firm puts the client at the heart of what they do. Let us explain.
What's wrong with being client-centric?
Whilst there is nothing fundamentally wrong with being client-centric, we believe that it is time for firms to be more than that. If so many professional services firms are putting the client at the heart of what they do, why do so many clients still come back with the same complaints? “They don’t understand my business”, “they lack commerciality”, “they don’t seem to be active in our sector”, “they aren’t listening to us”.
Perhaps the time has come for professional services firms to Client Partner instead.
Now, many firms will say that they do partner with their clients, they may even be the same firms who also say they are client-centric. However, we believe that there is a fundamental difference between the two concepts.
Let us think about what being a partner might mean or look like. Partnering means that you are engaged in an activity together. There is a relationship. Both parties walk the same path. This can be compared with a client-centric approach. This is often defined as where a firm designs services with the client in mind.
What’s the difference, isn’t this just semantics?
Let’s take diagram A -
And B -
In diagram (A) the grey represents the client, the pink represents the firm. The white dot in the middle represents the client’s stakeholders.
In diagram (B) the white in the middle still represents the client’s stakeholders, it’s larger for a reason, which we will explain below. That’s not the only difference, the firm and the client are as one.
In a client-centric approach, we put the client at the heart of what we do. They are the centre of our focus. However, they are separate from us. Whilst we have them firmly in our line of sight, we rarely look beyond them to think about the impact that our service or solutions might have on their stakeholders. Those might be our client’s customers, shareholders, or even the broader impact they have in society. They are there, and we might try and look at them through our client’s lens, but they are one-step removed from us.
In a client partnering model, we walk the same path as our client. We are as one. We don’t have them in our line of sight they are elevated to the same level of us. To steal from Capitan Corelli, our roots become entwined. What does this mean for their stakeholders? It means that they become visible to us. They become our stakeholders. Their importance is elevated. In a sense, they are at the heart of what we do. Hence the larger circle!
When we have a clearer view of our client’s stakeholders, we can add deeper value to our clients. Why? Our client’s stakeholders are those who our client’s seek to serve, be it through their dealings or through their products or services. By partnering with our clients, we can think through problems and solutions in a way that will strengthen their web of connections, and we are doing so from a different perspective. Their success or failure becomes ours.
Let’s think about that press release again. What did those commenting on the post agree was a better solution? It was something like:
“Congratulations to [client] for [deal] …..”
We could go further still and add
“that will add increased value to [it’s] clients and the community it serves.”
Here the sub-text might be “we were delighted to be a part of this.”
Whilst subtle, this shift in perspective helps deliver what so many clients are still asking for: co-collaboration.