As featured in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin on July 19, 2018
Attorneys and accountants are undergoing a seismic shift from being technical specialists to business problem-solvers. Professional services marketers — like Esther Bowers, Director of Client Service Initiatives from Barnes & Thornburg LLP, and Brian Duffy, Regional Sales Leader, Midwest market, at Grant Thornton — are helping their firms accomplish the former. Below, they share their perspective and advice to others facing this challenge.
The need to be client-centric
Attorneys and accountants are trained to be technical, subject-matter specialists. They advise and provide counsel on specific issues and are trained to solve a specific problem or mitigate a specific risk.
These specialized technicians are now being challenged to apply their expertise in a new way: to become more generalist in their approach, and to be a “business solutions provider” who can predict, analyze and solve a client’s business need, ideally before the client knows it is an issue.
They have to change the way they brand and describe what they do, both internally within their firms and externally to their clients. What they do has to speak to and resonate with their clients — who are the ones demanding this change — not just to an attorney’s or accountant’s own insider language.
Being a business solutions provider is what these technical professionals must be. This is a profound shift for most attorneys and accountants. And few are making the shift with ease.
Role of marketers in this change
As a professional services marketer, you are primed to help your technical professionals be a business solutions provider. One of your main roles is to help them refocus to be client-centric and help them achieve that status.
Barnes & Thornburg is a law firm with nearly $400 million annual revenue, more than 1,000 personnel and 14 offices in the United States.
Bowers was one of a few chosen professionals to lead and instill client-centric efforts. This has seen Barnes & Thornburg through higher and consistent revenue growth than many of its AmLaw peers, despite a mostly flat market for legal service buyers.
Bowers said the key to this success is offering clients practical and holistic problem-solvers who are successful because they are “asking, understanding and then communicating the client’s business and legal objectives and keeping them front and center with everyone who touches that client.”
Grant Thornton is an audit, tax and advisory firm with $1.74 billion annual revenue, more than 8,000 personnel and 59 offices in the United States.
Duffy contributes to the firm’s go-to-market strategy and how a one-firm approach is part of instilling a client-centric approach.
He said his professionals need to be “problem-solvers for their clients’ most challenging issues. Whether it’s compliance (i.e. they don’t have a choice) or about strategic and organic growth, we must distinguish ourselves in the marketplace and assist in managing threats and risks within their business.”
Being client-centric is not a choice, it is the way attorneys and accountants need to behave in order to keep their clients and attract potential new clients.
Bowers points out that a “team-based and collaborative approach with the firm provides the best opportunities for client institutionalism.”
Duffy notes that they’ve moved beyond fee discussions with their clients, to a place where clients “trust us as fiduciaries of their money” to be out in front of their business challenges and help them avoid potential risks.
While some firms have already completed this transition, few empower their marketers to be an active participant on that client account. Simply maintaining or reacting to a potential client need or lead is not the same thing as helping to steer and control the experience a client has with the attorneys or accountants.
How can we move this forward?
Duffy said that at Grant Thornton it is about instilling a behavior: “On the journey to get to that point of trusted adviser status with our clients, one thing we do and instill in our people, is the importance of being engaging listeners. We teach them to ask thoughtful questions that are relevant to their business and their challenges.”
He said anyone can have a pleasant conversation about something generic. But there’s “an art to being conversant in relevant topics and tying that back to their business.” This behavior is now part of the Grant Thornton culture and helps with its one-firm approach at the frontline with clients. This allows the firm to deliver to their clients the best resources in the firm to address their needs.
Bowers says that Barnes & Thornburg have similar practices, and transparency from both sides is fundamental: “There is an overwhelming need for both firms and clients to share more information and have enhanced communication to deepen relationships.
“The two groups desire more collaboration but the first step is greater transparency which can lead to innovation and solutions.” This practice allows each side to share, learn and ask the right questions to achieve the client-centric model.
She said this means that a “client management approach includes understanding the primary drivers of value for specific clients and what we are doing to deliver.”
What does all of this mean for professional services marketers?
Bowers offered this:
Duffy offered this:
And I’ll add this for the marketers who are less experienced than Bowers and Duffy:
Whatever approach or practice resonates with you and your current environment, you can always rely on certain questions to help shift an attorney’s or accountant’s mindset to refocus on client-centricity. Help your attorneys and accountants with these ideas:
Being a business solutions provider is the next frontier. You, as professional services marketers, are perfectly positioned to help your attorneys and accountants reach this client status.
Kate Harry Shipham is the Principal of KHS People LLC, an executive search firm for BD and marketing people in professional services firms. Kate has done search and recruiting for nine years and prior to that was an attorney.