Thinking about your business relationships, how close do you want to be with clients, prospective clients and advocates?

The following list suggests a number of distinctive levels of contact that you could have. It can be a mistake (as in, a waste of time) to expect recommendations and referrals from anyone before your contact level reaches a certain level.

0 – They don’t know you (even if you know someone in common)

1 – Met once/occasionally – they have only a limited knowledge and understanding of what you do. (Even if you have given them your business card!)

2 – Limited amount of fee-earning work done for them or for someone they know.

3 – There has been sufficient contact for them to recognise and be able to explain to others the value of the work that you can provide

4 – You have their vote. They know, like and trust you enough to recommend you unreservedly whenever the opportunity presents itself

5 – Things have moved on to become up-close and personal. You meet socially and do not always discuss any business related issues. DANGER area. Whilst a close relationship can be useful with advocates and fellow professionals it can work against you with clients.Of course you may value your client relationships more than the additional fees you waive as a consequence of your closeness.

I would suggest that there are at least two key points to take from this analysis:

The first is that you cannot really expect anyone to engage with you before they know you well enough to appreciate what you can do for them. How much effort do you make to move your business contacts upto levels 2, 3 and 4?

The second point is to show that in many cases it is fine to move clients only upto level 4 rather than all the way to level 5. Do you agree?

Can you see other potential issues with having all one’s key clients at level 5 relationships?

Another way of looking at this is by reference to Ian McKechnie‘s loyalty matrix.   He suggests we think of our clients in terms of which filing draw they are in within the RADIAN cabinet.

From the top down:
‘Referrers’ – these people you can call up to persuade others to buy your services, because they love what you do.

‘Advocates’ – will spread positive word-of-mouth about you to others. You need to work on these advocates to turn them into solid gold referrers.

‘Dedicated’ clients  –  have 3 attributes – regular use of your services, positive liking for them, ability to differentiate you  from your rivals. ‘

‘Involved’ clients  – use you but couldn’t describe your USP, so they are vulnerable to switching.

‘Aware’ clients  – lurk in the 5th drawer down, on the fringes of using you for additional services but never quite taking the plunge.

‘Not aware’ prospects  – don’t understand your offer and need educating as to what else you could be doing for them.

As Ian says, the trick is to find out who is in which drawer and adjust your marketing mix to raise them through the levels.

What too few accountants appreciate is that you cannot really expect any loyalty from clients who are merely ‘Involved’ or lower down in the cabinet.

What do you think? Please add your comments and views below.