If you’re still aiming for satisfied clients, you may be in for an unpleasant surprise. In the new sales economy, satisfaction is merely table stakes, says Accounting Today.
Satisfaction used to be the highest measure of success, and it’s still what many companies measure. But frankly, it has now become a lowest common denominator. Research from Gallup indicates that only 29 percent of clients are truly engaged with us. The other 71 percent could range anywhere from very satisfied to completely disengaged. These are the clients that can be swayed to move elsewhere.
There are some trends that contribute to increased expectations:
- Accelerated return on investment: Gone are the days when you could take six months to onboard a client and discover where to add value. You must deliver value much more quickly, and typically, within a quarter.
- Commoditization: Because clients have so much more access to information and choice, even the most specialized industries are feeling the pressures of commoditization. One of the biggest risks of commoditization is that factors like fee sensitivity can become a much greater part of the business development conversation. Your clients will default to fees every time, in the absence of understanding your business value.
- Less loyalty: Developing long-term client loyalty has become a greater challenge. Contributing factors include operational pressures and continual market changes. Even a 20-year relationship may be lost in an RFP situation. Leadership turnover at a client can mean a changing of loyalty, as well.
Enter the ambassadors
To win new business and grow the business within existing clients, there’s a next-generation skill set that accountants need to develop: the ambassador skill set. Ambassadors are a bridge; they’re the connector between their clients, their firms, their industries, and the greater community. They have a book of business full of those 29 percenters.
What sets an ambassador apart?
Ambassadors are especially skilled at creating:
- Lifetime value. Ambassadors balance the “win right now” and the “win for a lifetime” mindsets. The initial win is only the beginning of the relationship with a new client. The job becomes growing the relationship over time and keeping that client with them for the long term.
- Long-term loyalty. They take the time to know and track what their clients expect from the relationship. They either directly own that experience themselves, or they build the right relationships internally to make sure their peers create loyalty.
A loyal client feels an emotional connection to you and your firm. That loyalty pays off. The likelihood of selling to an existing loyal client is between 60 to 70 percent. The likelihood of selling to a new client is only 5 to 20 percent.
But what exactly does a loyal client look like? Do you have loyal clients, or is there work yet to do? Here are three traits of loyal clients to consider.
1. Loyal clients see you as a proactive and strategic advisor. If you’ve created a loyal client, they’ll consult you first when issues arise, because they know you’ll work with them to find the solution. They’ll also turn to you for ideas and guidance outside your area of expertise, because you’ve earned credibility. But even more than that, they trust that you’ll proactively reach out to them with ideas and insights for their business.
2. Loyal clients refer business to you. More than 80 percent of B2B decision makers start the buying process with a referral. In fact, referrals are one of the most successful forms of lead generation. Your prospective and active clients are consulting their network of peers for advice during their buying process, and that social proof is increasingly important to their decision.
3. Loyal clients buy on value and the overall experience. Your clients and prospects are becoming increasingly more sophisticated, and their expectations of value are much higher than in the past. Knowing what they value, and what’s important to them in partnering with your organization is a first step.