Relationships: What’s the Problem?
post # 443 — October 3, 2007 — a Client Relations, Strategy and the Fat Smoker post
Almost every firm (and individual professional) I know SAYS (and has said for a long time) that they want to build their strategy on having deep and broad relationships with key clients.
But the percentage of firms that have pulled this off is (in my experience) relatively small. I explore this in part in STRATEGY AND THE FAT SMOKER where I explore the fact that while firms say they want romance, too many firms still act in a transactional â€œletâ€™s win this oneâ€ mode.
But thereâ€™s more that needs to be said. Itâ€™s not enough to argue that relationships are a good thing, or even prove that they are economic. We must understand why they are difficult to pull off.
Hereâ€™s a preliminary list of some of the possible barriers:
- Many clients, in fact, donâ€™t want relationships. They prefer to buy on a transaction-by-transaction basis.
- Too many providers are not really trying to build a relationship, theyâ€™re just trying to sell more product and services — and clients can tell
- Firms or individuals are too short-term focused, overinvesting in short-term sales opportunities and underinvesting in long-term relationship-building: it’s a time allocation problem
- Senior professionals just donâ€™t have the time to invest in relationships: it’s a time problem
- Senior professionals are actually not that interested in clients: it’s an attitude problem
- Individuals are not skilled in earning clientsâ€™ trust: it’s a skill problem
- Internal barriers in firms — for example, excessive â€œsilosâ€ mean no incentive to create opportunities for colleagues to provide additional services to â€œyourâ€ clients: it’s a structural problem
- Lead professionals see it as too risky to introduce their colleagues — they worry that their own PERSONAL relationships would be threatened by any attempt to turn the relationship with a client into an INSTITUTIONAL relationship: it’s a quality or cultural problem
- Firms are not discriminating enough in selecting which client relationships actually have a chance at succeeding: they try to develop relationships with too many clients — they should focus more effort on fewer, carefully selected opportunities: it’s a focus problem
What would you add to the list? What do you think is the most common explanation of why most firmsâ€™ relationship strategies fail to succeed as often as they hope?
Bryan I. Schwartz said:
The biggest obstacle is a systemic one that is not aligned with strategy: origination credit. Perhaps the dumbest measurement in the history of professional service firms is deeply imbedded into the culture of law firms. The reason makes sense on the surface: service firms need to continuously get good and better clients becasue despite relationship building, clients merge, are sold or are liquidated. You don’t want a bunch of porch dogs so you want to incentify the hunters. This measurement is so counter-productive to collaboration and institutionalization of clients it is laughable. By far this is the biggest alignment obstacle I face. I cannot seem to rid our firm of this distraction because the market demands that it stay part of our instituion despite our attempts to minimize or marginalize its importance within compensation systems. Nobody will believe that we decrease its importance no matter how much we communicate that and back it up with action.
posted on October 3, 2007