In a recent strategic account planning workshop, I asked the attendees to write down the firm’s three-year vision for the firm-client relationship. Some wrote a financial target, others a net promoter score and the rest were wishy washy measures of relationship strength. To me the lack of clarity and consensus around the vision for the relationship was a problem. Not being on the same page did not augur well for effective execution of the plan.
So, I ask you. Is there a clear and agreed vision for each of your firm’s top 10 client relationships?
While ‘vision’ is the convention, I prefer the idea of articulating a ‘mantra’, that is, your firm’s overall strategic intent expressed in a few words or a short phrase. A mantra can be both a future desired state (like a vision) or a description of a more immediate strategic focus. It’s a more flexible concept that can cover both outcomes as well as inputs.
When used well, a mantra can be a powerful rallying cry that inspires and activates all the troops. It can become the equivalent of the motto underneath the crest worn on your school/university/club blazer that binds the client community and shapes behaviour.
Mantras for mature relationships
Mantras for established client relationships will often reflect a strategic intent of protecting and preserving the relationship. Some examples might be:
- Brickwall the relationship – there should be a ‘brick wall’ around the client with us on the inside i.e. no-one must get an opportunity to take our slice of the action.
- Daylight – there should be a huge gap between us and the next competitor in terms of service delivery and client perceived value.
- Manage for margin – while there is little revenue growth potential every effort should be made to lower cost-to-serve and limit discounting.
- Make Procurement love us just as much – Procurement’s role in the next panel reappointment will be crucial; we need need to understand their value drivers and deliver on all of these.
- KPI kings – we should lead on all the client’s KPIs in assessing their suppliers.
Mantras for growing relationships
Mantras for growing relationship will often reflect a strategic intent of expansion. Some examples might be:
- 2 in 2 – our two-year target is to grow revenue to $2 million across all practices and offices.
- Ticks and crosses – ticks in current services and cross selling of service lines A, D and F.
- Fight ’em on the beaches – a full-frontal attack with all our energy and resources to go from provider #3 to #1.
- Zippered from top to bottom and side to side – strive for strong productive personal relationships across the organisation with the relevant people in our firm.
- Soul-searched, Sole-sourced – get much closer to our client to ensure less of our work is contested.
In my experience, the process of identifying options and agreeing on the preferred words is almost as important as the mantra itself. This process flushes out different stakeholders’ perspectives and engenders a degree of ownership of the final outcome. These perspectives are better out than in!
One might argue that having an overarching mantra for a large, multi-faceted relationship can over-simplify something that is complex and sophisticated. In this instance, the mantra would likely be too broad and bland to be useful. This argument might ring true but I often find it’s an excuse for  being lazy in a creative sense, or  the stakeholders not being able to agree on the underlying strategic intent. If needed, one can take a complex relationship and break it down into manageable parts and agree the intent and mantra for each of these parts.
Call to action
Take out a copy of the plan for one of your firm’s critical client relationships. Read the executive summary. Try for yet another higher level of synthesis. If can you encapsulate the strategic intent in a short phrase or in a word you’ve probably stumbled on a really useful mantra. Start sharing it, living it and loving it.