by August Aquila and Bruce W. Marcus
Publisher: Wiley (August 4, 2004)
Buy from Amazon.com
Most books on professional services marketing focus on how to advertise or put up a website to market your business. With Client at the Core, consultants August Aquila and Bruce Marcus have written a book that goes a step further.
In the preface, the authors establish what this book is not about – “The professional world doesn’t need another book on how to write a press release or write a brochure or run a seminar.”
Instead, they choose to focus on what a professional services firm must do to attract clients and survive in the modern, constantly changing marketplace.
Structure Your Firm To Meet Client Needs
Client service lies at the heart of every successful business, yet firms often struggle to obtain clients and fulfill their needs. Today’s clients demand greater sophistication and skill – and application of those skills – by professionals who understand their clients’ business needs. And because clients are more informed, they no longer accept a professional’s advice without question.
How can firms attract clients to develop a thriving practice? The authors mention that there are 2 options: either firms can randomly take on clients and build their services to fit those clients’ needs or they can meticulously define their market, focus their skill set around meeting the needs of that market, and then go after clients in that particular market.
Only firms that structure themselves around the latter will succeed and grow. A jack-of-all-trades firm who tries to be everything to everyone will never achieve mastery in one area – and therefore will always lose out to those who specialize.
How do you become a specialized firm? The book blends just the right amount of strategy with practical, how-to implementation as it leads you through the process of defining your market, the prospects you want to do business with, your criteria for growth, your firm’s vision and objectives, and your marketing plan. Every firm out there would benefit by reading these sections.
Managing Larger Professional Service Firms
For larger firms, one of the biggest challenges is getting everyone in the firm on the same page. This can be especially difficult because there isn’t much of a marketing tradition in law and accounting firms – marketing one’s services has only been legal since the Bates decision in 1977 – and even now, many professionals dislike the idea of prospecting, marketing and selling.
To make matters worse, it’s extremely difficult for someone other than the service provider to close the sale and convert prospects into clients – the professional must be involved so that he or she can establish a trusted working relationship before the project begins. So how can you gain support from your associates, partners, and other knowledge workers?
Aquila and Marcus propose a three step approach:
- Each person in the firm must know the results you are looking for
- Management must discuss with each person what they must do to achieve results
- Individuals that achieve their results must be rewarded
They also endorse Robert Kaplan and David Norton’s Balanced Scorecard to measure the firm’s overall performance and success. (If you’re not familiar with the Balanced Scorecard Approach, the authors explain the overall principles and provide working examples in Appendix A.)
Finally, the authors lay the groundwork for changing the firm’s governing structure from a partnership to a more corporate like entity, which should be helpful for medium and larger firms who are struggling with management and governance issues.
Grow Your Firm Strategically
With Client at the Core, Aquila and Marcus have provided a jargon-free introduction to the business side of running a successful practice in 277 pages. While much of the book is geared towards medium to larger law, consulting and accounting firms, even solo practitioners can benefit from developing a strategic framework for growing their firms.
In fact, if solo professionals and small firms were to follow the business model presented, they’d likely realize that the key to business success is cash flow – it’s not enough to simply be great at what you do. You must also be great at finding and retaining clients in an ever-changing marketplace.