Do you really know your client?

Knowing or not knowing your client has major ramifications. Know them better than your competitors and you stand to gain significantly.

If you Google the term, ‘know your client’ you will see something fascinating. You will see that the Financial Services industry have claimed the term as their own. ‘Know your client’ or ‘KYC’ as the banks term it, captures the process around gathering all of the information needed to reduce the banks’ exposure to money laundering and fraud. Necessary of course, but I suspect not really what the vast majority of fee paying clients of a bank would like to define as ‘know your client.

Google definitions aside, the business of knowing or not knowing your client has major ramifications. Know them well and you stand to do well or, in the banks case, minimise loss. Know them better than your competitors and you stand to gain significantly. And yet, as a business how much time and budget are you investing in this? Relative to other client development, sales or marketing activities what are you devoting to knowing your clients?

The two most important things you can do for me is to be reliable, and to understand my business and my industry.”

That’s what Beaton Research told us in their 2015 survey of Australasian users of professional services.

Similarly, a 2012 study by strategy consultants BTS found that the most important thing clients across a range of industries want from their suppliers is to ‘demonstrate knowledge of the client’s business, their industry, their objectives and their challenges.’

However, for some reason, in spite of that, there are occasions where the process goes something like this:

  1. Service provider wins a big project or assignment which last several months. They won it based on a good understanding of the client’s business and culture.
  2. The supplier moves into delivery phase.
  3. By the time the completion is reached the client’s business has changed (because change happens fast these days). The supplier is already behind the 8-ball for the current project and therefore poorly placed for the next piece of work.
  4. The client may be feeling dissatisfied, because the supplier doesn’t ‘understand my business.’
  5. A hungrier competitor is now better placed for future pieces of work.
  6. All of a sudden you are ranked second to the hungry competitor!

Big professional services organisations with multiple service offerings and multiple contact points in the client organisation have an increased risk of this happening. Dealing with many large clients who have complex organisation structures is not easy. Often the client’s business is changing rapidly and not surprisingly, they don’t email every supplier to say ‘you need to know that we have changed some things which will have an impact on you.

That is why devoting both time and resources to the roles of the Client Relationship Manager or Partner in Charge or Account Director etc is critical. Without this, who is putting their hand up to be accountable for keeping track of the important business of ‘knowing your client?’ Without this, you are running a huge risk that your competitors are learning things about your client that you are missing.

So if you have one of those job titles in a professional services business or any business for that matter, here are my 10 tips to know your client:

  1. Read your client's annual report – particularly the Chairman/CEO statement – to get a good picture of where the business is headed
  2. Check their website at least monthly. If their website is well managed, it could be changing by the hour!
  3. Check their competitors’ websites
  4. Follow your client on ALL of their social media sites including any blogs
  5. Read the trade press and their press releases
  6. Set up Google alerts for your client, their key people, products, projects etc.
  7. Systematically plan to use (and read) whatever resources your organisation has to provide you with relevant client/industry information. That may be your Research and Insights Team, your BD Team, research agency relationships, social listening functions in your CRM system and more
  8. Connect with the key people you know in the client’s business on LinkedIn and stay in touch. And arguably more important than all of that
  9. Go see your client even if there is no obvious reason! Meeting with decision makers and sources of intelligence on a frequent basis to talk about their business is always time well spent. As much as possible look to use some of that time to ask your client for their feedback and their view of you as a supplier. Share this information with your team
  10. And finally, know your client’s structure. Who are the decision makers, who owns relevant budgets, who has strong influence, who reports to who and who is your ‘Client Champion'?

If you are in charge of a client relationship, you need a Client Champion, or ‘Coach’ as we sometimes refer to it at Beca. This is someone in the client’s business who will share information with you that others may not be party to. Not a paid informant or anything dodgy like that! Just someone you have a strong personal rapport with, who might just give you a snippet of information that others don’t know.

This person can be of huge assistance to you in a business development context. I can recall an example where we have learnt a vital piece of information before a Request For Proposal (RFP) was issued on the influence one person will have on evaluating a proposal. It's information you don’t see written down in the RFP. This helped us tailor some of our proposal to reflect our clearer view of the evaluators.

On another occasion we learned crucial information for a client pitch around questions we needed to ask of the client. Our client champion advised us that the main decision maker was a stickler for being asked high quality questions. So in our preparation we spent an unusually large amount of time crafting our questions for the client. We brought in outside advisors and practiced the delivery of the questions as much as we did with the delivery of the pitch. We won the engagement.

Your champion or coach could be the CEO, a middle manager or maybe the receptionist. It doesn’t matter what level they are at in the business. My advice is if you have one of them, keep investing in that relationship. If you don’t have one I strongly advise you look to try to identify one and proactively build relations. Not easy but this person might just give you some critical intelligence that enables you to show your client that you know them just a little bit better than others.

The research tells us it’s the most important thing you can do. Make the time to do it because it could be the difference between a win and a loss!

Ignite Your Thinking

What Do You Think?

Robyn Smith · 19/02/2016 9:44:12 AM
Extremely relevant to not only the professional services industry, but to many other industries too. Ultimately, it comes down to the basics of human interaction - people like people who take the time to get to know and understand them. In the same way, clients will always respond better to providers who take the time to invest in getting to know and understand their business needs, and tailor the delivery of a product of a service specifically to meet these requirements. A one size fits all approach will likely have you sitting out in the cold! Great article!

Jon Huxley · 18/02/2016 5:45:16 PM
Thanks for your comments, Vero!

Vero · 18/02/2016 2:34:08 PM
Great post, Jon! Good to see there are research papers and studies to support what us, Marketing/BD people, kill ourselves to explain time and time again. When I was working at Russell McVeagh, we knew our clients inside out; and on a personal level too. You could argue that a lawyer needs to know you better than an engineer, because they are there to 'get you out of trouble', and therefore it is their job to know you. But the industry has nothing to do with this. Knowing your clients is key because the more you know them, the more you can influence their 'buying decision thinking'. That means you can actually suggest solutions before they think they even had a problem. Guess who they will come to when the problem arise? Yip - you! I don't know what it is, but people seem to think we don't need to know our clients on a personal level.... but for me it is critical, because it means you care about them as a person. They are not just a number (sales number) and it allows you to build trust on a personal level. Great article, I will definitely share!