Developing and Running Industry or Client Task Forces, with Phyllis Weiss Haserot

FOCUSED MARKETING: Developing and Running Industry or Client Task Forces
Presented by Phyllis Weiss Haserot
Practice Development Counsel
Contact pwhaserot@pdcounsel.com

Thursday, February 22, 2001

Visit the AccountingWEB Workshop Calendar for upcoming sessions.


Summary

Ms. Haserot's session included information on the following topics:

 

  • How task forces strengthen your firm with new ideas and new blood
     
  • Getting management approval and involvement
     
  • Choosing task force leaders and members - what to look for
     
  • How to maintain momentum
     
  • Factors determining success or failure

Read the complete transcript of the workshop.
 


February 20, 2001 Session Sponsored by Macola Software

 


Complete Transcript

Session Moderator: Welcome everyone and thank you for joining us today! We are happy to introduce Phyllis Weiss Haserot, who will be sharing her insights on client and industry task forces.

Phyllis Weiss Haserot is president of Practice Development Counsel, a consulting, training and coaching firm that helps professionals obtain and build profitable and satisfying internal and client relationships, which she founded in 1982. She works with firms on strategic marketing planning, service quality improvement, business development training, client relationship management, collaborative culture, workplace conflict resolution and consensus building. For firms of all sizes she has planned and presented conferences, seminars and workshops involving extensive partner participation.

Ms. Haserot received both B.A. and M.R.P. degrees from Cornell University and has additional credentials in marketing, real estate and law and conflict resolution. She worked with a wide range of professionals in delivering services and developing business for over a decade before founding her firm.

Welcome Phyllis, the floor is yours!

Phyllis Weiss Haserot: Thank you.

Welcome! I'm happy to be discussing this important topic with you, since it has worked well in many client firms. Firms have been recognizing the value of industry and client task forces to increase market penetration and revenue streams. They have also proven to be useful in raising client satisfaction with services and giving younger professionals a greater sense of ownership and career fulfillment, thereby increasing the chances of longer retention.

Tim Anderson: I'm sure you will do so, but can you define what industry task forces are? Who is on them - internal or external?

Phyllis Weiss Haserot: Here is what I was planning to cover today. However, I want to make sure we address what's on your minds about this topic. So please add to the agenda now or raise questions as we go along.

What is a task force? It is generally a group of four to seven professionals who bring to bear a range of skills and knowledge to serve a type of client or industry. Task forces are usually multi-disciplinary, involving representatives of several practice areas or departments in the firm who come together to market to and service a client from a variety of angles. Often the members of the task force have not worked together as a team before. However, task forces can be created within existing practice groups or departments to focus on an industry or to expand services to a given client. In that case the task force becomes a sub-group of an existing entity in the firm.

Has anybody participated in an industry task force in a firm? What was the impetus for starting it?

Tim Anderson: Is there a minimum sized firm that is needed to pull this off? I have seven staff people and we're all involved in everything!

Phyllis Weiss Haserot: I don't think the task force should get too big or people lose ownership of their responsibilities. I have worked with task forces as small as 4, and that works. It all depends how broad the charter is.

A task force is created for a specific purpose and may only exist for a short time, until that purpose is fulfilled, for example to develop and launch a new area of practice around an industry or special services. However, some task forces continue to implement the plans they make over years.

Stephanie Leon: Can the task force be comprised of professionals from different entities? For example, an accounting client could have a task force that includes their accountant, financial planner, banker, and attorney?

Phyllis Weiss Haserot: So you are referring to task forces made up of people outside the firm as well?

Yes, that could work well. I was focusing on task forces with members within the firm, but "alliances" can comprise a task force.

Stephanie Leon: Yes. Would this be appropriate? And, would this resolve the challenges a smaller firm like Tim Anderson's is facing?

Phyllis Weiss Haserot: Again, it is a matter of the purpose of the task force. In many instances, a truly multi-disciplinary task force could serve the client/prospect better than one entirely from one firm. The participants from each of the firms involved would have to feel comfortable with each other, and issues of confidentiality may need to be addressed. And perhaps conflicts.

Industry task forces should be designated based on an analysis of:

 

  • Industry trends
     
  • Projection of needs and future needs the firm or firms can fulfill
     
  • Existing clients in that industry and their satisfaction with the firm's services
     
  • Contacts the professionals currently have for potential business
     
  • Depth of knowledge of the industry by some professionals in the firm
     
  • Interest in learning the industry inside out
     
  • Marketing potential as a distinct group

    Phyllis Weiss Haserot: To maximize management and firm wide support, a business case should be built for dedication of resources to the specific task force. That means developing a business plan, just as one would in order to seek funding from an outside source for a business or project.

    What was the process for Management approval in your firm?

    Robert England: We just felt intuitively it was a good idea and did it - no formal process.

    Phyllis Weiss Haserot: Did anyone do a business plan to get firm support?

    Robert England: No - It sounds like your task forces are much more formalized than ours. I suppose if we had a very big client that we were strategizing on we would take more planning time.

    Wayne Lim: We're the same - much more informal

    Phyllis Weiss Haserot: Often they are. It depends on the firm, but management support is important for long-term success.

    If the idea for a task force comes from firm management, they need to approach partners whom they believe should be the key players and ask or persuade them to organize a task force. Often the idea for a task force will come from the marketing partner, individual partners or managers, the marketing director, or a consultant brought in to develop marketing strategy and business development training. Those individuals then build their business case, make a presentation to management or the entire partnership, and get approval to organize the task force and obtain the resources they need.

    In your more informal process, what was the role and involvement of firm management?

    Jackie Schuster: You mention a business plan. What other resources should be deployed and/or developed in preparation for a Task Force?

    Phyllis Weiss Haserot: Careful thought should be given to who should be members of the task force.

    A task force needs a variety of talents to cover all necessary roles and functions. As with any team endeavor, it is wise to include idea people, devil's advocates, promoters and implementers. Particularly with professionals who have been trained to act independently, each member should have a distinct role and opportunity for recognition of achievements, even while encouraging teamwork as the primary structure.

    Robert England: In our case firm management OK's four of us getting together to brainstorm additional services for a group of "A" clients

    Phyllis Weiss Haserot: Task forces require collaboration. Look for people with collaborative skills, who will work with others in an open, sharing environment.

    How did you choose the members?

    Jackie Schuster: Many of us work on different elements of a client's business and we just decided to put all of our heads together - nothing magic!

    Robert England: Like Jackie - just a group of us getting together - no specific thought as to who or how

    Did you find that people easily worked as a team? Were practice group heads involved?

    It is usually best to have at least one practice group leader on the task force. This should be a person with sufficient respect and clout in the firm to ensure that junior members of the task force are given the freedom to allocate time to their assignments on the task force, especially if they involve non-billable time.

    If the industry or client that the task force focuses on is part of the practice group or department head's practice, it is crucial that the individual be a part of the team.

    I am interested to know how the collaboration worked. Was everyone on the task force about equally motivated? Were you able to keep the momentum going?

    Robert England: Equally? Not necessarily. We had one person driving it and the rest of us contributed. Like I said - one person was driving it, so momentum came from that.

    Phyllis Weiss Haserot: Who facilitates your task forces?

    Robert England: PIC of the engagement.

    Phyllis Weiss Haserot: How long have the task forces been going?

    Tim Anderson: Do you have any checklists or formal procedures for what to cover in an initial meeting?

    Robert England: We meet every two months and have been for about two years

    Benjamin West: What are the "landmines" that we need to look for in developing task forces?

    Phyllis Weiss Haserot: Actually I do. And the checklists will be given in detail in a supplement to my book, “The Rainmaking Machine,” due out in March. But I will summarize here.

    First some of the items to cover.

     

  • If it is a new industry niche you are focusing on, you want to begin looking at current clients related to that industry.
     
  • Common characteristics.
     
  • What services are you providing to that industry now?
     
  • What additional services could the firm provide?
     
  • What special services could you develop for this industry?

    Another important agenda item is to brainstorm about what you want to know, such as:

     

  • What are the key issues for the industry for the foreseeable future?
     
  • Long-term issues?
     
  • Who do the purchasers of your type of services tend to be in that industry?
     
  • What criteria will the firm set for evaluating what are "desirable" clients?
     
  • What do those clients read? What organizations do they join?
     
  • And of course, you need to home in on your definition of the market you are targeting.

    If the task force is structured around a major client, the agenda for a first meeting will be somewhat different. In that case, you would want to start with a client service assessment. Really explore the status of the client relationship. What opportunities are there for expanding work with the client?

    In either case, you should identify and assess the competition and what they are providing as well as the extent of the relationship the client has with other firms. So these are some of the things to explore at early meetings.

    Shall we go on to the question of landmines? Or are there more questions on meeting agendas?

    Some firms have strong teamwork cultures; more frequently still, others do not. If the latter is the case, some time needs to be devoted to building teamwork skills before the full work of the task forces gets underway. Teamwork makes good sense from a rational point of view for many, if not most, business development and client service activities. Yet, in many instances, factors, most notably compensation policies, stand in the way of productive teamwork. Unfamiliarity with the other team members and trust issues can also be obstacles

    Have any of you found trust issues to be an obstacle to effectiveness?

    In order to deal with these factors, build understanding, confidence, cooperation and trust, there are two tools I have used and recommend. The first is a behavioral profile tool; the second deals directly with teamwork and innovation in ways that get a team unstuck and provides a division of responsibilities and road map for moving forward.

    Other landmines can be when management does not support the effort, or when people feel they are not being recognized for their efforts and are pulled off to work on other things. The most important factor in determining success or failure is the quality and style of leadership of the task force.

    Session Moderator: We are coming down to the last 10 minutes or so of the workshop, so if any of you have any other questions, please include them at this time!

    Robert England: Who should be the facilitator for these meetings? It tends to be the most vocal or the one who is the partner on the engagement. Any thoughts?

    Phyllis Weiss Haserot: Thoughts on facilitator:

    You need someone with good facilitation skills. The professionals in many firms as a general rule have not learned those skills. Sometimes you have to go outside the firm for a facilitator (that's why I do a lot of facilitation.) But you may find that a marketing director has good facilitation skills.

    Amanda Pierce: Is there any scenario whereby the client or a client representative may participate in the task force meeting?

    Timothy Johannsen: We have found that using one of our referral sources - either a banker or an attorney - to facilitate task force meetings on mutual clients works very well!

    Phyllis Weiss Haserot: That is very interesting. I want to note that, as I haven't come across a firm before that does that.

    Timothy Johannsen: And they in turn invite us to participate in some of their internal meetings on value added services available to clients - it’s a win-win.

    Phyllis Weiss Haserot: That sounds terrific! It is important that the facilitator can be neutral enough and not just push for their own vested interests. Often a person with a lot of clout in the firm is not a suitable candidate for facilitator. May be intimidating.

    Wayne Lim: Is there any way to overtly charge a client for these sessions?

    Phyllis Weiss Haserot: Wayne, I am not sure what you are asking. In most cases, I don't think that a task force to further your marketing goals or improve client service should be billable to a client. If you are facilitating a task force to help the client be more successful, than that sounds like a billable task.

    Gail, do we have time for any more questions or comments?

    Session Moderator: Just another minute or two

    Wayne Lim: Any quick and easy guides, references, books or other resources on facilitation that you can recommend?

    Phyllis Weiss Haserot: I have written articles on facilitation and training for facilitation skills. There is some coverage also in The Rainmaking Machine; if you contact me I will get you an article at least.

    Session Moderator: And we do want to take this opportunity to thank all of you for attending today!

    Benjamin West: Thank you - nice session -

    Phyllis Weiss Haserot: Thank you. And I welcome questions offline too.

    Wayne Lim: Yes, thanks - great help!

    Phyllis Weiss Haserot: I hope it is helpful and wish you good luck.

    Jonathan Graves: Thank you!

    Jackie Schuster: Thanks ---- will check out your upcoming book

    Session Moderator: Thank you so much, Phyllis, for a fascinating workshop presentation!


    Biography

    Phyllis Weiss Haserot is president of Practice Development Counsel, a consulting, training and coaching firm that helps professionals obtain and build profitable and satisfying internal and client relationships, which she founded in 1982. She works with firms on strategic marketing planning, service quality improvement, business development training, client relationship management, collaborative culture, workplace conflict resolution and consensus-building. For firms of all sizes she has planned and presented conferences, seminars and workshops involving extensive partner participation.

    Ms. Haserot has spoken before numerous bar association and accounting society, firm, in-house marketing executive and corporate communication audiences. The author of THE RAINMAKING MACHINE (West Group), and THE MARKETER'S HANDBOOK OF TIPS & CHECKLISTS (Andrews Professional Books), Ms. Haserot has been widely published and quoted in the professional and business press.

    She is the moderator of the Client Development Forum on LexisOne, and monthly columnist for the New York Law Journal and Pro2Net.com on The Next Generation - the nexus among marketing, retention, recruiting, work/life issues and work satisfaction. Her mission, under the banner of AuthenticWorkstm, is to restructure the workplace so it works better for people.

    Among her affiliations and board positions: Founder and Board of Directors of the New York Metropolitan LMA (Legal Marketing Association) chapter; the American Bar Association Law Practice Management Section; co-founder of American Marketing Association/NY, Professional Services Marketing Leadership Council; and Accountants Club of America.

    Ms. Haserot received both B.A. and M.R.P. degrees from Cornell University and has additional credentials in marketing, real estate and law and conflict resolution. She worked with a wide range of professionals in delivering services and developing business for over a decade before founding her firm.

    e-mail: pwhaserot@pdcounsel.com
    Web site: www.pdcounsel.com
     

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