Why You May Be Serving the Wrong Clients—and How You Can Fix It

Dec 29th 2014
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Many accountants are asking themselves if they have enough clients, and how they can get more. But those may be the wrong questions, according to noted financial firm consultant Anthony P. Lombardi. He wants you to wonder if you're serving the top clients, and consider whether you're wasting time on those who are not top clients. In the following Q&A, Lombardi, managing partner and founder of the Lombardi Group, shows how you can make more money with less work, while giving your clients the services they want.

AWEB: You talk a lot about defining and serving your top clients. How do you define them? Are they simply those pay you the most in fees?

Lombardi: It has nothing to do with money. In fact, some of the clients who pay you the most fees may be taking more time than they should. They're cumbersome and are getting in the way of growing your practice. Money is nice, but it has to come from the right clients. Remember the miracle U.S. hockey team that won the gold medal in the Olympics? The coach noted that he did not have the best players, but the right players.

For example, you want clients in whom you can invest your time, helping them grow. You want to work with people who are successful and affluent, such as business owners with lots of moving parts for you to help manage. They're not hard to get: 60 percent of best clients are dissatisfied. To get—and keep—these clients, you have to get away from mere compliance. You have to get into managing their affairs.

AWEB: Will the nature of who your top clients are change as your practice matures?

Lombardi: As you become more mature, your clients and demographics will change. You'll get more clients, but you reach a cutoff point: You can't have hundreds of clients and work 80 hours a week. You'll want just a handful of clients; you'll winnow the list as you discover the ones you want to work with. You'll focus specifically on a particular demographic. You'll become their most trusted advisor.

AWEB: As you focus on your top clients, how do you give them the best service to make sure they stay loyal—and gradually spin off the ones you don't want?

Lombardi: I suggest a 5-5-10 system. That is, you identify your five best clients, your five clients to get rid of, and 10 clients on the cusp, whom you might be able to develop. You keep your "A" clients with a time commitment. You tell yourself that you're going to be focusing on taking care of a handful of clients, moving out the "B" and "C" clients. You make it clear to the top clients that they need you, and that you are committed to becoming a valued part of their team. You're going to invest the time to do that. And you're going to have the time because you won't be wasting it on clients who are not in your core group.

AWEB: What about at larger firms, where you have several levels of accountants? How do you divided and coordinate the tasks?

Lombardi: If you do this right, you can develop the firm of the future, maximizing the use of everyone's time. For example, even top clients require more mundane work that juniors can handle.  But no matter the size of the firm, you still have to stay true to your goal of serving the top clients, and this has to start from the top down. It's not about what some firms do, leaving the "A" clients for the partners and giving the rest to everyone else. Every client should be an "A" client.

Consider that a typical firm has one or more partners with staff under them. The philosophy has to be clear and consistent among senior management: You say, this is what we're going to do, and you need everyone's buy-in. Everyone will see the results, from partners to the most junior accountant. Everyone will be focused on the key clients and key tasks, even as they rise through the ranks. After all, do you want to be partner working 100 hours a week?

This is how a firm should look, and the partners should make sure everyone knows the drill, as you get rid of your "B" and "C" clients. You'll thrive, because most firms are not doing this. They're just focusing on getting hundreds of clients. But you can be profitable with just a few clients—because more isn't better. More is just…more.


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