Being selective for your Client Advisory Service (CAS) practice clients might elicit fear of missing growth goals. However, sustainable growth is a long game that requires thoughtfulness—a strategy with scalable execution will bring sustainable growth to your CAS practice. As Morris Chang said, "Without strategy, execution is aimless. Without execution, strategy is useless."
Planning is critical for those seeking to transform an existing CAS practice or those with the opportunity to start a new one from the ground up. The core components are the same for CAS practices in all stages of growth: people, process, and technology.
Always start at the end before you begin ~Robert Kiyosaki
Practically speaking, the end is a scalable, profitable, CAS practice with high retention for clients and team members. Change management will play a pivotal role in the speed to successful conversion of team members, clients, and other stakeholders to a new strategic approach. The effort extended to pre-plan will yield higher engagement from all parties.
A scalable practice will enable efficient processes with consistency and quality. The scalability will encourage employee engagement through repeatability, deep knowledge, and career development opportunities. Engaged employees make the client experience exponentially more engaging and value-driven. Thus, the profitability of each client increases. and the opportunity to increase your client count in your scalable CAS practice makes all the difference to your stakeholders.
Strategy is a pattern in a stream of decisions. ~Henry Mintzberg
Decisions in people, process, and technology development need to align with your CAS practice strategy, yet also fit within the firm's expectations. Establish your expectations for CAS practice client growth to include alignment on the following processes: acquisition, retention, and cross service expectations. If a concern, independence will need to be addressed as an underlying truth for all processes. These concepts will need to allow for agility. As the acquisition process is refined and the level of retention increases, profitability will exponentially increase.
Let's think about your ideal client. Which industries do you have a depth of knowledge and experience in to advise clients confidently? Identify which team members can develop other team members in the industry expertise that allows you to price for that expertise. This knowledge allows you to build the technology to serve the purpose of the management reporting needs and KPIs for your clients to grow profitably, which creates a reinforcing system of mutual success.
If you are looking to scale on volume rather than advisory, you will need to invest in technology-forward accountants and software developers. Create deep knowledge paths for team members who will be reviewing work to identify where in the process something may have gone awry. There may still be some advisory opportunity in a subset of clients; if this is a desire, it will need to be part of the original design. The move to an advisory engagement with your client from an established system is difficult due to the surrounding systems.
Part of the client retention strategy should include a client feedback loop, a clear line of communication, and Net Promoter Score. The strategy also needs to have a process for off-boarding clients who are no longer ideal. The no-longer-ideal process needs to be a holistic look at the client, the client relationship, and the delivery of expectations by the firm and the client. A way to reduce the need to off-board clients is to have a CAS leadership-level person establish a relationship client. Note this is not the partner on the engagement; rather, this is a person who can ask CAS operational questions as needed to improve the processes and client feedback loop.
The client cross-service relationship has been discussed as part of the plan to retain clients as partners retire. There is more to this approach than just retaining clients on the same services. If your firm has numerous service lines, there could be additional opportunities to assist the client over the hurdle determined in the advisory conversations. This could, in theory, help the client grow out of some services and into other high-value offerings. Referencing the client relationship as holistic will reduce the territorial nature of so many groups within the firm. You may think that is too idealistic for your firm, but there is an opportunity to design for that struggle based on the firm's infrastructure.
Start with the end in mind. Determine how much advisory you want to support in your practice and build your team and technology to fulfill it. Create your processes to include feedback loops with clients and team members. Remember people, processes, and technology are the pillars supporting your CAS practice success.