Love, like, or move up: the new ABCD client ranking

Love like move up

We’re all familiar with the ‘ABCD’ ranking for clients.  “A” clients are top tier, deserving of additional support or rewards.  “B” clients have the potential of moving up to the ‘A’ level, and so on.  “D” clients are those you want to get rid of.

Here’s a suggestion for a different client ranking style.  One that is more positive, and best of all more focused on the client (rather than you).

It puts clients in three categories:

  1. Love
  2. Like
  3. Move up
  4. Move out

The key in accountancy firm marketing is to direct everything around your potential client.  Your niche market. What do they care about and need? What motivates them?

From that you develop an ideal client – what we know as an ‘A’ client.

When you know who your ideal client is, and the issues they face, you craft your marketing to deliver that.

In a similar way, your customer service needs to be focused first and foremost around what your client actually wants and needs: more so than what you want.

Naturally, your ideal client needs to be profitable to you.  So presuming you’ve already dealt with that, let’s look at the four client ranking categories mentioned above, and how to craft your service and marketing around them.

Clients that you Love

This type of client – existing or future – is your absolute favourite client.  They are this type of client or business:

  • They fit with your firm
  • You really enjoy doing business with them
  • You get on with them personally
  • They are quick to pay and don’t quibble about fees
  • They listen to you and take your advice
  • They often come back to you for additional services
  • Many times you do the work yourself rather than handing it off to the team, because you enjoy it
  • You wish you had more clients like this

The goal with these clients is to keep them in the “Love” category, and if possible ensure that they love you even more.

Service: Take care of these clients, be in touch regularly, send gifts, look for ways to help them further.  Listen to their needs and respond swiftly.

Marketing: It is critical to design your marketing in a way that will draw more of this type of client to you.

Consider website qualifiers, which are marketing elements that enable you to swiftly determine whether the prospect who got in touch will become a client you love, or just a client that you like.

For example, you can create and send a pre-client questionnaire that asks the right kinds of questions.  If your best clients use or are open to online accounting software, ask that question at the outset.  If your favourite clients tend to support charities, ask which charities they currently support.

You can also build your CRM system so that it recognises those who have engaged with you, and in what areas.  If a prospect has only ever connected with you in relation to personal tax, and that’s not your favourite type of work to do, then they might not be a prospect you wish to spend extra effort bringing on.

Remember that website qualifiers exist to help point you to the right kinds of clients – but also the wrong kinds.  Consider how you can send away the tyre kickers, those who are simply looking for the cheapest accountant, or those who don’t trust your advice.

Clients that you Like

These clients have the potential to be a client you love, but for now there are a few issues that need to be resolved.  They tend to be this type of person or business:

  • Solid, reliable clients for whom you do recurring work
  • They ask a lot of questions, but they do appreciate the advice that you give
  • The fees you charge them are reasonable, but not wildly profitable
  • You get on well with them, but mostly talk about business-related items
  • They have the potential to be a “Love” client, but it may take time
  • They’re extremely busy, so they have good intentions but don’t always take action on key areas
  • You tend to leave the work to another member of your team

This is the category that many have called “bread and butter clients”.  You wouldn’t have a successful accounting firm without them, and you appreciate their business.   But there is potential for more.

The goal with these clients is to move them into the “Love” category within the next six months.

Service: Be alert to areas in which you can help these clients more than you already are doing.  Ask if there’s anything you can do better, and then take action on their response.  Don’t presume they will always be there.

Marketing: During the proposal process, listen carefully and ensure that you’re providing what this client needs, not just what they’re asking for.  Take the extra time to consider their situation, instead of rushing through and handing them off to someone else.  Ask more questions than you normally would.

Be very patient with this type of client – if they ask a lot of questions, that means there may be some uncertainty about your expertise or advice.  Answer their questions without frustration or annoyance.

There are a variety of ways to provide answers to their key questions:

  • FAQs page on your website
  • An introductory video (or series of videos) going through the onboarding process or the area of service they will receive, step by step
  • Regular webinars or live events that enable them to engage with you personally and ask questions as they come up
  • Simply respond to their emails quickly! This is a brilliant follow up tactic that many professional service firms miss out on.  The faster you reply, the greater chance there is that they’ll do business with you.

Clients that need to Move Up

These clients have either settled into a low-profitability pattern, or they are just not your favourite type of client.  They tend to be this type of person or business:

  • Spend very little with you
  • The work you do for them is not very profitable
  • Rarely get in touch, and rarely respond when you do
  • They always have an apology or an excuse for why something hasn’t been done
  • You get on with them well enough, but there’s no real connection
  • They aren’t very motivated – just want to subsist and tick along
  • Not really open to modern technology

The goal with these clients is to move them into the “Like” category within the next three months.

Service: Make a concerted effort to address profitability.  Transfer the work to a different member of the team. Ensure you are contacting them in a way that is preferable for them (ie phone, text, letter, whatever).  Make sure that you’re only sending them information which is directly relevant to their business.

Marketing: Pay very close attention to how prospects engage with you during the prospect and proposal process.  If they are constantly querying prices, interrupting you constantly, ignoring your emails for months and then suddenly wishing to start straight away, listen to those red flags.  Make sure that the work you will do for them will be extremely profitable for you – and if it’s not, be willing to walk away.

This is the category that is the most dangerous in the initial proposal process, because you’ll be tempted to take the work simply to get the fees.  But if they don’t have clear potential to move up to a Like or Love client, you may just be giving yourself more difficulty.

Clients to Move Out

Hopefully you have very few of these – but these you’ll need to get rid of, and do it straight away.  They tend to be this type of person or business:

  • You don’t like them, or you just don’t care
  • You dread their phone calls or emails
  • The work you do is unprofitable (or done at a loss)
  • The team doesn’t like them or like the work they do for them
  • They cause more trouble than they’re worth
  • Repeatedly ignore requests for contact, but when they suddenly do get in touch, they want a solution instantly

The goal with these clients is to move them out of your business within three months.

Service: The best thing you can do for this type of client is to stop making any effort to provide them with good service.  Anything positive that you do will only keep them with you: so if it’s time for them to go, let them go.  Increase prices. Let them know you’re not providing the service they are signed up for anymore, and offer to switch them to another (more profitable) service.  Don’t take anything personally that they say.  Be pleasant and cordial, but not friendly.

Marketing: Listen to your gut.  If you’re engaging with someone during the prospect process and you don’t like them, or they are rude to you, or you know that the work won’t be profitable, walk away from it.  Don’t quote an exorbitant price, because they might just accept it, and for this kind of client it will only bring you more trouble.  Say that you have so much business right now that you can’t take them on, and send them to another accountant that you feel will actually be able to help them.

If you do end up taking this type of client on and regret it later, get out as quickly as you can.  Do it politely and pleasantly, and fulfil any outstanding obligations, but don’t let them become a cancer in your business.

Using this client-focused approach of client ranking, within six months you will have moved many of the ‘Like’ and ‘Move Up’ clients to the ‘Love’ category, and those who are really bringing you down have been moved out.

In addition, your marketing will have been redesigned to ensure that you’re only ever taking on ‘Love’ clients, with the odd ‘Like’ one now and then who will, of course, move up to the Love category within six months.

Now that’s marketing to love.