The succession dilemma

One of the most important factors in deciding who is admitted to partnership is that the individual has the ability to market the firm, to sell the firm’s services and to build a reputation, both personal and firm-wide, in order to build a brand with value.

Small and medium-sized firms that I have talked to during the last 24 months appear to be in some sort of dilemma. There appears to be fewer prospective partners around at the moment who have the character and dynamism to build that personal brand, and who are willing to commit themselves to partnership, with all that this entails. The result is that some highly skilled technical managers are admitted to partnership without the skills to sell their expertise. They then sit back and wait for others to go out and market their services, believing that all they have to do is be a proficient technician and that profitability will flow.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case these days, and even those with great technical expertise need to be able to explain to the clients why their skills are so valuable and why they should be bought.

Empathy with the client is easy to lose when concentrating on the technical aspects, and yet is such a vital part of a practitioner’s skill set.

Imagine you are going to the doctor. Close your eyes a minute and place yourself in the surgery, or even on the examination table. The doctor begins to ask you personal questions about your health and starts to poke fingers here and there. If the doctor has an abrupt or dismissive bedside manner then you may not feel entirely comfortable with what is going on.

That is how prospective clients could feel when we start to ask sensitive questions about the health of their business or their personal financial health.

As a professional adviser and problem solver, developing a keener sensitivity in this area will be invaluable to you and your client. Before going to see a new prospect, you need to do as much fact finding as possible. The purpose is not just to identify services to sell that are specific to this client, but also to develop some common ground and make the prospect feel comfortable.

Before a first meeting, it is essential to prepare a list of questions (and to know the difference between open-ended and closed questions).

It is also essential to understand that the necessary probing is a two-way street – the prospect wants to know about you and your firm as much as you need to find about them and their business.

Done well, a first session will create a bond with the client without creating that feeling of discomfort. This will increase your ability to match your services to the prospect’s needs. It will also demonstrate your expertise as a problem solver and confirm information that you have already collected.

None of this is possible without empathy – a learnable skill. A technician should have no problem learning it, so why allow a new partner to restrict himself to technical work alone?

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