It makes sense when clients call Robin Baum asking for estate planning assistance. After all, she’s the managing partner of the certified public accounting and management consulting firm Zinner & Co. LLP, where she helps family-owned businesses with those requests.
But sometimes clients call asking for a good landscaper, not quite Zinner’s specialty, but it doesn’t necessarily mean Baum is helpless.
“If there are areas that we do not necessarily have good internal resources to address client needs, we have looked for strategic partners that might be able to assist those clients,” she says, adding that commercial lending, investment advisory, insurance and legal partners are more common than lawn care. “We’re always looking for what makes the most sense to meet the client needs and to solve their problem.”
First, you need a solid sense of your core competencies to know where you can help clients. With many companies facing economy-induced changes, it might make sense to re-evaluate those.
“We needed to re-evaluate what our greatest resources were,” says Baum, who leads 38 employees. “We looked at our current staffing, and we determined the areas that we needed to improve or to add additional resource to that affected not only our current clients but those that we wanted to attract in the future.”
You may think you know where your company’s skills and resources lie, but clients can offer valuable outside perspectives. They probably assume strong technical competency, but the real reason they stick with you is because of the value you add.
“We picked some of our long-time client relationships and we said, ‘Listen, we really appreciate the fact that we’ve had a 25-plus-year relationship. Tell us why that is,’” Baum says.
Her clients came back saying Zinner was part of their team, adding value to the longevity of their businesses, which confirmed the firm’s strength with multigenerational family businesses. Baum padded the firm’s resources to serve those clients’ most common issues.
But then you have to address the gaps. When clients asked for services outside of Zinner’s strong suit, Baum turned to providers exhibiting a similar client focus.
And the Exclusive Service Provider program was born.
“We actually went to them and said, ‘We do business the way you do business,’” she says. “‘We’re both focused on our clients; we want to be able to not only offer good resources to our clients, but we also want to be able to grow and you to grow, as well. So we would like you to keep us in mind, as far as referrals are concerned, and we will do the same.’
“We want to have an exclusive group that we, No. 1, have demonstrated results with, and No. 2, that we’re not afraid to say, ‘This is what’s important to us. We feel that it’s important to you. So we should all be working toward the same goal.’”
By establishing that common goal of the client’s success, you don’t have to worry about a competitive edge stealing your client. Plus, if clients are coming to you asking for a recommendation, they obviously trust you enough in the services you do provide.
These strategic partnerships can obviously deepen your relationships with clients by providing alternative solutions and grow your business as referrals come in. But if you involve your employees in the partnerships, it can also reap other kinds of growth.
“It’s a development project, and when I say development, it’s both practice development and growing our business,” Baum says. “But it’s also a personal and professional development plan for our staff because in each case where introductions are being made, we’re taking some of the younger staff so that they can see how those types of conversations go.”
How to reach: Zinner & Co. LLP, (216) 831-0733 or www.zinnerco.com
When Robin Baum evaluated the economy’s effects on her accounting and consulting firm’s resources, she was really looking at people.
“Because there have been layoffs from many other firms, we said we want to take advantage of adding to our staff, replacing, upgrading,” says the Zinner & Co. LLP managing partner, who added two positions in 2009’s last quarter. “We made an active effort to find the right people, not making decisions just because someone was the first candidate.”
Baum started bringing multiple managers into interviews. Some tested technical competencies while those from departments outside the position gauged cultural fit.
She also paid attention to candidates’ backgrounds.
“When you have somebody that’s coming from a background where the size of the firm is much different than yours, ask some very specific questions about how they functioned, how they obtained resources, how the review process was completed to get a sense of what their participation was,” Baum says.
At a larger firm, maybe they were accustomed to passing issues off to an expert at another location. Perhaps you’re looking for self-motivators who handle it themselves.
“If we have a good understanding of what their expectations are and they have a good understanding of what our expectations are, it makes for a much more harmonious employment arrangement,” says Baum, adding morale is better than ever. <<