Oct 1, 2013

Crowe Soberman: Relationships Make Clients Stick

There are 3 levers for attracting and maintaining client relationships:

  • Expertise: Are you perceived as an expert?
  • Goodwill: Do your clients like you?
  • Trust: Do they believe you?

A service can be sold with expertise alone, but to have your clients come back again and again requires goodwill and trust. Or to put it more succinctly, relationships bring clients back.

Crowe Soberman’s culture of relationships is a clear differentiator for their brand. They value real personal connections, and believe it’s an integral part of their success.

Crowe Soberman is a mid-size accounting firm with over 175 accountants. They serve a broad section of clients that do business all over the world. But no matter where their clients are located, personal connections are part of their process.

Relationships can’t be replicated

Tax and audit expertise are readily available. Susan Hodkinson, COO of Crowe Soberman explains, “In the great majority of professional services firms, 80% of what the individuals do can be found anywhere.” Accountants are professionally trained and follow industry standards.

But as Susan points out, “It’s the intangibles that separate firms.” Crowe Soberman recognizes that the intangible nature of goodwill and trust are sources of competitive advantage.

Clients are attracted to the advisors they like and trust. Expertise is expected, but a personal connection enhances the context and relevance of the advice. Crowe Soberman invests in their talent, processes and culture to foster these deep personal connections.

A culture of relationships

Relationship building is not a strategy dreamed up at the boardroom table. A firm either values it, or it doesn’t. It’s very black and white.

Crowe Soberman has always valued personal connections. It can be tied back to their founding partners. For example, John Colomby has mentored the staff and partners on fostering personal connections for over 55 years. John is a founding partner, and sets an example for developing deep personal connections. He can speak in great detail about his clients, their families and their personal journeys. He sets an example of what it means to live and breathe proactive relationship building.

The founding partners hired with intent, and treated personal connections as a core value. Staff are given the space to get to know their clients on a personal level. It’s part of the fabric of the firm.

Inside and out, the firm manages their culture of relationships as a core value.

Not all clients fit

Not all clients are good clients. Some clients just won’t fit the people, its culture or its values.

Crowe Soberman understands who to work with and where to focus their attention, because they know themselves. Crowe Soberman knows what it does very well, where it makes the most impact, and the essence of a strong client relationship.

They look for these cues in their client relationships. For example, competing on price and not having access to the business owners are warning signs that personal connections won’t be valued. In these circumstances the team is tuned to investigate further, and determine if the client is a good match for the firm.

Relationships are earned, not acquired

Relationships are a source of competitive advantage, but they are a weak value proposition—and this goes well beyond Crowe Soberman.

Relationship Innovation is a theme with the companies profiled in the Sticky Branding Stories. Many companies with sticky brands have a clear commitment to client relationships, and invest in growing and nurturing them.

But from a client’s perspective, it’s hard to understand the value of a relationship from the outside looking in. The reason a customer comes to a firm is often different from the reason it stays.

The only way to demonstrate the value of personal connections is to experience them. Clients have to get belly-to-belly and knee-to-knee with the advisors to form a relationship. They have to move beyond the problem, and learn to like and trust each other.

A relationship can’t be sold. It can only be experienced.

Make relationships obvious

Crowe Soberman adopted a culture of relationships, because that’s what the founding partners and staff believed in. They did it, because that’s who they are and how they behave.

But relationship building as a source of competitive advantage doesn’t have to fly under the radar. It can be nurtured and drawn out so that everyone understands and values it.

Crowe Soberman is conscientiously elevating their approach to personal connections through stories. The partners collect and share the stories and lore with the firm, and use them to convey what it means to foster, develop and grow personal connections.

The next generation is steeped in the value of relationships by learning the lessons of the past.

Relationships make brands sticky

Expertise can be copied, but relationships are unique. No one can buy or steal a personal connection.

Crowe Soberman has understood the value of those personal connections since its founding 55 years ago. And they can lean on that deep foundation to stand out and innovate in today’s highly competitive accounting market.

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