Warning: Ambitious competitors could be targeting your legacy clients.
Updated: Mar 22
Part One. The situation at one six-decades-old firm.
In today's digital age, it's more important than ever for businesses to find innovative ways to build their brands and generate qualified leads. This is especially true for professional services firms that have become dependent on billings from legacy clients.
This post takes a look at a firm that survived for more than 60 years due, largely, to client relationships that were first established by the firm’s founding and second-generation partners.
I’ve divided it into two parts. Part One describes the situation this professional services firm found itself in with respect to legacy billings. Part Two describes how the firm dealt with the problem.
Legacy clients: asset or liability.
When I got involved, the 45-person professional services firm that’s featured in this post had been in business for over six decades. The firm was fortunate to have had quite a few clients that had been with it for many years. Some relationships dated back 30 years and more, a truly amazing accomplishment.
For the most part, the firm’s 19 partners were happy with their billings and with the virtually ‘guaranteed’ incomes that their legacy clients’ provided. Few felt compelled to get out and market their services. And, unlike many of the firm’s competitors, none saw the need for an in-house marketing capability.
The firm did have a two-partner marketing committee each of whom received an annual stipend in return for evaluating associates’ requests to cover the cost of luncheons, educational events, small ads in specialty publications, trash and trinkets, and other out-of-pocket expenses. That was, however, the extent of the firm’s marketing effort. The annual budget for these expenditures including the stipends was little more than $130,000 a year.
Truth or consequences!
Fast forward to shortly before my involvement. There was a ‘truth’ that partners were being forced to accept. At several long-term clients, billings were showing a gradual and persistent decrease. What’s more, a few senior partners recognized that some client work could be in jeopardy due to upcoming retirements at the firm and on the client side. Strong relationships had made the firm successful. Losing business from long-standing clients could propel the firm into the danger zone!
That wasn’t all. To a growing number of professional staff members, particularly those on the sunny side of 40, it was clear that the competitive landscape was changing. Younger, more aggressive firms were knocking on the doors of some of the firm’s largest clients. One of these ‘upstarts’ had managed to gain a toehold at two legacy clients.
For those partners who were able or willing to recognize it, the writing was on the wall. Change or suffer dire ‘consequences.’
I’d love your feedback!
That’s the situation in a nutshell. In Part Two, I’ll let you in on what the partners did about their very real problem.
In the meantime, I’d love your thoughts on what you would do if you found yourself in a similar situation. Please email your thoughts to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.