At last week’s PM Forum Global Conference there was a panel of real live clients (one or two of them lawyers at Magic Circle firms in previous lives) who talked candidly about their experiences of professional advisers.

It was a refreshing and invigorating session. Senior in-house lawyers and company directors asking for their professional advisers to develop their skills in emotional intelligence, their expertise in particular market sectors and their account management competencies. They even suggested that firms should allow their marketing and business development people to get up close and personal to clients as they had the necessary communication skills to make an impact, get under the client’s skin and strengthen the relationship. Shock horror!

But the real horror stories from these clients were about naïve relationship building attempts from their lawyers (and accountants) – for example, sending out leaflets with the words “training for fee-earners that clients can attend” or starting dialogues with a discussion about “limited liability clauses”. It makes grown marketing folk weep…

And all five clients said that they were happy to participate in satisfaction and other research surveys…and even said that marketing people or independent researchers were more likely to get good quality and extensive feedback on how to develop the relationship. Echoing my own findings from interviewing much smaller client organisations, they also asked for their advisers to “get off the fence” and help them make their pressing commercial decisions in a timely manner.

The conference had started with research showing that many managing partners were frustrated at their marketing and business development teams for not getting more closely involved with targeting, selling and key client management. So if the managing partners and the clients are keen for business developers to move to centre stage in client relationships – what is stopping us? Maybe all those other lawyers, accountants and surveyors who are too busy protecting their clients from us?

And at the end of the day – having listened to my esteemed peers from the cutting edge of professional services marketing and selling on a variety of topic issues, it all came down to one thing really – relationships.

(I am currently writing a full review of the conference for PM Magazine).