Do you feel anxious about putting your managers in front of clients?

As you’ve risen up your organisation and become a senior manager or even CEO, the balance of your ‘day job’ has had to shift. If you work in professional services you probably retain some of the client-facing work and it’s likely that you still have a financial target. But at this point in your career you have to learn to deliver your expertise and client-facing skills through other people, in other words, your managers.

We often find that our clients are anxious about this ‘letting go’ of their own clients, and it’s understandable. You have spent years honing your client skills, you instinctively know how to establish rapport, and it’s likely that you genuinely believe that you are ‘indispensable’ to some clients who will pack their bags and go to a competitor as soon as they receive an email from someone else in your organisation. We’re not suggesting that overnight you abdicate responsibility for all your clients and step away (far from it), but you cannot do your job properly as a manager if you don’t trust others to handle client relationships.

So, how do you go about this tricky process so that it is seamless and everyone is happy? Here are a few suggestions:-

  1. Be honest with yourself. Have you dealt with those demons that are telling you that there is no way your clients would accept anyone else handling their business? You may have genuine anxiety about this, but question yourself as to whether this is a ‘self-limiting belief’. What does it cost you and your business in the longer term? Is it actually holding you back in your role – not to mention those managers who would really like to develop their client relationship skills.
  1. Spend some time doing a client audit. Having decided that you will implement a strategy of gradually handing over a number of your clients, you now need a plan. Look at the individuals involved and decide which of your managers is best placed to gradually take them on.
  1. You are very likely to have excellent client relationship skills. You probably don’t even know what it is that you do – you just do it. This is fine when it’s just you, but now you need to be able to pass on some of these skills to your managers. And it’s not just what you say and what you do, it’s what you believe about yourself, about your business and about what you can offer to clients. Try to ‘unpack’ some of this so that you can pass it on. If you consciously do this, you will help your managers and allay some of your anxieties about how they will be in front of clients.
  1. Don’t do a ‘covert’ handover and disappear. To begin with, take your managers to client meetings and gradually encourage them to call the clients themselves. At some point it will be clear that this new client relationship is secure enough for you to let them know that their account will be handled by the new manager in future on a day to day basis. However, reassure your client that you are still overseeing the work.
  1. Strike the right balance with your managers. Let them feel confident that you have genuinely handed over a client to them but make sure they understand that it is delegation not abdication. Be clear that you expect to be told immediately if there is any problem brewing, and you want to know if you need to pick up the phone to a specific client or take them out for lunch.

For your business to be successful it is vital that this process happens, but it needs to be done in a conscious and strategic manner. Client relationships are not a black art (although it can sometimes feel that way). Take a look at our Key Consultancy Styles presentation on Slideshare which focuses on how you can establish the framework for successful client relationships.