Question: Is profitability based segmentation of clients a good idea?

Our CPA firm offers accounting, consulting and advisory services aligned to industry verticals.

Our segmentation so far has been along industry lines. Now, we are thinking of creating a segment of higher-margin 30 or so clients, across all industries, for providing higher touch client service and seeking referrals. We will then make changes to our staff and processes to make this happen.

The rationale is these referrals are more likely to bring us other high-margin clients, with the right service expectations.

Is this a good idea?

4 Expert Insights

Absolutely. I've spent 20 years advocating this practice, and the most profitable firms all do it.

I once did a speaking tour of Canada for financial planners, and literally met thousands of these professionals over a two-week span. They could be divided into two groups. The first did NOT differentiate clients by value, and these planners were overworked and poor. The other group had some sort of system to deliver high-touch, preferential treatment to their best customers; these planners were affluent, content, and highly successful.

I've seen the same scenario emerge in nearly every industry. You must know who your most profitable customers are, and take incredibly good care of them.

Great idea!  All professional service firms gain an advantage when they understand their clients:  Why?
1.  You can allocate and invest resources effectively to increase revenues
2.   You can learn what services "delight" your clients and provide those consistently
3.    You can understand the business your client is in, keep track of current change, pay attention to specific trends and changes to help them anticipate and plan for the future.
4. And, exceptional client service starts with knowing who your clients are, what they want and in an on-going shared evaluation model provides feedback for continuous improvement

Good Luck.  
Your instinct are right on target!

I recommend that you rethink your "all industries" strategy.  A matrix model that considers key or core industries is suggested. One of the reasons you have been successful  using industry verticals is the knowledge & expertise  you acquired by industry and the unique value that this contributed to other members of the vertical.  Do not lose this competitive advantage.  If careful in implementation, you can have your cake and eat it too. Just limit your choices of dessert.
Good luck.

Yes segmentation combined with a different service model for each segment can help you best allocate time, assign the right resources and generate more ideal clients.

Having helped many professional service practices through this process, here are a few thoughts.

1- When doing the segmentation create a set of criteria to segment clients based on more than just profitability. For ex. if the client has been a great referral partner resulting in lots of new business even though they are a "B' you might want to treat them like an A. Think about the kind of client you really want- do they agree with your recommendations, open new doors for you, etc.

2- Put together a service model that treats different segments differently. For ex. you may choose to meet with your A  clients 4 times a year (as opposed to  2x for a Gold client),  return their calls within an hour, invite them to special client appreciation events, and contribute to their favorite philanthropy..

3- Assign work to your staff based on their tenure and expertise. C clients may be ideal to build skills with new employees, A's might be reserved for the partners because of their complexities and potential for high level introductions.

4- Everyone on the team should be aware of the segmentation and the related service model to deliver services as promised. Expectations are everything! If you bring on a C client and tell them you will be meeting with them 2x a year they will be expecting your call to set up those meetings. If you only call once- that is a problem. If C's call you too frequently the potential opportunity cost  of your time with A's (who have the potential to bring in more business and refer you to those similar to them) is huge. There are effective ways to deal with those clients too.

Best on driving the right levels of service to the right clients- when you get it right you will grow faster, build a training process and career progression for newer staff and optimize everyone's time.