Depth and Breadth


I once worked in a distribution business where the customer was the end consumer. Leaders in that business often said, “Depth equals profitability and breadth equals stability.”

By “depth equals profitability,” they meant that more volume delivered to an existing customer directly led to greater profitability. This makes sense, of course. Delivery efficiencies increase and selling costs are lower than when securing new customers.

If the saying had stopped there, however, the business would have been very vulnerable. If you focus entirely on selling more to existing customers, what happens if one of those customers suddenly stops doing business with you? Lack of diversification in revenue stream is a glaring risk for any business – particularly small ones. That is why “breadth equals stability.” Customer attrition will happen, so broadening your customer base is extremely important to improve your ability to survive it.

In short, the long-term health and stability of your business depends on a balance between depth (share of customer) and breadth (share of market).

This principle applies just as well for advisory businesses as anything else.

  • Depth = Profitability: The deeper your relationship with a client (the more you do for them), the more fees you can generate. Referrals are also more likely. Furthermore, greater knowledge of the client makes you more valuable to them, leading to efficiencies in delivery.
  • Breadth = Stability: The more clients you serve at one time, the more stable your revenue stream will be. A certain percentage of your clients will disengage at some point for one reason or another. The larger your client base, the less you will feel the consequences of losing a client.

There is definitely a trade-off between depth and breadth. The more time you invest in a client (depth), the fewer clients you are able to serve (breadth), and vice versa. Over time, you will want to increase both depth and breadth in order to build a vibrant advisory business.


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