Time to stop making the same mistakes with Business Development investment?

Time to stop making the same mistakes with Business Development investment?

It’s a very common situation. A firm takes a look at the pipeline, reviews its lag and lead measures and there is some concern. A decision is made to (re)focus on Business Development, both new from new clients and new from existing clients.

Often firms will look at three ‘investment’ options to drive Business Development:

  • Recruit – bring in people with proven BD skills and access to healthy networks
  • Create incentives / rewards for profitable BD results
  • Run BD training programmes to develop BD skills, behaviours and mindsets across their client facing teams

Whilst some will invest in all of these, most, in our experience, will invest in one or two. Clearly running with all three will create more ‘power’ to push fee growth – yet even then, there are important elements missing which means that, ultimately, long term return on investment is unlikely.



When we are asked to design and deliver a BD programme we usually know after a few questions to the client whether or not the programme will really deliver impact for them.

This opinion is despite us knowing our proposition will develop the right skills, behaviours, habits and build confidence and should have a hugely positive effect – yet we know all too often that will not happen.

The opinion is the result of an objective assessment of the internal Business Development operation. If other key elements are not in place, recruiting brilliant Business Developers, creating a well-thought out reward system and running the most effective programme will have only a limited impact.


Key elements of an effective Internal Business Development operation

The summary below is best read with sight of our Effective Business Development operation visual .

Based on our experience a firm with the following blocks in place (either formal or informal depending on the size of firm) will effectively drive growth and also create an embedded BD culture.


1. A focus on the ‘Core’ – top level fee growth targets underpinned by a firm wide BD strategy

In an Ideal world, every firm would have a clear vision for the firm (their WHY) which is underpinned by interlocking BD, Marketing, People, IT, Client service and change strategies amongst others – the maps to achieve the vision. These are the ‘WHAT are we wanting to achieve’ and the ‘HOW do we do it’ plans.

These headlines of the what and how need to be communicated, recommunicated and then communicated all over again across the firm. Get it in the line of sight. Ensure everybody understands it!

Whilst it is surprising (and worrying) to see the amount of firms with no clear strategy, it is even more of a concern to see a lack of basic fee growth targets set against a deadline. Firms need to aspire to grow to even defend their position. Without a deadline driven target, people will be more likely to free-wheel and to bed themselves into their comfort-zones. The first element in our book ‘Firm Principles: Simple guidelines for winning professional services firms’ focuses on the need to ‘light a fire’, to create the catalyst to drive action and break free from complacency.

Once established, targets need to be broken down through service line, sector and team targets and into individual performance measures (see point 4).

If BD programmes are run without real targets as a focal point, it is very difficult to get buy-in to the programme simply because the perception is that there is no real need to change.

Yes, there will always be those natural go-getters who want to win work and will take all the help they can get. But it is difficult for you to get the majority to commit.

We once facilitated a programme for a mid-size law firm a few years ago. We had high hopes for great engagement after being told by the senior partner that the firm had a 25% top line growth target within 5 years.

We introduced the programme by referencing this target, only to be informed (during breaks in laughter!) that this had been a rolling target for the last 15 years and it was never going to be taken seriously. Not a great start point, as people must be onboard with the strategy.


2. Senior BD figurehead and ‘owner’

It’s is absolutely vital that a senior figure takes responsibility for heading up the operation and driving BD. This demonstrates to the firm that it is being taken seriously. It helps to create a culture of accountability.

It is also important for this ‘Head of BD’ to ‘own’ any investment in a BD training programme and to ensure they can monitor and manage the metrics for any incentive schemes. The most successful outcomes from any such programmes come when they are driven internally, with communication driven by the Head and the programme being introduced and contextualised by the Head. This demonstrates that any BD programme is an important investment in the BD operation and is ‘real’.

Without this, the BD programme is just ‘interesting learning’ delivered by some experts, that is not supported by an internal incentive driver nor threat of failure. Simply a waste of money.


3. A clear and concise, compelling value proposition backed by key selling messages

Is this straight out of some ‘selling’ book? Is it really that relevant? We do Accounting, or Law, or Consulting. It’s pretty obvious isn’t it? But is it?

In a tremendously competitive marketplace, with savvy new entrants, where prospects are more informed and have more choice than ever before, it is essential to be able to articulate a consistent, clear and compelling reason for a prospect to choose you.

How will they benefit? What value will you give to them? A firm will stand a far better chance of winning work if a prospect receives the same clear message from everyone that they interact with within the firm.


4. Simple rewards and consequences linked to KPIs and measures

As mentioned, having a top level fee growth target for the firm certainly changes focus and some behaviours.

Breaking this down through service line, sector and team targets into individual targets / measures DRIVES different behaviours, if there is reward for achieving targets and objectives, and consequence for not performing. There has to be a sense of accountability.

This is classic performance management – setting clear objectives that are aligned with the firm’s strategy and clearly measuring performance against them.  For people to really do this BD thing (and remember, to some it is frightening) there has to be the WIIFM (what’s in it for me). Stripped down to its basics, people are driven by either BENEFIT (I will get something) or FEAR (I won’t / there may be repercussions).

The main reason for a lack of BD activity is often a lack of time. Clear KPI’s can force fee-earners to be more ruthless with their workload, delegating routine or lower value tasks to ensure that can consistently commit to BD.


5. Simple measures, metrics and a continual improvement focus

Peter Drucker famously said “you can’t manage what you can’t measure” and to manage progress against your targets you need to measure progress and communicate regularly. How much growth are we getting? Where is it coming from? Who is it coming from? Where isn’t it coming from? What is working? What isn’t working?

This vital information needs to fed back into the BD machine to ensure continuous improvement.


6. An active Client Relationship Management (CRM) system

There are many ‘potentially’ great systems out there. Yet most firms that have a system seem to be dissatisfied with it.

In our experience a great system is simply one that is used. Where people understand the benefits of keeping it up to date, entering the information, using it to lead and drive all client and prospect activity. If this isn’t happening then of course the ‘system’ isn’t delivering, hence the often negative views of CRMs.

Having an effective CRM is a cultural thing not a software thing. It is an approach and a discipline that has to be positioned at the core of the firm. The choice of software is just the interface – see our previous article on this topic!


7. A simple BD process

However you define or label the system to turn suspects into targets into prospects and into clients and the activity that underpins each section, the important thing is to ensure that the whole BD team (and remember, everyone is in sales) understand it and follow it.

Whether you have a sales funnel, a pipeline builder or a growth engine, the key is consistency through the key stages of wooing, winning and wowing. We would recommend the simpler the better.


8. A one-firm approach

The best source of fee growth is your current client base and through your current referrers and intermediaries. A ‘one firm’ approach is vital to ensure that current clients are given the best value by understanding all that you could do for them (some call this cross-selling).

Additionally, far better results are obtained if Business Developers go to market for new work with a ‘one firm’ mentality, seeing themselves as advocates of all the other service lines in the firm.

Providing all the best ‘training’ on sales techniques, rapport building and buying motivations will only have limited impact if a Tax partner goes to market as a Tax Partner talking only about Tax.


9. Investment in skills, behaviours and confidence development

It’s not just about a BD programme. Ongoing mentoring / coaching and support is essential.

Having that ‘person in your ear’ checking on how you are doing against your plan, helping you to overcome challenges, pushing you to do more, sharing common practice and ideas and maintaining your focus, is vital.

On the back of BD programmes this embeds learning into action, into habits and into performance.

If the firm is of sufficient size to have an internal BD / marketing team then utilise them as effectively as you can. In our experience, firm’s that recognise the high levels of knowledge, skills, contacts and commercial awareness that are wrapped up in their internal team, and see them as a driver of business instead of a support function, achieve the best results. Drive as much value as you can from the internal team –  as coaches, consultants and advisers.


In summary, in our experience there is no magical ‘one’ option that will  deliver fee growth. We often see a BD programme, or the provider, or the internal BD/marketing team being blamed for a lack of real results, but firm’s need to first look internally at their BD operation in its entirety. Which key blocks are not in place? Which need to be revisited and fine-tuned? What is our plan to build a more effective operation?


If you want to learn how to maximise your investment and grow your practice get in touch now with alex@thegrogroup.com and we can have a chat about how you can get great results more quickly.