Creating an Effective Business Development Operation

We have recently been helping several clients with Business Development (BD) initiatives and have met up with a couple of prospects who are looking for a BD ‘training’ programme to drive profitable top line growth in their firm.

The key question that is always asked, quite rightly, to the provider is ‘what will the programme do for us, what will be the return on investment?’

Maybe surprisingly we often find ourselves replying ‘very little’. This isn’t due to a lack of confidence or belief in our proposition, but from an assessment of their internal BD operation. BD programmes that help to build skills, behaviours, habits and confidence can have a huge return if certain key things are in place. Without these key ingredients, even the most brilliant programme (and even the most talented internal BD teams) will have a limited impact.

Onto these ‘things’…. What are they?

Based on our experience a firm with that has the following core foundations in place (which is either formal or more informal depending on the size of firm) will effectively drive growth and also create a BD culture. Adding a programme to enable individuals to more effectively contribute within such a framework will deliver powerful results.

1.  The ‘Core’ – top level fee growth targets underpinned by a firm wide BD strategy

In an ideal world, every organisation would have a clear vision for the firm (the 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.

Then the headlines of the what and how needs 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. The firm Principles Book by theGrogroupWithout a deadline driven target people will be more likely to free-wheel and to bed themselves into their comfort-zones. The first principle of 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 KPIs (see point 4).

If we run programmes without this focal point, it is very difficult to get buy-in to the programme simply because there is no real need to change. There will always be the natural go-getters who want to win work and will take every tip they can get. But it is difficult to get the majority to commit when there is no drive or rationale to encourage them to achieve a BD target. A bit like taking a horse to water – you cant make it drink if it doesn’t want to. The same can be said for BD. You can train people to do BD, but if their heart in not in it, or they have no reason to make the change, then they will happily remain focused on client work not BD.

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

We opened the partner programme with this target only to be informed (during breaks in laughter!) that this had been a rolling target for the last 15 years and was never going to be taken seriously. Not a great starting point.

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 programme. The most successful outcomes from programmes come when it is driven internally, with communication driven by the Head and the programme being introduced and contextualized 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 ‘training’ delivered by some external guys, which is never going to deliver great results.

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? 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 KPI’s

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 KPIs 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 a lack of time. Clear KPI’s can force fee-earners to be more ruthless with their time, delegating routine or lower value tasks to ensure they can consistently commit to BD.

5.  Simple 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.

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, and then turns positive action into habitual behaviour. Ultimately it can create BD machines!

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. Use them as coaches, consultants and advisers.

Rounding off, BD programmes can add tremendous value but often they are seen as a ‘magic pill’, the first solution to ‘rescue’ the top line and deliver the goal. If this doesn’t happen it is often the programme, or provider, that is blamed. Firm’s should first look internally at their BD operation and what ‘things’ are in place (or not in place) and plan to fine tune these before investing in skills and behaviours support. If they do, they will see the benefits.

If you want to learn more about how we can help you to create an effective BD operation please contact us to arrange a complimentary meeting to discuss your challenges in confidence.