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Driving and Defending Revenue Part Two: BD Activity

Business development across PS firms has professionalised dramatically over the last decade. Account management, targeting programmes, cross selling, client journeys, content marketing and the improved use of data and digital are increasingly important and understood.

Whilst constructive systems and processes have evolved, larger ticket PS projects are still relationship driven and I’ve been lucky enough to work with some incredible rainmakers who combine intelligence, charisma, drive and commercial acumen to generate millions of dollars of fees. However, to drive scalable growth and reduce key man risk, a more programmatic approach, running alongside the rainmakers, is often sensible.

Let’s revisit our example level plan BD above and ensure each goal has concrete actions. In a real scenario, each action would also have an owner and deadline.

From here you have the makings of an excellent BD plan. It’s not complete though, important omissions include:

  • Timeline and BD expectations: Both are important in order to generate some positive pressure. A starting rule of thumb might be an hour of BD a day, or a day a week on top of current commitment – then depending on the team’s size you can assess how long the project will take, increasing it as you see fit

  • Revenue or activity targets: At a higher level, revenue targets are essential. In our example above, we need a figure to at least gauge if the effort is well placed - are the four campaigns above delivering £1m or £10m? With the execution teams, we tend to recommend activity targets rather than revenue. The harsh reality of professional services BD is that the lag time between impressing and getting engaged can be long and I’ve also seen examples of teams taking the foot off the gas when a big project is won and smashed the entire revenue target.

We recommend breaking activity down into manageable weekly activity, for example you might implement one of these (expanding on the four point plan above) over the week:

  • Speak to five contacts about compliance and litigation. That might need 10 approaches – your favourite client will take a call, your prospects may not.

  • Research and prepare an article/webinar on DD in unclear times for corporates and investors.

  • Research the FTSE350, rank them by cash position and compare to your database – where are the links to companies you might already know?

  • Research the leaders in IT security and supply chain oversight. Are they global players or boutiques? How big is there team? Who are their clients and ex team members – is there anyone to talk to for a greater insight?

In the course of a campaign, it typically quickly becomes apparent which efforts are working better than others, so don’t be afraid to adjust accordingly. Today, marketing and BD efforts are satisfyingly measurable, enabling you to tweak or stop effort that is not quite working.

  • Responsibility: At the risk of repeating myself, it is critical to be on top of who is doing what by when, and then the implications of not getting it done. Be crystal clear how the effort breaks down between fee earners and BD experts and a possible contingency, if for example a £2m proposal or a webinar with 800 registrants needs delivering with the key team buried on a project – both still need to get done.

Looking again at our example four point plan, I wanted to highlight the balance of effort between known and unknown contacts. Time and again the thrill of the chase and a win of a new client takes priority over cross and upselling efforts. There is no set rule for percentage of effort – firms differ widely in term of number of active clients and the type of work delivered (one off vs repeat) and I also think the oft-repeated 5x ratio of costs related to client acquisition vs

retention is both a little dated and more applicable to subscription models. Regardless, in my experience it is better to focus more effort, time and resources on existing contacts, especially in the short term.

Selling existing, or even new, services to existing contacts consistently delivers a better return than targeting new leads (though you still have to do both, just with more emphasis on the existing services). A typical breakdown might be:

  • Existing clients – Cross sell and upsell across services and offices. If you deliver compliance, who delivers the strategic work? Or if you support their real estate needs, who does the banking or construction work?

  • Lapsed clients – A frequent occurrence with firms advising on high profile issues. Often you have dazzled the client but not maintained the relationship – and there is frequently a lot of goodwill to be leveraged. Get back in touch.

  • Lost prospects – While there might be the occasional client that you do not want to reconnect with, there are frequently contacts that you have pitched and lost to that were impressed, but there was a better fit elsewhere on that occasion.

In all three cases, return on effort is usually better compared to prospects that don’t know you, as you have already overcome some of the barriers to purchasing. Plus with existing clients you can also gather robust feedback around any new services (“we don’t see you in that space; we buy that from Competitor ABC and it’s great; how are you different to Competitor XYZ?”) with which you can then refine an offer further before broadening the campaign.

When prospecting for new clients, lockdown has shone a light on the importance of great content to support lead generation. In the absence of face to face contact, insight around topics, sectors or geographies is critical to keep conversations going with existing contacts and persuade new contacts that you are useful to know.

A note of caution. all of the above assumes the marketing function is purring: The CRM system is well maintained, the propositions and differentiators are skilfully defined, collateral and digital efforts grab attention, classy content is generated and marketing and BD work symbiotically together. Where this is not the case, address urgently as your effort will unfortunately equal less return if the marketing machine is running less efficiently.

Click here to access part three: resourcing and if you have any queries, please contact me at:, I would be pleased to hear from you.

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