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Nurturing BD Effectiveness

The ability to win and retain clients is critical to the growth, or even survival, of professional services firms. Whether you are looking to improve your team’s performance, or to recruit to plug gaps or capitalise on trends, here are some tips to improve your return on investment with both your existing fee earners, and when you recruit. We’ll look first at internal resources.


Improving inhouse expertise:

Assess your teams to understand their strengths. An earlier blog highlights the skills needed to drive client growth and how to assess the gaps across the key areas of cross selling, up selling, lead generation and content. While every business is different, these are all essential to increasing revenue and need to be part of your efforts.


Conduct a gap analysis. An oft-overlooked exercise, it can be conducted in half a day and provides an essential baseline around where you are strong and where you might make improvement(s). Look at two key areas: First, assess the mix of resource in relation to winning vs doing vs managing the work – do you have sufficient sales focus? Secondly within the winning category analyse the type of activity that has worked – be it sponsorship, conferences, thought leadership etc.


Fill the gaps. Whether tackled collectively or individually, it’s straightforward to address some concerns with training and adjusting processes – a relatively modest investment. Let’s assume your analysis highlighted more lead generation could be done to both new and existing clients. A fair assumption as it’s the most frequent gap that I identify as, for many people, it’s not fun and it's easily put off.

  • Processes: How do the team generate leads – be it cold calling, networking, referrals, content marketing or other? How many of the team practice a formulaic approach to lead gen and follow up? While no panacea, a formula followed by all provides a baseline of minimum activity, plus accountability and transparency.

  • Internal Training: learn from your best BD practitioners – what have they done than can be replicated?

One approach that worked well previously was to score the team by effort (how many hours per week spent, and on what activity) and effectiveness (how many interactions were generated, measuring response rather than revenue given the lag). Plot the results on a 2x2 matrix or spider chart and you have an immediate view of the team from which you can start improving. For instance in the example below, we would conclude the following:


John and Keith get great returns from their modest efforts. What elements of their approaches (always following up, asking for the next matter, sending interesting articles, agreeing to loss leader work that actually converts into larger projects) are potentially transferable or is it all charisma and a brilliant network? Also, is there any downside? Over promising or undercharging might be lurking.


How can John and Keith be motivated to increase their effort, or can other work be removed from them to free BD time?


Charlie and Ringo get great results through methodically, almost rhythmically, committing a higher percentage of their time to BD activities. One does an hour per day of BD, the other blocks off half a day per week to engage with clients, and another half day to prospect with content and articles. Both sytems are replicable.


Ronnie needs to do more to achieve more and requires a nudge. Mick’s position is tricky in that the hard work isn’t paying off, or at least not yet. When this happens, with a glass half full and he’s contacting the right people with the right message, then success will come. Half empty and the target or message needs adjusting so that we meet new people, and/or share new insight.


Such exercises also allow you to segment the team and make adjustments:

  • Copy the replicable elements (process, approach frequency) of those with strong results.

  • Empower the successful fee earners to do more with practice or admin support

  • Coach, train and focus those who are making the effort but not yet seeing the returns

  • Increase the efforts of those not doing much, or pass more project work their way to free up others to do BD.

Introduce a baseline

In parallel with identifying individual coaching and training needs, introduce or escalate the baseline of expected activity. Even when you have a dedicated BD and sales team, increased effort from fee earners often generates an immediate return. An example might be (adjust numbers to suit):

  • Ask two clients per week if there is anything else you can support them with. These might be current or lapse clients, the latter is easier supported with solid content to frame the conversation.

  • Contact three prospects per week for an introductory meeting – they might be identified by the BD team, met at a conference, active in the media or a referral from a colleague.

  • Find one article (proprietary content or external media) to act on. It might, for example, be a survey on ESG challenges, or a piece about company X making another acquisition. Issues such as M&A, litigation, regulatory action, political change etc all offer opportunities to get in touch with clients and prospects. All provide opportunities to reach out and while 90% of the time advisers have been appointed when you read the press, you can ask to be considered next time.

  • Increase activity on LinkedIn. If people aren’t sharing, why not?

Centrally, to maximise the return on the above, you will also need to be on top of two areas:

  1. update your target list so that the increased activity is directed at those felt more likely to convert into profitable instructions – not the prospects that will never hire you; and

  2. measure efforts and make accountability clear. The biggest reason for failure is still a lack of accountability. One managing partner explained to me that we are encouraging people to do work that they ultimately don’t want to do, so there will need to be a carrot, as well as a stick. Longer term you can link to KPIs, whilst in the interim a weekly progress review will likely suffice.

 

Recruiting

When the gaps cannot be plugged through the existing team and recruitment is necessary, there are various steps one can take to cross-check BD effectiveness of incoming fee earners. I would suggest you should look ultimately to separate the potential hire’s efforts from their previous brand – there are numerous examples of an impressive lateral from a top tier firm struggling to develop business when the brand has gone. Understand the relationship with any previous rainmakers – while process and effort can make a huge impact, in a relationship business there are characters who the rest of us support and orbit, while they do the real BD.

There are two focus areas here – the interview itself and the background check.


Interview

I’m surprised at how infrequently formal assessments of track record and approach are conducted around senior hires, especially when they are hopefully bringing thousands or millions of pounds with them, or driving a new initiative.

Here the goals are to understand the applicant’s approach and to understand the interplay of other drivers – namely the brand, star rainmakers, and also their current BD team. All can have a dramatic impact on results.

  • Ask for examples of how they’ve won and retained work. If they are bringing a book of work with them probe the client’s attachment to the legacy firm and its other partners. How will they feel about any changes in approach or support?

  • Networking and prospecting. The pandemic has decimated conferences but what was their approach and how have they adapted subsequently? How do they leverage their network?

  • How frequently do they target, what tends to work and if they outsource elements, how is the transition managed?

  • BD plan. What plan did they follow and how was it measured?

Tease out where they are least comfortable – it’s incredibly rare to find people as, for example, competent working a room as presenting, writing an article or researching targets. BD is a broad range of skills.


Background checks

We’re all aware of the reputational picture that can be built through a review of social media. A similar approach can be applied to BD efforts, especially in areas where building a profile is important. Research:

  • Social Media. Check LinkedIn for quantity and quality of activity. How broad is their network? Do they at the minimum share and amplify their corporate content, do they comment on the activity of others, do they share additional insight? Is there balance? Very occasionally you find excessive posting, which can suggest LinkedIn is being used as the only BD channel, or that the applicant doesn’t get much else done.

  • Media: Is the applicant a talking head on issues and/or have they written by-lines? Getting published or quoted in the quality business press still has a direct ability to open doors.

  • Content: How often do they (or did they…) present at conferences or internal seminars and webinars? What thought leadership have they led – and what was the result?

Human sources

Whether you gather opinion internally, or outsource the exercise to experts, it's straightforward to expand a reputational DD to include BD competencies. Discussions with former clients, competitors, former employees etc around their BD proactivity, attitudes on BD vs fee earning, how they contributed to big wins can corroborate claims or raise questions to be addressed.


Typical findings can highlight that a client might not follow a partner, that an account is a collective effort, or indeed that the individual is selling themselves short and are in fact more central than they appreciated.

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