How BD Functions in Professional Firms Can Add More Value

By Tony Reiss, Founding Principal, Sherwood PSF Consulting

 BD functions are under scrutiny more than ever. Most of the markets for legal services have declined during the recession (notably corporate, real estate, finance etc) and buyers are flexing their muscles, particularly on pricing. So the market overall has become much more competitive. Also, most firms are cutting back on marketing expenditure and looking for more bangs for their buck. Furthermore, some firms are even contemplating outsourcing their BD functions, believing that they’ll get better value if the service is managed from outside the firm.

 So the time is right to remind ourselves why the BD function exists and how it best adds value.

The Sherwood Service Model

There are lots of different ways of structuring a BD function and there’s no single right answer. Your BD function, size and shape will depend on the nature of your practice and the type of clients and work done. But the principles will be the same. Let’s start by looking at the Sherwood Service Model, which defines the spread of work done by any BD function. In essence, work is ascribed either as: 

  • strategic or operational, and this is defined largely by the timeframe, scale and importance of the project – so a brochure for a practice area would be defined as operational whereas a new firmwide CRM programme would be defined as strategic
  • reactive or proactive –if the work originates from the fee earners it would be seen as reactive whereas if originating from the BD function it would be defined as proactive – so if a partner phones or emails to ask for help organising a seminar, the work is defined as reactive and if the BD function suggests a new process for writing and editing newsletters the work is proactive

Let’s look in a little more detail at each of these quadrants and attempt to define the skills needed by the BD specialists.

 Quadrant 1 – Reactive/Operational

Most firms agree that most of their BD work is in Quadrant 1. It’s the brochures, newsletters, seminars, corporate events etc that fills the marketing department project lists. 

The value that BD specialists bring in this area is that they should know how to do these operational things well and, by keeping a close eye on the client experience, deliver a project that enhances market profile or deepens client connections.

 The main problem is that even quite senior marketing managers agree that most of their overall contribution is not as strategic as they would like it to be. This suggests that too much of their time is spent doing Quadrant 1 work. What might be needed is the skill to limit time spent by senior marketing specialists on operational, reactive projects. The question is how to do this? There are a number of ideas contained in the commentary under Quadrant 2, but the key skill to develop here is the art of being tactfully assertive and contracting better with the partner asking for assistance.

Below is a powerful 4 step contracting process to help. 

Quadrant 2 – Proactive/Operational

This is typically where BD can add value by coming up with improved systems and processes for carrying out operational BD projects and making them more efficient and effective. Here are ideas for doing this:

 Helping to educate the partners as to the workload involved in any single marketing project. One BD Director encouraged his team members to produce project plans for seminars and publications. These ran to 4 pages or so and included each important task, including de-duplicate any mailing lists, personalising invitations, rehearsing, producing name badges etc

  • Getting junior fee earners more involved in BD activity. Most firms have many more trainees than BD specialists and, not all, but most junior lawyers want to get more involved in marketing projects. Is there anything the BD function can do to encourage this involvement?
  • Getting secretaries more involved in BD activity. With fee earners becoming more IT literate, the need for secretaries to churn our documents is reducing. The more ambitious secretaries will want to take on certain BD roles, but will need appropriate training. Several firms are starting to train secretaries in CRM skills and one firm has even given secretaries a budget to invite their counterparts at key accounts to receptions etc. The point is that secretaries can take some of the workload of the BD function.

A key skill for BD specialists working well in this quadrant is the ability to influence. I provide my thoughts on how to do this later under the commentary for Quadrant 4. 

Quadrant 3 – Reactive/Strategic

Most senior marketing specialists want to do more and more strategic projects, for example branding, customer value propositions, creative pricing strategies, improved CRM practices etc. It’s challenging, usually good for the firm and good for the CV! As we have seen, part of the problem is getting sucked into too much day-to-day operational work. But another issue is whether the firm has confidence that you will deliver working at this strategic level.

Let’s start by considering what personal qualities and skills are needed to instil this feeling of confidence: 

  • Credibility – Do you have the air of someone who is comfortable working on these important projects? Have you been there before, done it and even perhaps got the tee-shirt?! The ability to have impact and exude credibility is more subtle than you might think. It isn’t telling everybody how much experience you’ve got! In a strange way, this can have the powerful effect of undermining your credibility. It’s done rather more effectively by asking the right questions and having a confident demeanour. Your voice, eye contact, the way you sit in the chair and lots of other elements of body language can all contribute to giving people a sense of how credible you are for working on strategic initiatives. What’s rather frightening is the speed at which we get an impression of somebody’s credibility – as we all know when we meet someone we’re interviewing for a job! And if we get off to a bad start it can be harder to change somebody’s mind. As is said, ‘you don’t get two go’s and making a good first impression!’
  • Rapport – How well do you connect with the senior partners you’ll be working with on strategic projects? Are you on their wavelength? Do the partners involved feel you really really understand what they are looking for or what their concerns are? The skills of building rapport of harder to describe. You usually know when you are in rapport with somebody and when you’re not. It’s a bit like dating – being interested in the other person, asking questions and showing that you’ve listened, heard and understood. It usually takes a bit longer to build rapport than credibility.
  • Trust – This is probably the most important and fundamental element to focus on. Unfortunately, it takes ages to build trust. Ideally the partners will want to know you will deliver what you promise. It helps if you work to the highest levels of integrity. In other words, you do what you say! Also, you say what you think! No bullshit! Honesty!

My thesis here is that the firm will invite you to work on strategic marketing initiatives if you have communicated sufficiently that you are credible, are in rapport with important partners and can be trusted to deliver. 

Quadrant 4 – Proactive/Strategic

The ultimate area for BD specialists to be working! It requires you to have initiated the conversation perhaps by articulating the need when it hadn’t already been spotted, working up a potential solution, selling it and subsequently making it happen! This requires a range of influencing skills and my experience is that most of us in BD would benefit from developing such skills. Here’s a model which many support staff, not just in BD, have found helpful when they want to be more influential. 

The influencing model says there are 2 types of energy we can use when influencing – push energy and pull energy. Push energy is where the effort is largely coming from us. There are two types of push energy – using logic and asserting. Pull energy is where our focus is on engaging commitment from the other person. There are 2 types of pull energy – visioning and consulting. The table below describes the different influencing styles and gives an example of how the conversation would sound 





Using Logic




Example There are 3 good reasons why we should do X…

  • Better profit etc


I’m not happy this has happened after we agreed…. the consequences are…. Wouldn’t it be great if we could do X. Or wouldn’t it be terrible if Y happened. Just imagine it…. What would you like to see happen? What are your thoughts about ways of overcoming Y?
Particularly useful when… You only need to appeal to the head

You have lots of additional insight and data

You have a mandate or authority

 You have the backing of somebody else who has power

You want to build an emotional connection with an outcome You want to get buy-in

 You want to overcome the ‘not invented here’ syndrome

Limitations Overused

Doesn’t build an emotional commitment

Underused but needs to be used sparingly with partners Underused and vision needs repeating Underused though watch out for cynicism if views are ignored
Word you’ll hear more… It I We You

 Here’s an example of how this influencing model has been used to work effectively in Quadrant 4. A BD Director wanted to set up a key account programme. He started by engaging with influential partners and talking about what could go wrong if the firm didn’t coordinate its services better to important clients (negative Visioning). This created a discussion in the Boardroom and permission was obtained to produce a paper for discussion. The BD Director then selected a small team of partners to discuss with their practice groups (Consulting). This flushed out various concerns about how it would work in practice. These were considered and a paper was produced suggested a way forward and the benefits of proceeding (Using Logic). Subsequently, if any partners failed to deliver, the management team dealt with them appropriately (Assertive).

It should be noted the model works for any support function, including Finance, HR, IT etc. The tasks will obviously be different but there will be equivalent operational and strategic activities. 



This entry was posted in Business Development and Selling, Coaching and Training, Managing Change, Strategy and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s