Business Development in Professional Firms is Still Lacking – Part 2: The Remedies

Part 1 of this article outlines the case that senior income generators in professional service firms are still not fully committed to carrying out effective BD. And that this lack of commitment isn’t their fault.

I point out that there’s a Knowing-Doing gap; that most partners know what they should be doing – they just don’t do it. I explain that this is because of what I call the whispers from ‘dark angels’.

There have been improvements, for sure. But it’s as if firms have reached an equilibrium and got a bit stuck. I believe we need new approaches to move forward. I now go on to offer some remedies.

The required actions are in two different categories:

  • Different 1-1 conversations with partners
  • Different approaches to BD initiatives

Different 1-1 Conversations with Partners

One of the challenges with BD is that the effort needs to go in now, for a potential reward in the future. It’s a bit like going on an exercise or dieting programme. It takes a routine and commitment, otherwise we fall by the wayside.

Then, to counter the effects of the whispers and temptations from dark angels, it helps if Management, Heads of BD and Practice Group Heads fully support partners adopt this approach to their business development:

  • Find their passion – whether it’s writing a technical treatise, speaking at seminars, getting more involved in industry networks, generating knowhow, finding efficiencies using technology etc. Without this passion the negative messages may win out.
  • Aim to tackle foothills rather than climb Everest – partners obviously feel better if they achieve their goals, so it’s more motivating. Too often partners attempt tough challenges and become demoralised when they feel they fail.
  • Have a personal BD plan – that is congruent with the practice group plan. This will keep them on track and get BD activities into their calendar.
  • Avoid being critical if the BD initiative doesn’t work – or if the partners ‘falls off the wagon’. As the saying goes, ‘there’s no such thing as failure – only learning!’

Motivation is key. Management tends to be too critical in my view and not supportive enough. For partners to invest more time in effective BD, we need to provide more carrot and less stick!

Different Approaches to BD Initiatives

Top-down, imposed BD initiatives such as key account programmes are destined to be frustrating projects. There just won’t be enough ownership and commitment if they are approached in this way.

So I recommend consulting more widely before BD projects are initiated. This approach is what the Japanese call ‘nemawashi’.

But even if partners are consulted, management needs to recognise that when partners say ‘yes’ but in an unenthusiastic way, it probably means there’s not enough commitment. It’s back to my point about the need for passion.

I recommend having a 4-phased approach to change projects, follows:

Phase 0 – Set up

Phase 1 – Data gathering

Phase 2 – Implementation

Phase 3 – Consolidation.

This takes longer but at least the change tends to stick!

Effective leaders need the skills of creating a compelling vision of the future, of deep engagement with partners and of creating a passion going out there to create a better book of business.

Boy did I learn this in my time working as a BD Director in a large law firm!

For a fuller description of the problems, the knowing-doing gap and whispering dark angels see

This entry was posted in Business Development and Selling, Leadership and Management, Managing Change and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Business Development in Professional Firms is Still Lacking – Part 2: The Remedies

  1. Pingback: Business Development in Professional Firms is Still Lacking – Part 1: The Problem | Tony Reiss

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