Saturday, May 29, 2010

To BD or Not To BD?

By Mira Leonard, Partner with Creative Growth Group

To BD or Not to BD = to focus on business development or not? That’s not even a question worth debating when it comes to leading progressive professional services firms (PSF), if you ask me. But let me spell it out: to survive and grow, business development, on a firm, practice and professional level, is not even a choice – it’s a necessity. Instead of my pun on Hamlet’s famous quote, I’d argue the real question at hand is how to go about doing it. After experiencing the recent business slow down, PSF’s seem to agree and are increasingly encouraging business development actions. And, because the question “how to BD” offers many answers, one of the fastest and quick-fix solutions contemplated by firms is hiring BD professionals. That certainly is a solution, however it might not be the most appropriate one depending on the situation at hand. So, for the purposes of this article let’s think of “To BD or Not To BD” as the PSF dilemma of whether to hire in-house BD professionals or find alternative growth solutions. Let the battle of our inner Hamlets commence.

In my experience working with PSF’s of different shapes, sizes and cultures, I’ve had the opportunity to see when bringing in BD professionals is successful and when it fails. And so, before sharing my thoughts and weighing the pro’s and con’s of hiring BD professionals please consider the following questions… Does the culture of the firm allow for BD professionals? How would your current and prospective clients feel if they were approached by BD professionals representing the firm? Would the technical professionals leverage the skills and actions of that professional or sit back and relax because the burden no longer lies with them? These are all significant questions, not necessarily pertaining to the growth of the PSF, but to the organizational cultural domain that is just as significant to the firm’s survival. Reflect on these and other similar culture and client related issues before moving forward, I beg thee.

Now, when the firm culture is built to accept and utilize client development professionals, bringing them on board, with the proper expectations, can be a powerful growth solution. One of my business partners likes to say that ”client development is both an individual and a team discipline” and I agree. BD professionals can “hunt” and at the same time offer leverage to the technical professional service providers (i.e. lawyers, accountants, consultants, etc.) by supporting their individual client development actions. Prospect and referral identification and research, as well as relationship building, at both strategic and tactical levels, customarily require unknown or untapped skills for many technical professionals. The right BD executive will act as a mentor and strive to enhance the talents of the technical professionals, amplifying the impact of their collaborative client development efforts. On a micro level, they will also support the proposal process: from scoping to presenting along with the technical professionals, and working along the marketing team on the presentation, in between. Because when it comes to PSF’s, the professionals are the embodiment of the firms’ brands, the proper BD executives will have the executive presence and gravitas to do just that. And so, on a macro level they will also represent the firm in the community, help build and enhance the brand and goodwill and most importantly develop strategic to growth relationships.

I don’t know about you, but I almost convinced myself that hiring BD professionals (the right ones) is the way to go…well, “almost” and the “right” being the operative words here. Before jumping ahead, a few additional to the culture concerns to keep in mind…The economic downfall has purged many PSF’s of excess and unaccounted for spending, making them more efficient and effective. Why should business development and marketing be treated any other way? So, before casting a vote on BD professionals, ask yourself whether the firm is fully utilizing the resources at hand. Audit the firms’ business development systems and assets to identify any opportunities for enhancement or repurpose. The chances are if you look for improvement and leverage you will find it. When you can say - with a certainty - that all of the PSF’s internal client development resources have been tapped in and exhausted, only then would I recommend considering additional growth alternatives such as hiring BD professionals. Even then, keep in mind that ultimately buyers of PSF services buy the people who will do the actual work. In other words, having BD professionals on staff shouldn’t release the technical experts from their own BD responsibilities. However, that often is the case, and it brings a whole new set of growth challenges.

To BD or not to BD – that is the question: whether to grow the PSF with the help of BD professionals on staff. That’s your prerogative, dear reader – I only hope my comments encouraged you to consider the full complexity of the situation; one, which might call for support from experts on creating superior, lasting, predictable client development results for professional service firms.

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