This article was first published in the July 2009 magazine edition of The Professional Marketing Forum

When I explain to people what I do – “Help lawyers, accountants and consultants to build relationships and sell” – the response that comes back most often is “Golly they certainly need help” – or words to that effect.

What is it about the nature of some professionals which stops them being great at business development? Let’s examine ten of the big issues – and at the same time suggest ways to help. Each of the areas are also song titles on my iPod. I’m willing to give you an insight into my muddled musical taste in the hope it will provide an easy way for you to remember each issue.

Let’s kick-off with a classic….

  1. Strangers In The Night – Frank Sinatra

One myth around business development is that you need to constantly reach out to people you have never spoken to before – something which quite understandably scares the pants off the average cautious accountant, consultant or lawyer. But, the reverse is true. People should start by selling through their best contacts and clients.

Exhaust the above first. Then and only then, begin the arduous and expensive journey to engaging cold prospects.

Not only is it easier and more natural to invest in relationships with people who you already know – it is also a lot quicker. Developing deep personal trust and credibility takes years. If someone has no awareness of you or your firm at the moment, chances of winning work from them are slim.

  1. The Only One I Know – The Charlatans

Many fee-earners have deep expertise in a particular area which is a big plus when delivering technical work. However, when valuable conversations require breadth to focus on a clients’ business – rather than simply a particular specialism, the fee-earner can feel exposed, so retreats into their comfort zone leaving the client frustrated.

As Catriona Tulley – who has worked in business development with 3i and KPMG notes; “sometimes it’s better to know a little about a lot rather than a lot about a little. Combine this with a fear of being exposed, and some people cling to the comfort blanket of what they know”.

Jonathon Boss – Investment Director at Downing Corporate Finance agrees this is a problem – and that it is even more pronounced in large London firms where the sheer size means that the natural sharing of ideas and intelligence does not happen

There are lots of ways to combat this – with some of the best being:

  • Creating cross-functional client teams wherever possible
  • Organising snappy internal briefings where one division presents on their specialist area, the right questions to ask and signs to look for
  • Circulating credential statements and success stories
  1. Shhh For A Little While – James Brown

Some fee-earners think – “I’m in a sales situation, I must talk”: Others have learnt that really the art is in asking the right questions and they adopt this with gusto, becoming ruthless interrogators. The answer of course is to strike a balance.

As a conversation evolves, a huge temptation for professionals with their training as problem solvers is to be trigger-happy. When a client is taking time to explain their situation, fee-earners need to concentrate absolutely on what is being said rather than framing their response in their own minds – hold back those thoughts until the client has finished and only then begin to expand upon what they have said and what that implies for their business.

  1. We Don’t Need No Education – Pink Floyd

With little or no training, it’s only natural that many people dither and procrastinate – rather than throwing themselves into an area where they feel hopelessly ill-prepared.

Tom Vaughan, currently Marketing Director with Burges Salmon, is able to contrast what he sees in the legal sector with his previous experience at Unilever and BP.

“It’s immediately apparent that some professionals are naturally highly skilled in the area of business development, whereas others either don’t go about it in the right way or shy away from the topic completely. Sometimes there’s a divergence between those who do it well and those who think they do it well, which can be a major barrier to progress.

For me the trick is to identify the needs and then work on them at an individual level, offering coaching advice that is practical and avoids marketing jargon. Many senior professionals are more open to input on business development than might appear at first glance – it just needs to be delivered in the right way.”

Look around you; have the fee-earners in your firm had enough support through training and coaching? Most I work with have had help in one or two or the following areas – but is that enough – which can they afford to ignore?

  • Networking
  • Phone Confidence
  • Active listening
  • Cross-selling
  • Managing their professional network
  • Key Account Management
  • Running sales meetings
  • Creating winning tenders

Very few will publicly volunteer the fact that they feel ill-equipped in any of these crucial areas – but if they are offered the chance to improve by you, most will grab it.

Dominic de Mariveles – Client Services Director at Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) agrees with Tom. “Partners and Associates need coaching. These coaches could be business development professionals – or equally, could be Partners – the crucial thing is that it is someone credible in their eyes.

There is a gap but there is a huge appetite to bridge it. At BLP there is a spirit of openness to BD ideas and a desire for learning. I also question the view that accountancy firms are light-years ahead of law firms when it comes to BD focus. They may not have the same scale of support structure but certainly what is happening at BLP is as smart as anything I saw at KPMG or Deloitte.”

This is a huge area. You could write a thesis on it. One man who has done exactly that is Dr Cliff Ferguson. As Cliff says – what can we expect; “Professionals are trained year-on-year to focus more and more on their speciality, then they get to a senior level in the organisation and

suddenly they are expected to be able to undertake and deliver a wide range of leadership and management activities – it’s hardly surprising that they find it extremely difficult”.

  1. Somewhere A Clock Is Ticking – Snow Patrol

What gets measured gets done. True even in times where people are relaxed about their job security – but even more so in today’s climate. If you are a nervous fee-earner conscious of the axe being swung around you, it’s logical that you will want to perform work that has a measurable and tangible benefit

There are 3 ways to minimise this as a problem – and each should be employed in tandem:

  • Allocate a percentage of time to marketing and business development
  • Encourage controlled delegation of all the admin aspects of planning, reporting and recording
  • Take a medium to long-term view so that people can look-up from today’s work with confidence and spend time and energy investing in tomorrow’s clients.

Andrew Birch, Director of Sales at BPP Professional Development agrees that the “ticking clock” is a big problem because “some firms think of Utilisation and Chargeability as one and the same thing. Firms need to challenge this and recognise that a productive afternoon building relationships with defined prospects is as important as delivering chargeable work”.

Andrew sees a change in the market, partly driven by the current economy. In his conversations with accountancy and law firms he hears a louder call for commercial and business development training and BPP are seeing increasing demand for coaching and their growing portfolio of BD courses.

  1. Don’t Fade Away – the Rolling Stones

A sale is not a single transaction but part of a flow of activity which will commonly take two years or more. It therefore requires sustained and dedicated effort to move someone through the pipeline. A fee-earner with only limited BD allocation therefore can’t do it.

They need support, and they need help in nurturing leads. What tools do you as a firm make available so that they can keep at the front of a client’s mind? Encourage your colleagues not to think of quick wins but to sustain contact through drip-feeding value with a mix of:

  • Seminars
  • White papers
  • PR
  • Corporate entertainment
  • Articles
  • Workshops
  • E-News
  1. Who Are You – The Who

Some professionals assume that to be good Rainmakers they need to work to a formula or template – or at least mirror the behaviours of someone who they have seen do it well; helpful to some degree. If people within your firm are crying out for a plan and a process to work to, then one should be developed which is particular to your firm. This will give them:

  • Security that the way they are managing a relationship has been endorsed by the most senior members of the firm
  • A structure to fall back on should ideas desert them
  • A confidence which is then reflected to clients – making it clear to them that they are being served in a professional manner

The danger comes though when this the suggested method becomes a constraint or the fee-earner starts to behave in an overly-methodical Metal Mickey Manner. Have you got the balance right in your firm?

  1. A Little Less Talk A Little More Action – Elvis Presley

Smart people – faced with a choice between further analysis and intellectual debate – and the risk of discomfort that comes with approaching a prospective client, will stick to thinking, not doing. The King says it well. As marketing professionals, it’s part of our role to say “OK, enough analysis – now let’s actually go and engage our prospects”.

Amy Kilbane, European Marketing Director with LECG, shares something that has worked for her: “Usually, senior professionals are ultra-competitive. Reporting successes and levels of activity, to an internal audience, adds extra motivation for people to up their game.

Knowing that they will be ranked alongside their peers on a monthly basis, has definitely encouraged a number of our more reluctant ‘business developers’ to wrench themselves away from their desk and to be much more active in the market.”

  1. I Can See Clearly Now – Jimmy Cliff

Chris Kane is a Partner at regional law firm Withy King. In a bold and pioneering move in 2006, he shifted to become 100% dedicated to BD. He says the problem across the Professions, ultimately boils down to one thing – measurement. “BD ability, which has traditionally been viewed as an ancillary quality is increasingly becoming an integral part of any lawyer’s skill-base. However, while billing big fees leads to promotion and higher rewards, there is not the same level of recognition for BD success.

The problem is measurement – and firms need to work hard to establish an accepted measure of BD activity so that this can feed through to appraisals, reward and career progression which is essential in order to truly develop a BD culture in an organisation.”

And finally one that is not on my iPod – but which just can’t be ignored:

  1. I want It All – Queen

One client said to me last week – “I am going to widen the net” – and a lot of people are thinking this way. My advice is do the opposite, narrow your focus so that you can continue to build your expertise and positioning in one area rather than spreading yourself too thin. With the economy as it is, this is more important than ever.

Phew, we managed to get to the end without any mention of “You’re So Vain” – Carly Simon or “Paranoid Android”- Radiohead. Thank goodness for that.

If you would like to find out more, please contact: or 08452 998 590.

Who we work with

Do you want to grow your business?

Let's talk about how we can help.

Get in touch