Business development training for professional services is something you may want to rethink and here is why. It has been sought out by leaders in law, accounting, engineering, architecture and management consulting seeking to scale their firm’s growth, particularly over the past decade. Frequently, senior leaders observe their professionals struggle to effectively engage in business development activities thereby failing to generate the required fees to support a practice. Most leaders are highly motivated to help their people to become more effective at business development (BD) for a number of reasons, least of which, it’s critical to the firms’ long-term growth. The typical response is to source business development training in an attempt to remedy the situation. Yet this approach is flawed. The fundamental flaw of a training-based approach is it’s based on the premise that professionals are simply lacking know-how, and if we give them the right information, it will remedy the situation.

Business development training for professionals alone does not usually lead to the sustained change in behaviour required by lawyers, accountants, engineers, architects and management consultants to conduct business development activities on a consistent basis. While BD training for professionals will undoubtedly contribute to a greater understanding of business development it will not change the underlying behaviour of professionals which is the critical missing piece. In essence, it is the equivalent to using a screwdriver to hammer a nail. It’s the wrong tool. Information alone does not change behaviour.

Think about a business development training program for professional services that you have attended. It’s likely you left with good intentions to put the information you learned into practice but if you’re like most people, you end up going back to doing things the way you’ve always done them. It’s just human nature. We form habitual behaviour patterns over a lifetime so it’s unrealistic to expect to change those patterns of behaviour in a one or two-day training workshop.

What’s the alternative to business development training for professional services?

Business development coaching for professionals has proven to be a highly effective methodology to change the behaviour of professionals over time. Business development coaching provides lawyers, accountants, engineers, architects and management consultants a supportive environment where they meet with a qualified executive coach on a consistent basis to set individual business development goals and take agreed actions which ultimately leads to high performance BD habits over time.

At Collective Intelligence, our team of highly experienced and qualified business development coaches are qualified executive coaches with a background in professional services and business development. Not only does this give them greater credibility with professionals, it enables them to offer highly relevant insights and support to clients. Our flagship business development program is the BD Accelerator© Program consisting of a blend of individual and group BD coaching and access to our proprietary BD toolkits containing practical templates along with a video library of resources to support professionals to build sustainable, high performance BD habits.

How long does it take for business development coaching to demonstrate a result?

At Collective Intelligence our BD coaching programs typically run 6-12 months. We have found that it typically takes participants a minimum of six months of BD coaching before they start to demonstrate a meaningful shift in mindset, skill set and activity. It’s not a quick fix because people form habits over time. It usually takes 6-12 months of BD coaching depending on the individual, to establish sustainable, strong BD habits.

What is the return on investment of business development coaching for professionals?

Unlike typical training, BD coaching should be viewed as an investment that delivers a return on investment. While in some firms it’s difficult to quantify a return on investment, we have anecdotal evidence from clients including law firms, accounting firms and management consulting firms that have demonstrated a return on investment (ROI) in the first year of 5x and as much as 100x. When you amortise the investment over a three-year horizon, the ROI is substantial.

Will business development coaching for professional services alone remedy the problem?

Yes, and no. To a large extent, BD coaching for professionals will go a long way to addressing the fundamental shift in behaviour required for accountants, lawyers, engineers, architects and management consultants to establish a routine of effective BD behaviours that will culminate in steady client work and the growth of a practice. Yet, there are a number of other factors we have observed that impact the success of business development coaching for professionals which should be taken into consideration and addressed firmwide.

Endorsement of non-billable BD activities

In many firms, professionals are required to achieve a minimum number of billable hours. Failing to do so usually has consequences yet failing to invest time on business development activities typically does not. Consequently, what do you think professionals prioritise? Until the firm values non-billable time on BD activities as much as billable hours, BD activities will always suffer at the expense of chargeable work.

Foster firmwide BD culture

From grads to Partners, BD is everyone’s business. Professionals should be expected to engage in bd activities at each and every level of their career. Doing so enables them to build confidence and capabilities before they are expected to generate fees. Yet all too often, junior staff are rarely exposed to any form of BD which is a missed opportunity for most firms to build a BD culture. Business development should be embedded in each professional’s journey through their firm with KPIs discussed in performance reviews including the setting of achievable goals.

Team approach to clients

The hierarchy in many firms often means that only Partners have conversations with clients. When Partners introduce junior staff to clients and encourage them to develop relationship with their clients, they can better serve clients. This is in the best interest of the client and the firm because professionals can better understand the client and identify opportunities to help. This team approach to client relationships exposes junior professionals to business development which helps also fosters a BD culture.

BD mentoring

Possibly because it is seen as non-billable time, many Partners and Directors commonly don’t have the time nor inclination to provide the required BD mentoring support to junior people in the firm. Sharing personal stories of success and especially failures, goes a long way to helping junior staff to feel ok to try (and fail). By placing value on BD mentoring, and walking the talk, junior staff are exposed to valuable experience and wisdom which sends a strong message that they are valued.

Client experience surveys

Understanding the client experience at your firm is critical yet most firms do not have a third party consistently survey their clients to gain insights into the firms’ service and more importantly, determine what their clients actually value. The Net Promoter System (NPS) is the global standard in loyalty measurement. NPS also captures valuable client verbatim feedback; positive feedback on what they love about your service or alternatively important suggestions for improvement.

Client Relationship Software

Mapping and tracking the individual relationships that make up the firm’s key commercial relationships is key to managing the firm’s relationship capital. Real-time visibility across the client, contact and referrer relationships is non-existent in many firms. Software now exists giving you meaningful data to ensure the firm maintains regular contact with key referrers and key client relationships.

In conclusion, business development coaching for professional services is superior to business development training because it cultivates BD habits -something BD training simply can’t achieve.

Business development coaching is also superior BD training for the following reasons:

Why is business development coaching for professional services superior to business development training for professional services?

1. BD Mindset

BD coaching supports professionals to make a constructive mindset shift to adopt a healthy attitude towards business development without compromising on their values or integrity.

2. BD Skills

Developing any skill takes time. BD coaching provides ongoing, real-time feedback that supports professionals to develop strong business development skills over a series of months.

3. BD Routine

BD activities are typically not part of most professional’s daily routine. Monthly BD coaching supports professionals to integrate BD activities into their daily routines which really add up over time.

4. BD Accountability

Like most people, many professionals are unlikely to stretch themselves outside their comfort zone. Monthly BD coaching constructively challenges professionals to take actions which eventually form good BD habits.

Business development coaching for professionals is no longer a ‘nice-to-have’ and is now a business imperative for any professional services firm that is serious about growing and thriving in a rapidly changing world.

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The Paradox of Business Development Training for Professional Services

Unfortunately, most professional service firms expect their people to be competent at business develop yet they rarely are given adequate professional development to foster strong BD skills. Frankly, many professionals are not set up for business development success at all. Let’s face it, with a few exceptions, most people in professional services never anticipated they would be required to engage in business development activities and win work for the firm. Early in their career they are given work, and, in most cases, they’ve never been asked or shown how to build a professional network let alone effectively utilise that network to generate opportunities for the firm.

In most firms, senior professionals are required to put a business case together, demonstrating their ability to generate fees amongst other critical skills in order to be eligible for a promotion, especially to partnership. They are typically highly regarded subject matter experts yet commonly they are far from experts at business development. Sadly, a lack of business development acumen is often the achilles heel that holds back many competent lawyers, accountants, engineers, architects and management consultants from reaching the next level of their career. This results in anxiety, frustration and disappointment for them and the firm.

To add insult to injury, many accountants, engineers, lawyers, architects and management consultants hold a negative association with the concept of business development and the ‘s-word’ for good reason. They often recoil at the thought of having to “sell” to a client or potential client. Do you blame them? Consequently, the majority of professionals are resistant to the notion of ‘doing’ that to their clients or potential clients. Yet, at some point in their career, they are required to win work and this frequently creates cognitive dissonance, frustration and anxiety when they are asked to build a practice.

Disappointingly, there are many people in (and outside of) professional services who perpetuate traditional stereotypes of “selling” which are aggressive, manipulative, and not appropriate in a professional services context. These techniques might work in door to door sales but are completely wrong and inappropriate for a professional services environment. Consequently, many accountants, lawyers, management consultants, engineers and architects either avoid or reluctantly engage in business development, typically achieving lack lustre results.

Yet, year after year, professional service firms invest thousands on business development training programs that do little to actually create sustainable business development habits for their people. Many training organisations and consultants pedal business development training programs as a panacea to solve a complex problem. Not only is business development training ineffective at changing behaviours, it is ineffective at helping professionals to foster the necessary BD mindset, BD skills and arguably the most critical piece, making business development part of their daily routine.

To create lasting change, lawyers, accountants, engineers, architects or consultants have to make business development part of their daily routine. Just like brushing their teeth, it can and should become something they do daily. And consistency compounds. Doing the right BD activities on a consistent basis is what produces extraordinary results. There is no silver bullet. A successful practice is not made in a day, it’s made daily.

Professionals need to be committed to an effective BD process, a daily discipline to invest a little time each day. No one day, no one week or even month of BD activities will build a successful practice. Its consistent effort, over months and years that compounds and culminates in extraordinary results. Like compound interest, it adds up over time. American author, John C. Maxwell says “You only get the compounding on the backend because you were consistent on the front end.”

The end game then is strong business development habits. We know good habits drive good outcomes. Unfortunately, habits don’t change overnight, and that’s why a coaching-based approach is proven to be the most effective methodology. It is the act of effectively facilitating a mindset shift, so the professional eventually sees themselves as the kind of person who does business development.

The strategies and approaches for different industries can vary, however the principles of core behavioural shift apply to all business models across industries and can be delivered in such a way as to make any professional an effective advocate for their business or firm, regardless of their background or expertise.

In summary, we believe there is a compelling case to rethink future investments in business development training for professionals. A paradigm shift from business development training for professionals to business development coaching will deliver results.

Collective Intelligence specialises in building high performance BD habits. Contact us today to learn more about our flagship programs such as:

Which professional services typically engage business development training?

Until recently, Business development training for professional services has been largely engaged by law firms, accounting firms, engineering firms, architecture firms and management consulting firms. These professional firms have traditionally been disappointed with BD training for professionals because it fails to deliver results.

Business Development Training for Lawyers

Business development training for lawyers has widely yielded disappointing results over the past decade as law firms seek ways to gain market share. Undoubtedly, increased mergers and acquisitions of law firms has largely driven a need for lawyers to become more effective at business development. Business development coaching for lawyers is now widely accepted as best practice by law firms who recognise that BD training for lawyers is generally ineffective at changing the negative stigma associated with business development as compared to BD coaching for lawyers.

Business Development Training for Accountants

Business development training for accountants became a focus for many tier-one and tier-two accounting firms as a result of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). The GFC permanently changed the competitive landscape for accounting firms worldwide and Covid-19 has created a compelling business case for investment in expanding BD capability. Consequently, business development growth strategies for accounting firms has driven significant professional development investments by firms looking to gain a leg up on their competitors. Similar to progressive law firms, leading accounting firms have shifted their investment priority to BD coaching programs for accountants that deliver high performing BD habits as part of their business development strategy to gain market share.

Business Development Training for Engineers

Business development training for engineers has been superseded by business development coaching for engineers. Many engineers are self-confessed introverts which can make it more challenging for them to engage in BD activities. As a result, BD coaching for engineers has proven to be more appropriate at supporting engineers to improve their communication and social skills required to effectively conduct business development activities. Business development coaching is a more enjoyable experience for engineers that gives them a framework to be more comfortable at establishing client relationships and confident to advance opportunities from a coffee chat through to a commercial engagement.

Business Development Training for Architects

Business development training for architects has historically been shunned due to the creative nature of their profession. Many architects have been dismissive of business development training for architects with concerns about how they will be perceived by clients. Fortunately, business development coaching for architects has been widely accepted as a more suitable approach to help architects to ethically identify and advance client opportunities while maintaining their professional integrity. BD coaching supports architects to successfully conduct a range of business development activities that generate win/win outcomes for clients and architectural firms.

Customer Reviews

We love to hear from our clients and how our programs make a difference to them and their organisation. To read more reviews, click here.

Simone Clancey

Michael is the most effective facilitator I’ve encountered in 15 years of attending courses.

His depth of experience in Sales, his preparedness to extend the curriculum to meet participants’ needs, his unique ability to draw on participants’ experience through a variety of collaborative exercises really added value to this course.

Apart from knowing his material, Michael utilises a range of innovative techniques to keep participants fully engaged.

I would recommend him to anyone looking for an outstanding coach.

Simon Corden

Michael coached me one-on-one as part of a KPMG program to improve the business development skills of selected Directors and Partners.

I had not experienced business coaching before and he was fantastic. I really felt our hourly sessions once a month provided very valuable insights and helped me better understand how to improve in this area.

A great experience.