The Paradox of Business Development and Professional Services

It’s fair to say, in most professional services firms, the lawyers, accountants and engineers who work within them are expected to increase the firm’s revenues by bringing in work. So, in addition to being a subject-matter expert, these senior professionals are also expected to be successful at business development (BD), yet rarely are they given adequate professional development support to foster strong BD habits. And therein lies the paradox of business development and professional services: professionals are expected to excel at something they’ve typically not been supported to do, nor have they invested the time and effort early in their career because it was not expected of them.

Let’s face it, with a few exceptions, most professionals such as lawyers, accountants and engineers never anticipated they would be required to engage in business development activities and win work for their firms. Early in their careers 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 business for the firm.

In order to be eligible for promotion, including the path to partnership, senior accountants and lawyers in most firms are required to put a business case together that demonstrates their ability to generate fees. Typically, these professionals are highly regarded subject matter experts yet, generally, they are far from being experts at business development. Sadly, a lack of business development acumen is often the Achilles’ heel that holds back many competent professionals from reaching the next level of their career.

And we’re back to where we began: expecting something of someone that they haven’t prepared for.

So, what’s the solution to this paradox?

Our advice is to cultivate a BD culture within the firm, one that includes a firm’s professionals at every level and throughout every stage of their career.

For example, our BD Catalyst Program is geared to a firm’s juniors. As they start their careers, they start to build positive BD habits, incrementally, so that conducting BD activities is just part of their daily routine. Over time, they will mature their BD skills and become increasingly more strategic to adequately prepare a strong business case for a promotion to Partnership.

And that’s when our BD Accelerator Program comes into play. As high potential professionals reach the pinnacle of their career, and within the firm, it’s time to take their BD efforts to the next level. As BD expectations grow, so too must the individual’s BD capabilities. So, for example, with our BD Accelerator Program we help professionals accelerate their BD abilities using a blend of individual and group BD coaching sessions over 6+ months to help them proactively cultivate relationships and strategically plan and execute their BD efforts.

We have witnessed first-hand, firms that foster a meaningful BD culture throughout their firm, are the most successful. The paradox then is solved when their people acquire the high-performance business development habits they need to do what’s expected of them.