Often the last responsibility you are left with as a small accountancy firm owner is business development. If you are going to get your practice to a point where it can truly run without you, you need someone else to do business development for you. This article explores how to get your team to step up with business development.
Why did you hire your current team?
Most employees in small accounting firms were not hired for their business development skills and knowledge. They were hired because they were a good accountant, bookkeeper or administrator. Therefore, business development is unlikely to be at the top of their priority list willingly.
In the work we do in our other business, How To Make Partner, we have a population of senior associates, directors and senior managers who know if they are going to make partner, they will need to get involved in business development. Does this make a difference? Sometimes. But the reality is that even this population will nearly always prioritise client work over business development. Remember that this is a highly motivated population of people who know that their career progression hinges on being able to win their own client work. Your team, generally, don’t, in the same way, equate their career progression with business development.
Over a number of years, you have crafted a profile and reputation for what you do. Prospects gravitate towards you because of your perceived credibility and reputation. It is unrealistic to expect your team to be able to replicate your expertise in business development suddenly.
Being able to win work with little or no external market value is really tough. Remember the early days of going out to win work? How much time did you spend on business development for little or no reward? You were able to build up your early client base because that was your day job. But remember, your team don’t have the luxury of lots of free time for business development. In their view, they are probably maxed out with client work. Unlike your early days of being an accountancy firm owner, your team still put food on the table regardless of how involved they get in business development.
Being able to spot opportunities for more work and then actually secure it takes time, patience and skill. The likelihood is that your team doesn’t have the time, motivation, or skill to participate in business development. Unless you fix these three things, your team will always have something more pressing to do than business development.
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Change their attitude towards business development
In our work with ‘unnatural business developers’ or people new to business development, there are often prevailing mindsets which stop people from wanting to get involved with marketing or selling. After all they:
- Didn’t go into accountancy to be seen as a salesperson
- Don’t identify as a salesperson
- Don’t want to be thought of as ‘pushy’
- Fear rejection i.e a client or prospect saying no.
- Don’t like blowing their own trumpet or ‘showing off’ on social media
- Are good with numbers, rather than the apparent ‘creativeness’ needed to be good at business development.
Business development is often thought of as a dark art. As something which you are born with rather than can learn. A former member of our team used to refer to me as a rainmaker. This was because I would, seemingly effortlessly, be able to win new client work. In her view, I just attracted it to me. She hadn’t seen the last 11 years of continually building my profile, expertise, and reputation though.
In our work with future partners, they tell us that they often deprioritise business development activities because of the following:
- Business development is an investment for the long-term, and they have more pressing short-term priorities to deal with.
- They don’t know where to start with business development. So they don’t start at all.
- They are sometimes not measured on their business development results, so they focus on what they are measured on, normally chargeable time targets.
- They don’t have a personal business development plan, so don’t focus their business development efforts. This means they get a limited return on their time investment in business development. This then demotivates them from doing more business development.
- There is normally not a straight line from a business development activity to winning work. As a result, it’s difficult to decide what business development activities to do. So they don’t do any…
One of the ways you can change the negative connotations associated with selling is to spin the words. Tell your team that they are helping clients to buy rather than selling. And when they help a client buy, they are curious and keen to help their clients solve their problems. If they do this correctly, it’s fairly common that a client will ask how the firm can help them.
Explain to your team how your firm wins work
The first step to getting your team involved in business development is explaining to them how the firm wins work. This means showing them:
- The firm’s Growth Plans.
- The firm’s marketing plans and how each piece of the marketing and sales funnel fits together.
- How a new piece of work was won by the firm.
- How their role contributes to your accounting firm winning work.
When I used to work at BDO they had a long-running campaign to educate employees on how work was actually being won. Every month the managing partner will send an email highlighting new work wins and the backstory behind each win. Your firm may not be a BDO, but if you want to know how to get your team to step up, use your weekly operational meeting to show them how the firm wins work. Set them up for success!
Set the expectation that everyone is involved in business development
I have a colleague who does sales training in professional services. At the beginning of the training, he will often ask the delegates who is involved in sales in their role. Some hands will go up at this point. He will then go on to explain that everyone in professional services is involved in sales. It’s the same in your firm. If you don’t set the expectation that everyone in the firm has a role to play in business development, then your team will see it as other people’s responsibilities.
- How setting a great first impression by the receptionist helps set the scene for a great new business meeting.
- The importance of being responsive and accessible to existing clients.
This expectation to be involved in business development ideally needs to be:
- Detailed in an employee’s job description.
- Part of their individual objectives.
- Measured with a KPI that links to the firm’s business development objectives.
- Potentially offer a small bonus for any employee who refers in new client work to the firm.
- Quantified in the amount of time you expect them to spend on business development each week. E.g. 15 mins a day on LinkedIn.
There comes the point in every fee earner’s career where for them to progress to the next stage of seniority, they need to be able to win work. In my experience, many accountants conveniently forget this. They think they can keep on being promoted on their technical ability and how good they are with clients. Unless you dispel them of this myth, they will carry on thinking that business development is your sole responsibility. This means that when you speak to your team about their career progression, don’t hide the fact that they will progress quicker if they are prepared to participate in business development activities. Or when they get to a certain point in their career, business development is also their responsibility.
Develop your team’s skills in business development
Of course, the answer is always to develop your team, so they gain marketing and sales skills. But if it was that easy, you wouldn’t be reading this article.
Start small, to begin with
The first step to getting your team more involved in business development is helping them start small with business development. The worst thing you can do with business development is the equivalent of pushing your team into a swimming pool to see if they will sink or swim. There are many ways in which you can get your team to do small things to contribute to your firm’s business development activities.
- Asking your team to finish any conversation with a client with the question, “Is there anything else we can help you with today?”
- Get your team to like, comment and share on your social media posts and the firm’s social media posts.
- Connect with their clients on LinkedIn and other social media sites.
- Provide your team with ready-made social media updates for them to post.
- Keeping the firm’s CRM updated with people they meet and clients’ notes.
- Participating in your firm’s webinars, events or surgery sessions.
Make doing a little bit of business development a priority for your team
You may find that you need to gently poke and prod your team to do these small steps in the early days. For example, you can ask your team in their Daily Operational Huddle to go into LinkedIn and like the firm’s most recent post on LinkedIn. If you use a practice management system which has workflows, like Karbon or Senta (our members who are new to Karbon and Senta get 10% off their first year’s subscriptions), you can even include a weekly and daily business development workflow for your team to follow.
If you stop talking about business development, your team will go back to what they have always done. Therefore, the more you talk about it and visibly support your team to play their part in business development, the more likely your team will get involved.
Use team meetings to train your team on a small aspect of business development
Your team don’t magically pick up business development skills. It takes time and practice. A good way to give them this time and practice is to devote a small amount of time to business development training. This could be as simple as the right way to answer the phone. Or it could be practising a sales conversation or prequalifying a prospect.
Get your team to shadow you and systemise what you do with your business development activities
When you are ready for your team to take over more of your business development responsibilities, here is a time-effective way to train them:
- Get them to shadow you preparing for, doing and following up after a business development activity.
- After the meeting or event, explain what you did and why you did it, then debrief them and ask them these questions:
- What helped progress the meeting or conversation?
- Could you identify where there were work opportunities?
- What hindered you from winning work
- Together, create checklists and scripts to help them replicate the same conversations you have had
- Supervise them doing a business development activity. Then after the activity, ask them these questions:
- What opportunities were there for work? Did they spot all of them?
- What helped progress the meeting or conversation?
- How did you identify work opportunities?
- What hindered them from winning work
- Get them to run the business development activity without you. Then debrief them on what could be improved for next time.
Set your staff up for success
If you want to know how to get your team to step up, especially when it comes to business development, don't just throw them into the deep end. Have realistic expectations (they will always default to their day job and more pressing priorities) and focus on helping them develop the mindset and skills needed to succeed. It will take a lot of time and support in the short term, but soon your team will be contributing to business development without even realising it.
Not sure how to get your team to work better together?
Download your free copy of our "Team Effectiveness Review" now and pinpoint exactly what you need to do to fix it.