Business development in professional services firms

Sales or business development in professionals services are often considered dirty words. I am not sure I understand why. I think it is largely a legacy from when lawyers and accountants would typically sit behind their mahogany desks, and the work would literally ‘walk’ into their offices.

To be honest, even back then, lawyers and accountants were doing business development (BD) and sales, it is just likely that they did not realise that’s what it was!

Whilst Consortium is a marketing agency, as its founder, I cut my teeth in sales as an estate agent. I am grateful for my years as an estate agent as it taught me much of what I use today.

Fundamentally, business development or sales in the professional services sector is about relationships and customer/client service. I often end up calling it this as a workaround to get fee earners to buy into the concept, but I would dearly love for the term sales and BD to stop being viewed as ‘dirty’.

I have heard and been involved in discussions recently about whether firms are now looking for fee earners to have ‘sales skills’. Most recently, this caused some debate on LinkedIn, with the consensus being that they do not need to be a salesperson, but they do need to have excellent listening and client services skills.

How can you ‘encourage’ business development in professional services firms?

For me there are two ways:

One, I think the education and training of lawyers and accountants ought to include a business module that covers softer skills, such as sales, marketing, customer service, and people management.

Two, if professional services firms want to improve BD, then this often requires a cultural change. I have seen several law firms in recent years that have employed sales teams to handle simple inbound enquiries. This for me is not the answer, I think it is possibly sticking plaster on a wider issue. Change needs to happen from the top down, conversations need to be measured. A large issue is often the lack of quality client data, so firms do not know how ‘good’ their teams are at BD/sales, or up-selling/cross-selling other services the firm offers to existing clients.

What should you do next?

Audit

Audit what you currently do – we work with Insight6 for such projects. This will help you understand where there might be issues in the enquiry process. Plot the customer journey and see where there are issues and fix them.

Train

Make sure that all the team is equipped to undertake BD/sales. This will start a perception and culture change within the business if it is not done alone.

Track

It is vital that new business enquires are recorded so you can see conversion rates and assess who is best to handle new business. Like with anything you will have some team members who are better than others. Also tracking where the work has come from can help you to understand what business development activity is working (along with marketing).

Reward

Incentivise and reward team members who embrace BD/marketing. It is the lifeblood of your business. If you have a team of engaged specialists who are expert closers and new business winners, your business will fly. If you are tracking conversions and BD activity, then this should make it easy to reward and incentivise fee earners that are committed to building their client base, cross-selling other services within your firm (so your clients remain loyal), and helping to grow the bottom line.

Contact us

None of the above points alone are likely to generate an influx of new customers at the push of a button, however, when run in conjunction and following a strategic plan, they will help you get more clients. If you would like any help with any of the above points, please contact Lara or call us on 01903 530787.