Once your firm has committed to a BD coaching program, the key to its success lies in having the right coaches in place, writes Ben Paul of The BD Ladder. Much like any talented sports team, if they have the wrong coaching structure behind them their results will be patchy, at best. This brings us to a pivotal question: should your BD coaches come from your in-house teams, or should you look to experienced external consultants?
In simple terms, anyone possessing the skills, mindset and motivation to deliver BD coaching can be successful and drive your program forward. However, an essential factor to consider is their capacity. A coach must have the time available to dedicate to helping those they are coaching.
This is where internal BD coaching programs can face initial challenges and, in many cases, fall over. It’s not due to a lack of desire among internal staff to engage in coaching; it’s primarily because most professional services firms operate their teams at or near capacity. Taking on an additional time-intensive activity can be challenging. Although this can be overcome, it’s a valid concern when initiating a new program.
When weighing the options for your firm, let’s explore the three main approaches and the benefits associated with each:
External BD consultants
The benefits to using external fall in two main areas, the first is that they have replicable experience of having coached others, the second is that within a professional services firm environment the fact that they are external, and the firm is paying for the services, seems to bring them added credibility within the firm and with those they are coaching.
This second part is something I have observed from doing both roles. When you are part of an internal BD team it is easy for the person you are coaching to postpone or cancel their meetings with you, after all, you aren’t traveling in, and it doesn’t cost the firm anything. It is also the case that if the firm invests its money in external coaches, then it sends a message across the firm that this is a serious initiative.
The next dynamic of the external consultant is they have an ability to be able to challenge constructively, particularly with the senior leaders and partners. This challenge is a vital part of changing habits and behaviours, and it is a lot easier to do as a consultant than it is as a paid employee to one of the owners of the business.
This is further true when it comes to looking at ‘cross-selling’ initiatives. An external consultant, while having to be aware of internal dynamics, is not embroiled in internal politics and is, therefore, better placed to start putting into place behaviours that will assist these types of initiatives. An external coach also reports to a senior resource and therefore is well placed to have an honest non-confrontational chat with the leadership team about any blockers, so that alongside the firm they can decide the best way forward.
Which, all in all, means that as well as having the replicable tools and skillset, external coaches are much more likely to be listened to within the partnership, and thus your BD coaching programme should get off to a great start.
Internal resources—typically your in-house BD team
While the above gives some clear benefits to using an external consultant, it certainly does not mean that you should discount the internal team entirely. There are some real benefits to using internal resources. The first is, of course, that they already understand the firm’s ‘go-to-market’ strategies, as well as the unique culture that exists within the firm.
The second factor is that it helps to both embed and create an ongoing culture of BD coaching. If the resources are in-house, they are easily accessible on an as-required basis in addition to a structured programme. The easiest way to describe this benefit is that you get the advantage (when back in the office environment) of access to ‘water-cooler’ coaching. In essence, this means that fee-earners can get in the moment coaching ahead of an important call or meeting, and these short sharp conversations can really make a huge difference.
The next part of the equation is that in using your BD/Marketing teams as coaches, the extra time they spend as advisors to partners/fee-earners, the more recognition for their skills and experience will be seen within the firm.
Finally, I have talked about the most common in-house resource that is typically used for BD coaching within a firm, i.e., the BD and marketing team. However, that’s not to say that fee-earners cannot be BD coaches. The coaching that is received from fee-earners by their colleagues is often sought out and well-received. One downside to this, is if you are trying to change the mindset of your lawyers, then that is perhaps best achieved by those who, while they understand lawyers, don’t think like lawyers. In BD coaching diversity of thought goes a long way.
However, the main barrier to using fee-earners as the primary source of BD coaching is utilisation. Those who charge by the hour have little free time to invest in coaching others. So, having partners and fee-earners as auxiliary and support coaches is fantastic for the overall success of the programme, but in the majority of firms, should not be your only resource for BD coaching.
Hybrid—internal and external coaches
Combining both internal and external coaches, especially in medium to large law firms, often proves highly effective.
External consultants can initiate the program, establish the change in behaviour and culture, and work alongside the designated internal coaches to enhance their skills. This model creates immediate impact from external coaches while fostering an ongoing coaching culture utilising the firm’s existing resources.
All professional services firms share characteristics, but all have different cultures and personalities within them. Successful BD coaching programmes work within the dynamics of these cultures and personalities. Therefore, the model chosen, and the coaching resources adopted must be tailored to each firm. Getting this right is a worthwhile investment that sets your firm on a growth trajectory for years to come.
Ben Paul is the CEO The BD Ladder, a consultancy specialising in helping professional services firms grow their revenue and build effective BD and marketing strategies. He has held senior BD and marketing roles in leading professional services firms and has over two decades’ experience in business development and marketing.