Being a client-centric firm or fostering a robust business development culture risks being reduced to mere buzzwords if the senior leadership team does not wholeheartedly endorse these initiatives, writes Ben Paul of The BD Ladder.
For any firm to genuinely embrace change, it is imperative that the need for transformation is embraced at the top. Merely expecting the BD, marketing director or marketing department to create and implement a new initiative, without instigating the necessary behavioural change, is ultimately futile.
Failed BD and marketing initiatives don’t stem from flawed ideas or incorrect solutions, but rather from the lack of buy-in from the senior leadership team, and subsequently the partners or directors (particularly equity partners or those who own the business).
This lack of top-down buy-in is particularly true of any BD coaching initiative. It can be tempting when senior staff in the firm are struggling to build a sustainable pipeline of billable work to instantly ask the BD team, or even the HR and learning and development team, to go out and get some coaching for these individuals. There is no doubt that doing this will, at the very least, be appreciated as helpful and supportive to those receiving it. It’s also true that small improvements in performance may be seen in some cases.
However, it is unlikely to see dramatic improvements or even create a true client-centric BD culture as firm-wide involvement hasn’t been asked for or achieved. It can also be counterproductive as, without an agreement within the firm to key deliverables on BD (e.g., time commitment, use of LinkedIn, non-billable meetings with clients (relationship building ones)), internal blocks can stop the great work of BD coaches ever being implemented by those they coach.
So how do you get buy-in from the top?
Put simply. It isn’t easy but it is definitely achievable. As with all things that require senior leadership team or even Board buy-in, it requires alignment. Like any initiative requiring buy-in from the top, it necessitates alignment with the firm’s goals.
Understanding what the firm’s goals are
In essence, the following things need to be understood:
- How the senior leadership team see the firm looking in three to five years’ time.
- What their annual and three to five-year growth ambitions are.
- Any new practice areas or innovations they plan to adopt during this period.
- Any areas of concern i.e., underperforming practice areas/wider market concerns/retiring partners etc.
This understanding forms the basis for developing a BD and marketing initiative aligned with the firm’s objectives. BD coaching, as an integral aspect of this initiative, plays a pivotal role in translating these goals into actionable strategies and ensuring accountability to achieve them.
Articulate and share your plans
The next stage is to either work internally or with an external consultant to develop a clear plan, detailing how the BD coaching programme will be a key part of delivering the firm’s goals.
This plan should comprehensively outline how the BD coaching program aligns with and contributes to the firm’s overarching goals. It requires specifics such as the individuals to be coached, coaching responsibilities, expected costs, achievable outcomes, and desired results. The plan will also include the expected costs and the tangible results that can realistically be committed to.
By all means, include some desired outcomes too. It must also include the role those at the top have in this plan. And it must include one final key piece of information:
How the senior leaders will help to embed the BD coaching culture
After approving a plan or initiative, the leaders cannot simply sit back and hope that the firm adopts it. It requires their active involvement. That is not to say they necessarily need to undertake BD coaching, but more that they need to actively support it being used and adopted. They need to work and engage alongside the BD & marketing team with the practice leaders and senior partners and directors and deliver clear messaging to the firm about how the programme is an important part of them building a client-centric culture that will help the firm to continue to grow.
Establishing a firm-wide culture of active coaching, particularly in the BD space, hinges on securing wholehearted endorsement and active support from key influencers within the firm, such as the Senior Leadership team. While individual improvements may materialise, without this vital support, broader and holistic enhancements across the firm will remain elusive.
Ben Paul is the CEO of The BD Ladder, a consultancy that specialises 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.