“That partner will never engage with you, don’t bother”. “You will have to grow a tough-skin to survive here”. “I don’t have time for business development.” “I will write something for you, but you will have to wait, it isn’t at the top of my list.”
If you work inside a professional services firm as a marketing or business development professional, sadly it probably does. Sometimes it feels like you are on a different team.
What’s the solution? Marketing and business development teams often start by “pushing the doors that are open.” You are often advised to “work with the people who want to work with you.” Now, whilst going after the easy wins is always a sensible option, what do you do when you have no more open doors to push? What happens if the person you really need to engage isn’t an open door?
In the report that we published earlier this year, we discovered that having professionals engaged in business development was the factor that made the biggest difference to growth in professional services firms. However, we didn’t shy away from recognising that this is often easier said than done. We devised a 4C model to help marketing teams drive engagement.
So, what are our top tips to drive engagement?
1. Find out what people enjoy
You might have a professional who is fantastic in-front of an audience, whilst another might feel physically sick at the thought. They might be one in the same! Conduct an audit to understand what people enjoy doing, and where their strengths lie. This does take us back to the open-door approach, but maybe this might help open some of those doors you thought were shut. You might just have been pushing the wrong one. Also don’t forget, what people are good at and what they enjoy aren’t necessarily the same thing!
2. Understand the barriers
We often assume that we know why it is that professionals are not engaging in business development. However, in our report we identified three very real barriers (culture, limiting beliefs and competing allegiances), each of which requires a different response from marketers if they wish to overcome them.
Let’s take competing allegiances. One of the challenges in professional services firms is that the professionals are often involved in multiple teams. They might be involved in business development for a sector team, a practice group or a disciplinary team, as well as a client team. These compete for the professional’s time and loyalty. By acting as a conductor, a marketer can make sure that these competing demands are understood and balanced. Find out more by downloading our report.
3. Make business development something that matters
In behavioural change theory, if you want to motivate someone to do something, then you can look to increase the importance that a person places on making the change. This could be, for example, highlighting what might happen if someone doesn’t lose weight as a way to motivate them to diet. How does this apply to engagement in business development?
We found that engagement in business development was the key factor in delivering growth in professional services firms. Sharing statistics such as these can help to show professionals why engagement is so important.
However, there are other things you can do too. How is engagement measured in your firm? How is it rewarded? Both can increase the importance – and hence motivation – to take part.
4. Ask the question
So many of the problems we face come back to an inability to ask the question that is really at the heart of the problem. Why don’t we ask partners why they don’t engage? Is it fear? Is it culture? Is it that there is not an environment of psychological safety and trust in our firms? Creating a culture where we can ask the hard questions can help drive engagement – and so much more besides.
5. Listen to the answer
We believe that everyone, in whatever role, should turn up the dial on active listening. It is a key component in all communication. It is a behaviour that can help increase empathy. It can also help us go deeper to finding out what might be behind a lack of engagement and help unlock the solution. It also helps us to adopt one of the Cs of our model – Coaching.