When it comes to professionals and business development there is a dilemma that many firms face. It affects firms of all sizes, but it is perhaps more pronounced in smaller firms, and it is about playing to our strengths.
The dilemma is this. Do firms try to get all of their professionals good at all aspects of business development: training them in sales techniques, forcing them to present, requesting regular copy from them for the website, or asking them to post on social media; or, do firms develop the skills that people already have in order to have a go-to for specific tasks.
You may feel strongly one way or the other, or have a sense of what side you are on. There are pros and cons to both approaches. Our growth equation showed that having professionals engaged in business development is the biggest factor when it comes to delivering growth, so the answer matters.
Why it makes sense to have professionals who are rounded business developers
Across a professional services firm, there are many different disciplines that come together to serve the firm’s client base. Cross-selling is a target for many. A client will have different touch points across a firm and they will be interested in different parts of the business. Making sure that you can call on experts from across the firm to speak, write, or sell, therefore becomes an attractive proposition.
There is little use in only having one person in the business able to stand up and present if the appetite of clients is to consume content on something else. This is particularly true in small firms. Whilst larger firms might have the luxury of playing to the strengths of their professionals, because they still end up with a range of service lines represented in their final lineup, excluding someone in a smaller firm “because it isn’t a strength” might leave a big gap.
Often the person who decides whether or not it is a strength is the professional themselves. Here there might be lots going on: mindsets, limiting beliefs, or even a lack of opportunity to have practised!
Why it makes sense to play to your strengths
Here the logic is that we shouldn’t expect people to be jacks of all trades. If we get professionals to play to their strengths, they are likely to be more confident doing what is asked of them, happier to get involved, and the clients will see a polished end result.
In larger firms it is possible to have professionals that support marketing and business development in different ways as the chances are you will have a spread across practice groups. Rather than expect everyone to do everything, you can push on open doors. You don't have to force professionals outside of their comfort zones and it might be unrealistic to expect everyone to be good at everything.
Hunters and farmers
We have been thinking so far about business development skills such as presenting or writing, but the dilemma carries across for relationship building too. Should firms, for example, define roles for partners based on who is best at bringing in work versus who is better at sustaining relationships? Some firms do this and professionals are remunerated accordingly. Other firms expect partners to be able to bring work in and keep the relationship going. They want professionals to be all rounders.
So what’s the answer?
Do an audit. Try and work out what the professionals in your firm like to do and what they feel confident doing. Where are there gaps? Do you need to get some trainers or coaches in to help fill those gaps?
Think laterally. If you have a subject matter expert who is perhaps nervous of presenting, but is the right person to talk at an upcoming event, think about how you might do it differently. You could change the presentation to a conversation. Could you pre-record content? You could get questions in advance to allay nerves. The ability to think laterally is helped when you are clear on who is comfortable with what and when you have a culture where you are able to have open conversations.
Don’t write people off. There are two aspects to this. The first is to think about who in the team might be able to support, beyond who you might think of first. Often it is the partners who are called upon to fulfill all functions. However, there might be someone in the team who is more junior, who would not only benefit from the opportunity to practice and develop their skills, but who might also be rather good at it! The second part to this is that often professionals don’t do things because of limiting beliefs. These beliefs might be holding them back. If you are in a smaller firm and don't have the luxury of saying we will just reserve "x" for those people who volunteer to do it, geting beyond these limiting beliefs can help professionals get more comfortable doing what it is that they perhaps fear.
Know which side you fall down on and make it work. This might sound like a cop-out, but, so few firms are honest about whether they expect people to take specific roles and what the implications of that are, or whether they expect professionals to step up to everything. Understanding who your players are is crucial to coming up with a game plan! You might decide to make everyone an all-rounder. How do you develop those skills as people move up through the firm and how do you ensure that the skills are being used? You might decide that you want to play to people’s strengths. Do you know what those strengths are? Have you challenged limiting beliefs and assumptions that might be preventing people from developing their skills and becoming strong in something?