What Makes a Successful Accounting Firm Business Developer?
After an accounting firm’s marketing department has identified its optimal target markets and developed messaging that speaks to this target’s needs (as discussed in “What Makes a Successful Accounting Firm Marketer?”), the business developer’s goal is to establish and nurture trusted, one-on-one relationships in order to expand the scope of current work.
Think about it this way: Without marketing doing initial research and setting the right messaging, business developers would be going on quite a few “blind dates” with unqualified leads. The leads likely wouldn’t know much about the firm, and the business developer wouldn’t be confident they were an ideal fit. On the other hand, without business development your firm likely won’t get many “dates” at all. Even though marketing may have identified the right message and target, a firm without a business devloper won’t have the personal outreach needed to build relationships and close the deal.
Accounting firms may have a devoted business development professional, or a firm’s partners may be responsible for building these relationships. We spoke to in-house business development experts* in the accounting industry to discover some key attributes for being successful in this role:
Knows the Industry Dynamics and Firm Messaging.
Many business developers in the accounting industry have worked on the accounting side or are managers or partners in a firm who are also developing business. For those who may not come from the accounting industry, just as it’s important for marketing, it’s equally important that the business developer understand the industry. Do research, and interview professional staff to gain a better understanding of the firm’s service offerings and strengths and overall industry dynamics. Communicate with marketing to be sure your communication aligns with the firm’s overall messaging. Ideally, marketing and business development will work together to define the firm’s messaging to begin with.
Manages Time Strategically.
Business developers need to engage with professional associations, attend events, and set meetings, however, it’s equally important to research and evaluate where time spent will be most productive. These efforts should be coordinated to reach both selected centers of influence and referral sources.
Conducts Organized, Consistent Follow Up.
After an event, the skilled business developer will have an organized process to follow up with each contact and pass the information on to marketing to build the database. When it comes to professional services, seldom are you lucky enough to meet a contact and turn the opportunity into business right away. Business development is in the lifecycle at all times. The successful business developer will know when he or she is to follow up, what the touch points will be, as well as what actions he or she will take to deepen the relationship.
Curious and Consultative.
In order to match a client’s needs to the firm’s services, it’s critical to understand client’s business. The business developer must ask the right questions, then actively listen, collaborate and understand the client’s business goals, passions and struggles. For instance, if someone is selling audit services to a client, by asking questions to better understand the overall goals and pain areas, he or she may be able to delve deeper to find other needs and solve another issue.
Achieves Personal Connections.
In addition to knowing the firm’s message, soft skills are equally important. The business development professional is often the “face” of the firm. He or she needs to also connect on a personal level in order to help clients make tough decisions and become valued as a trusted partner.
Resourceful and Fearless.
To effectively grow the business, a business developer should be willing to initiate and have conversations with anyone who may be a potential client or referral source, regardless of role within the company, or who they may be working with.
Creates Connections and Makes Introductions.
Being a connector of people is a powerful sales tool. The key to successful referral relationships is creating mutually beneficial situations. A business developer reviews his or her contacts to consider who might benefit from an introduction. If the firm has a dedicated business development professional, he or she is responsible for getting the firm’s partners and mangers in front of the right contacts.
Contributes to Firm Wide Momentum and Excitement.
Not everyone in the firm is going to enjoy or be naturally great at directly developing relationships and new business, but everyone can certainly have a role. Firm leadership and the dedicated firm business development professional can help facilitate a business development culture by creating excitement, and stimulating interest and involvement. Following are some ways to do this:
- Hold regular team meetings to share pipeline information, events, prospects and new wins.
- Incentivize staff to get involved by rewarding referrals that turn into new business.
- Conduct formal training with professional staff to help refine their sales skills.
- Celebrate milestones. It’s important that a firm celebrates the small victories and progress (e.g., landing a meeting, an RFP or a key referral relationship) as well as official new wins to keep momentum.
In speaking with a number of business development directors in the accounting industry, success can be measured in many ways, including the number of introductions made, as well as the number of referral sources, new prospects, meetings, proposal opportunities, and ultimately amount of new work gained. However, it’s more than just a numbers game. It’s important to think long-term, creating long-lasting relationships and revaluating and adjusting communications and solutions over time to consistently grow the sphere of influence and find ways to add value.
*Special thanks to Rick Hogentogler, Principal at Stambaugh Ness; Blythe Seese, Client Development at Kreisher Miller; and Michael Verrill, Director of Business Development at Fesnak and Associates for their contributions to this post.
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