Amplify | A Business Development Culture Fosters Growth and Engagement
When it comes to business development, establishing a strong culture is often the first step toward success. But what exactly does a business development culture within a CPA firm mean, and where should you begin? Contrary to popular belief, it’s not just about sales. During a recent Amplify! podcast episode with Suzanne Reed, CMO at LBMC, she shared what a business development culture is and how it should involve everyone within a firm.
Defining a Business Development Culture
A business development culture is primarily about fostering an attitude of contribution and engagement firmwide. It’s not limited to the sales team; it encompasses everyone. Whether it’s bringing in leads, conversing with colleagues or showing genuine curiosity about the business, it all contributes to the culture. The core idea is that everyone, from newcomers to long-time employees, plays a role in helping the firm grow.
The presence of professional business developers can further strengthen this culture. However, the roles can vary. Instead of traditional business developers, some firms opt for “growth directors” or salespeople with distinct skill sets. Business development can encompass various aspects, such as nurturing existing client relationships and acquiring new clients. It’s about strategic intentionality, focusing on clients who align with the firm’s goals and expertise.
A Collective Endeavor
Embarking on the journey of cultivating a business development culture necessitates a well-defined starting point. So how do you get started? By defining what it signifies for your specific firm. Roles, responsibilities and levels of engagement must be clearly outlined. Leadership at all levels, from the CEO to talent and marketing leaders, should actively endorse and foster this culture. It should become a daily discourse, woven into the fabric of the organization.
At its core, this culture is about fostering meaningful relationships and connections, rather than being fixated on mere transactions. It aligns harmoniously with the advisory mindset—prioritizing assisting clients and connecting the dots over employing aggressive sales tactics. As employees build authentic relationships over time, they evolve into valuable assets for the firm, driving referrals and contributing to its sustained growth.
Implementing incentives, such as monetary rewards for lead generation, can further motivate employees to actively participate in business development.
The overarching goal is to instill a culture where every member feels deeply vested in the firm’s success.
The Vital Role of Training
Training is an important part of shaping a business development culture at LBMC. It’s not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Training programs should be tailored to cater to individuals at different stages of their professional journey. For entry-level staff, the focus might revolve around honing communication skills to ensure comfort in client interactions. As employees progress, the training becomes more sophisticated, encompassing lead-generation techniques, sales strategies and relationship-building skills.
A pivotal component of training is instilling an “owner mentality” in all employees. Although partners or shareholders technically own the firm, every team member should feel a sense of ownership in the organization’s growth. Encouraging active participation in the community, fostering networking with peers and leveraging personal interests and hobbies to create connections are all integral facets of this comprehensive approach.
Pipelines Foster a Sales Culture
Pipelines are the lifeblood of a firm. They aren’t merely a component of the sales process; they’re deeply interwoven into a go-to-market strategy across diverse industries and segments. For a firm of LBMC’s scale, synchronizing efforts and avoiding redundancy while reaching target clients necessitates coordination, and this is where pipelines prove their worth.
Pipelines empower the adoption of a holistic approach; a focus on the entire spectrum of services your firm can offer. Adopting an advisory mindset is key. Consider the full array of services you can provide, spanning from regulatory compliance to advanced advisory solutions—all designed to empower clients in their business environments.
Pipelines also facilitate the sharing of information across different groups within the organization. For instance, if one team is actively pursuing Client Y, others are aware of these efforts and can explore how they might contribute. This not only minimizes overlap but also enhances your capacity to offer comprehensive solutions to clients. It’s about seeing the bigger picture and ensuring clients receive the utmost support.
Accountability can be challenging to measure, but Reed says that accountability starts with a shared understanding of the culture. At LBMC, emphasis is placed on values such as curiosity, the art of asking questions and a genuine desire to help clients excel. Teams are encouraged to be problem solvers and offer solutions. While it may not overtly be labeled as a “business development culture,” these principles are deeply ingrained in the firm’s approach. It’s about influencing one another positively, motivating individuals to uphold these principles and collectively striving for improvement.
A shared focus on clients leads to discussions regarding how the firm is contributing to clients’ growth, their satisfaction levels and overall client-centric metrics. These metrics serve as tangible indicators of the organization’s commitment to its culture.
Accountability is also linked to the firm’s annual goals. Every team member sets annual goals. These goals often revolve around aspects of growth from cross-selling to existing clients to enhancing client satisfaction. By aligning these goals with the firm’s culture, accountability becomes an integral part of the organization’s fabric.
The LBMC approach to accountability isn’t one-size-fits-all. The firm recognizes that different team members have varying roles and contributions. A business development culture doesn’t exclusively equate to revenue targets. There are “ambassadors” within the organization who influence and represent the firm in various ways, spanning from recruitment to business pursuits. This recognition underscores the idea that each individual is an ambassador for the firm, making a unique contribution to shared goals.
The Unending Journey
Building a business development culture isn’t an item to be checked off a to-do list. It’s an ongoing journey, a shift in mindset and an unwavering commitment to fostering a culture that permeates every level of an organization. LBMC has been on this journey for years and they recognize there is no finish line.
Reed says it’s a bit like parenting teenagers—instilling values, teaching manners and providing guidance. The process is continuous. In many ways, this journey mirrors the ever-evolving nature of marketing. You’re never truly “done” with marketing because it continuously adapts to changing consumer behaviors, technological advancements and market trends. A business development culture evolves as you respond to your clients’ evolving needs, behaviors and the evolving skills and abilities of your team.
While there isn’t a checklist for the completion of this journey, here’s how you can tell you’re headed in the right direction. You will likely see:
- A surge in lead generation
- Better collaboration and sharing of insights and expertise to benefit clients
- Positive client satisfaction scores
- More consistent and substantial sales growth
- An understanding and embracement of one’s business development role
When conversations across the organization consistently reflect the culture’s principles, progress is unmistakable.
Initiating the Journey
Before you go down the path of creating a culture of business development, you’ll want to:
- Define your culture. What does business development mean within the context of your organization? Ensure that everyone comprehends the vision and mission.
- Get leadership buy-in. Without unwavering support from leadership, instigating a change of this magnitude becomes a formidable challenge.
- Determine roles. Think about how you can influence this project and where to start. Be sure to identify how everyone else in the firm will help.
- Set goals. Establish specific goals aligned with growth, client satisfaction, cross-selling, etc. These goals should harmonize with the principles of your culture.
- Find a champion. Look for someone at the shareholder level who can propel the culture forward.
No two journeys will be the same. Some firms might opt to bring in dedicated business development professionals, while others may empower existing team members to assume new roles. The critical factor is aligning your efforts with the evolving needs of your clients.
A Multifaceted Endeavor
Fostering a business development culture is a complex process that involves everyone in the firm. It requires clear definitions, active leadership support, tailored training, and an emphasis on authentic relationships. When executed effectively though, it can propel a firm’s growth and success in the long run.
This blog post was written based on content from the latest season of Amplify, the podcast of AAM – dedicated to firm growth. This article is based on Season 4, Episode 5, featuring a conversation with Suzanne Reed, CMO of LBMC. Learn more about the podcast and listen first-hand at https://accountingmarketing.org/category/amplify/.
About Katie Tolin
Katie Tolin is the president and chief growth guide at CPA Growth Guides. She’s a former in-house marketer having spent time at regional, super-regional and national accounting firms. Today she helps CPA firms drive top-line revenue and profitability through data-driven marketing strategies. She’s a past president of AAM, a former marketer of the year and was inducted into the Accounting Marketing Hall of Fame.
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with Danielle Reynolds, Business Development, Manager with Whitley Penn
A business developer’s day involves a myriad of activities from external meetings with business owners and referral partners to scoping calls for initial client connections.