Amplify!, Business Dev/Sales

Amplify | Exploring the Business Developer Role in Accounting and Law Firms

Exploring the Business Developer Role in Accounting and Law Firms

The role of a business developer is ever-changing. It requires effectiveness and intentionality in managing time. From juggling client meetings, industry trend research and team management, business development isn’t confined to a 9-to-5 schedule; successful developers are always authentically engaged and curious.

In a recent Amplify! podcast, Favor Lee, director of business development at EisnerAmper, and Melissa Langley, director of client engagement at the global law firm K&L Gates, delved into the world of business development from within their respective industries. Their experiences highlight the importance of authenticity, curiosity and adaptability in building successful client relationships. And there are a lot more similarities in their roles than there are differences.

Specialties and Credibility in Business Development

Do business developers have specialties akin to accountants having service or industry specializations?

Favor has a “major” in real estate with a focus on Korean-based companies, and she acknowledges the importance of building relationships beyond geographic boundaries. On the other hand, Melissa’s role is more diverse as she tackles prospects across industries and assists companies moving into the U.S. Both underscore the importance of personal relationships and maintaining constant dialogue.

There is a myth that you have to be a CPA to sell CPA services. Both Favor and Melissa are CPAs, but that’s not the secret to their success. Favor acknowledges that being a CPA does help open doors; however, other qualities such as curiosity, market intelligence and effective communication can also build credibility. Melissa too says being a CPA gives her some credibility, but she also finds advantages in her outsider perspective, enabling her to refine lawyers’ elevator pitches and simplify technical jargon for broader understanding.

Being a professional salesperson doesn’t hamper their credibility either. Favor and Melissa highlight their approach, prioritizing relationship-building and problem-solving over sales pitches, which lets them open doors. They stress the significance of being perceived as trusted advisors rather than mere sales representatives.

Measuring Success in Business Development

Business developers can have a significant impact on firms, but what does that look like? Vetting opportunities emerge as a crucial step, ensuring that pursuits align with the firm’s objectives. It’s important to get the right leads in the pipeline and avoid prospects that aren’t ideal for the firm.

When it comes to how a business developer is measured, for Melissa, it’s various metrics, including new business acquisition, client growth and the expansion of firm connections. She notes the role of coaching and partnership in helping existing clients grow. Favor concurs, stating that success metrics vary based on the structure, territory and service lines of the firm. Both agree that testimonials and positive feedback from their professionals contribute to gauging success.

And who determines their success? Melissa reports to a global strategic growth partner at her firm, emphasizing the importance of sharing success with the client growth team. Favor reports to a local manager and, ultimately, to the vice chair of growth.

Passing the Baton: When to Involve Other Professionals

The success of a business developer is not theirs alone. They must involve other professionals in the firm when they reach their knowledge limit. That makes it imperative that prospects are vetted thoroughly. Things like the viability of the opportunity, the prospect’s comfort level and the potential for a future relationship must be considered. The decision to involve other professionals is based on a combination of factors, including expertise, personality and the regional relevance of the professionals within the firm.

However, managing busy professionals and ensuring they prioritize the right opportunities is a challenge, a real balancing act for those with billable hours. As a former auditor, Favor knows this is a constant struggle. The same holds true for lawyers who have to prioritize business development amidst billable hour targets.

Open communication is needed here to ensure stakeholders understand the rationale behind introducing specific partners to prospects. Prospect expectations also have to be managed. Building relationships early on is essential in determining the right time to bring in other professionals.

Overcoming Obstacles and Rejection

Obstacles are inherent in any business development role. A common obstacle in both accounting and legal is resistance to change, but there are other obstacles business development professionals are skilled to navigate including identifying decision-makers early in the process and understanding the specific market dynamics. Lack of brand awareness can hamper efforts, especially when expanding into a new geography. In each case, business developers have to tailor their strategies accordingly.

Even with the best sales approach, losses occur. Favor shared how brand awareness and the absence of a local client service team were key factors in recent losses. Melissa saw decisions made by non-decision-makers contribute to a rejection. In the case of a loss, the focus needs to be on understanding the reasons behind rejection to inform future strategies.

Collaborating with Others in the Firm

Successes need to be shared not only within the team but also across the entire organization, fostering a culture of collaboration.

When it comes to collaboration with marketing teams, Favor involves them in proposal writing, event planning and client outreach. Melissa too works with different groups within their global marketing team, utilizing them for events, pitches, intelligence, content and PR. The collaboration between business development and marketing is important for effective client engagement.

This collaboration extends to coaching professionals, too. Melissa helps coach and train lawyers, focusing on one-on-one sessions to enhance their business development skills. Favor is involved in workshops and training sessions for colleagues, providing a platform for networking and skill development.

Collaborative efforts contribute to a holistic approach to professional growth within the firms.

The Importance of Business Developers

The role of business developers in accounting and law firms is important, as they help ensure the firm’s future growth while allowing professionals to focus on their core responsibilities. Whether navigating the diverse landscape of accounting or delving into the intricacies of legal services, the key takeaway is clear: effective business development hinges on a combination of expertise, interpersonal skills and a genuine commitment to understanding and solving clients’ needs.

As the professional landscape evolves, the role of business developers becomes increasingly crucial in navigating challenges, driving growth and fostering collaboration between different facets of these dynamic industries.

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 7, featuring a conversation with Favor Lee, director of business development at EisnerAmper, and Melissa Langley, director of client engagement at the global law firm K&L Gates. 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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