Amplify!, Business Dev/Sales

Amplify | Managing a Business Development Professional

When it comes to managing a business developer or a team of business development executives, it’s all about team selling, setting clear expectations and effective pipeline management. Everything starts with strong hiring criteria and then using the right motivational strategies to get the most from your professional sales team.

In a recent Amplify! podcast, Nikki Burgeson, principal and director of sales and business development at Rehmann, discussed the unique challenges and strategies involved in managing a team that collaborates closely with partners to drive business growth. She leads a team of seven experienced sales professionals with diverse backgrounds. While no one on Nikki’s team has prior accounting sales experience, they each have an extensive track record in various industries, which made them valuable assets.

When hiring, Nikki starts by looking for proven sales success; candidates with business-to-business (B2B) sales experience and comfort interacting with the C-suite. Additionally, she looks for a minimum of 10 years of sales experience. By hiring individuals who already possess sales skills, she aims to find people willing to learn how to navigate the accounting world specifically. The goal is to find candidates who not only have a track record of success but can seamlessly integrate their sales expertise into the accounting industry to work together with firm partners to find success.

The Team Selling Approach

The sales team at Rehmann doesn’t replace the role of the individual partner in selling. Rather, Nikki referred to it as a “team selling” approach. This requires collaboration between her team and specialists in the firm. Despite the differences, the teams work together seamlessly, passing leads back and forth to ensure a comprehensive approach to client needs.

Her team comes in at the initial stages of client engagement, warming up leads and utilizing their listening skills to uncover client needs. The partnership evolves from there, with the team passing the baton to the appropriate partners within the firm based on the specific requirements identified during the initial stages.

Even though these business developers are not accountants, they can effectively sell accounting services. It comes down to being able to speak intelligently with clients about the firm’s offerings and then working in a collaborative nature with accountants within the firm.

Managing Business Development Teams

When managing a business development team, Nikki emphasizes the need for clear expectations and goal-setting. Contrary to the misconception that salespeople are solely motivated by money, she points out that business developers are motivated in other ways too, such as achievement and recognition. Setting clear goals and recognizing both actions and sales achievements are important components of effective management.

Balancing various responsibilities comes with challenges and this is where clear action plans and being transparent about expectations help. In addition to a sales quota, you have to engage business developers in the firm’s culture, providing opportunities for coaching and involvement in practice growth meetings. This gives your business developer the tools needed to be successful.

As the business development leader, Nikki reports directly to the CEO, while the business developers on her team report to her. It’s important to have leaders who understand and excel in business development overseeing the business development team. For firms with smaller teams, she recommends choosing leaders who demonstrate a strong commitment to business development.

Like with all positions, a firm can hire a business developer who may not meet performance expectations. To help avoid this, set clear expectations from the beginning and regularly evaluate whether these expectations are being met. You will have to revisit expectations if performance concerns arise, but be sure to give the individual time to cover their salary within six months. It’s always difficult to make performance decisions, but it’s important to recognize and act promptly.

What to Expect from a Business Developer

Firms want to use their business developers to hunt for new business, network and cultivate referral sources. Avoid assigning administrative tasks to business developers, as you want to protect their time for activities directly related to sales and relationship building.

One task you must require of your business developer though is the maintenance of a personal sales pipeline. Nikki advocated for transparency and the public sharing of pipeline information within the firm. Regular reviews of the pipeline, coupled with coaching opportunities, help hold your business developer accountable and ensure activity aligns with strategic priorities.

Most business developers spend the majority of their time out of the office. And it’s acceptable for these professionals to be out of sight. Nikki notes that business developers are often social individuals focused on goals and networking. Micromanaging them is counterproductive, as they require a certain level of freedom. You have to grant them the freedom to engage in external activities that contribute to networking and relationship-building.

Nikki stresses that you have to respect the unique skill set of sales professionals, recognizing their experience and track record. To motivate them, you have to understand individual motivations and tailor management approaches to meet the diverse needs of the team. This includes recognizing and appreciating the differences in personalities and work styles. You want to provide recognition for achievements and create a work environment that aligns with the preferences of each team member.

Commission Structures and Recognition

Not all business developers have the same strengths and preferences. Some excel at hunting for new business, while others thrive in maintaining relationships after a sale. Recognizing and embracing these differences allows for a more nuanced and effective approach to managing a business development team.

Business developers often receive commissions for the work they bring in. How to do this is a complex topic. To avoid ambiguity, there needs to be a clear and official commission plan, signed off by management, to avoid misunderstandings. Firms must stand behind the agreed-upon commission structure, especially when a business developer achieves exceptional success.

Since not all business developers are motivated by the same factors, tailor commission structures to drive desired behaviors. Whether it’s hunting for new business or supporting existing clients, a well-crafted commission plan can serve as a powerful motivator.

Recognize the Uniqueness of a Business Developer

Firms are full of accounting and other financially savvy professionals who have a lot of similarities. Business developers are different. They do different things in different ways and are compensated differently as a result. Managing them comes with a lot of intricacies, but success stems from clear goal-setting and proper motivation. Embrace the uniqueness of a business developer and empower them to use their proven sales skills to uncover new opportunities for your firm and you can build and sustain a high-performing business development team yourself.


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 6, featuring a conversation with Nikki Burgeson, principal and director of sales and business development at Rehmann. Learn more about the podcast and listen first-hand at

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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