Business Development: Managing and Engaging Business Developers

Your approach to managing a business development (BD) team can make or break your firm’s growth trajectory. Effective leadership from the top can boost BD engagement and motivate your associates.

The setup

  1. Get the right team in place. As accounting firms, we often think we must hire accountants to do our bidding. Challenge that approach by hiring sales experts, not necessarily accounting experts. Hiring business-to-business sales/BD professionals with C-suite experience will bring your growth efforts to an elevated level of sophistication. The experienced BD can quickly learn and apply their skills to our industry.
  2. Help your BDs gain the respect of your peers. This may be the single most significant role in BD management. Set aside time for your BDs to get know your peers up front. Understanding the niches and services is a great start and earning the respect of the partner group is exciting and necessary for your BD team’s engagement and success.
  3. Set expectations early. Communicate often about quotas and goals and remember to give them a runway to ramp up the wins. Sales cycles can be long so make sure to set realistic goals they can achieve by working hard.

Working in the trenches

  1. Encourage your BDs to avoid being too administrative and keep your eye on their quota. Be careful not to put your BD in an administrative support role. Most of the BD’s time must be spent prospecting new businesses and following up, not entering information into your CRM for others, just because they know how.
  2. Unleash your BDs on key pursuits and let them lead with their unique skillset. Empowered BDs will bring a distinct perspective to your approach and make the pursuit easier on the rest of the team through sales process management and follow up.
  3. Hunt in packs. BD success can often be found when they are emphasizing team collaboration. Putting your BDs out in the world alone and waiting for them to bring you signed engagement letters puts your firm at risk and lowers the engagement of the BD. BDs should be able to cold prospect and warm up a pursuit before the partners get involved, but the partner should step in mid-pursuit, if not sooner.

Staying engaged

  1. Encourage autonomy. Micromanaging BDs will make them find another job. They will not be in the office all day, every day. Recognize they often use personal time to network (early mornings, late nights).
  2. A good BD wants to be held accountable. Help them grow through regular pipeline reviews. What gets managed, gets done. Coach to the pipeline at all times. Help your BDs understand how you measure success through cost of sales, ROI, and coverage ratios.
  3. Give public displays of recognition. Yes, BDs are motivated by money, but their engagement soars when they are given recognition. Understand what motivates your team members individually so you can meet their needs for recognition.
  4. Measure engagement annually and ask for feedback. BDs are typically not shy. Asking for feedback, whether directly or through anonymous surveys, will give you the keys to helping the team stay engaged. Adapting your management style to meet the needs of your business development team will bring your team to its highest potential.
  5. Pay them! Put a BD commission plan in place as an official firm policy and stick to it, even when they win big. Keep it simple to keep it motivating. While it is tempting to put a cap in place, consider the income structure of a BD. A percentage of their income is not guaranteed and is only earned through commission. Reward the willingness to take that risk by not putting a cap in place on commissions.

Applying a strategic approach to managing your BD team can help you achieve your growth goals faster while keeping your people engaged and reducing barriers to success.

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About Nikki Burgeson

As the Director of Sales and Business Development at Rehmann, I utilize 20+ years of experience in sales and leadership to help drive the overall growth of one the largest professional service firms in the country. In this role, I am responsible for strategy development, leadership of Rehmann’s business development team and spearheading the Firm’s sales culture integration efforts by aligning skills, talent and technical expertise of business advisors with new clients to ensure that they are receiving the best service possible. I have an inherent ability to connect people and a passion for driving growth that make me a key player in setting the standard for business development in the professional services industry.

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