CPA Growth Trends, Marketing

Business Development: Recruiting a Business Development Executive into Your Firm

Recruiting a Business Development Executive (BDE) into your firm has two parts: recruiting the right BDE for your firm culture and leadership and retaining that BDE to hold their engagement within your firm.

A BDE is typically an experienced business development professional who has an outward-facing role in the firm, which is, to be client facing. Their goal is to grow revenue at their firms within specific industries, client groups or from a firmwide or geography standpoint.

This pure sales role is a nuanced role in professional services firms. To most CPAs and accountants, “sales” denotes a quick-talking, only-half-listening, schmoozey person who is transactional and all on the surface. That’s not the case.

In accounting firms, and in all professional services firms, a pure sales role is held by an experienced, business-savvy subject matter expert. Meaningful, in-depth relationships are built over time, and business solutions discussions are had at each client touchpoint. A BDE knows all corners of the firm — the partners — and understands each service each partner has to sell.

The BDE will have one of two focuses. Either, working on existing key clients of the firm to increase revenue through cross-collaboration to ensure “client stickiness” or to be 100% originators of new clients for the firm and to be compensated as such.

Analysis First

Recruiting a BDE into your firm must start with an analysis of what type of BDE your firm needs and will nurture over time:

  • The partner perspective: Will the partners embrace and accept a BDE culture? Will they let the BDE operate independently and on behalf of the firm as a whole? Is there a document that sets out the contractual terms and structure of a BDE’s origination, including assisted origination?
  • The BDE perspective: Will the BDE be empowered to get to know the clients of the firm independently of the partners? Will the partners share their books of business with the BDE so they can understand revenue targets and growth opportunities? If a BDE brings in a brand-new client to the firm, and it’s a potential big payday for the BDE, will the partners honor the contractual terms that have been struck?

There is a spectrum of sophistication that needs to be considered to find what your firm is looking to recruit. Then, the focus can shift to where to find the right BDE for your firm:

  • A specific industry that leverages their technical background.
  • A professional services or consultancy firm with a proven sales culture.
  • A sales-forward or training-forward company where these elements are the cornerstone of their company’s success.
  • A rainmaker in a competing firm who can bring his or her relationships over.
  • A general sales BDE who is industry agnostic.

Recruiting Second

Approaching a potential BDE on behalf of your firm must have these elements:

  • A tailored, thoughtful approach, showing your in-depth understanding of their background.
  • Connecting their background – and your ask – to your specific need.
  • An invitation to have an informational and educational conversation.

After this meaningful and professional approach, here are the bigger testing moments throughout the meeting and interview journey:

1, Testing technical strengths

Have an open dialogue on the nature of their prior sales roles. This includes their impact and value in their prior firms. Start with the big picture and then fine tune to relate to your specific revenue growth targets. Get specific examples of past behavior to help you understand their likely future behavior and approach.

2. Learning how the BDE measures sales

This is vastly different in each firm. Ask direct questions to get an understanding of the different experiences they have had and – this is key – tap into what motivates the BDE when it comes to how sales are measured. This ties directly into compensation (see below) and will exponentially increase your chances of retaining them for the long term.

3. A mutual understanding of compensation

There’s only one way to have a conversation about compensation: have it early and have it often. In this, your firm should ask questions to get an understanding of the dealbreakers the BDE has on their ideal compensation model and structure, which gets to how this person is driven to act in a sales role. Aligning their preferred behaviors to a compensation structure that encourages their preferred behaviors is key.

4. Who has had a say

Which partners and influencers in your firm need to meet this person? Which partners will be the most impressive firm ambassadors to your potential BDE to sell your firm to them? Developing a plan on who needs to be involved ensures no partner feels left out and, therefore, is a risk to the BDE’s longevity in your firm.

5. Where and how will the BDE do this?

The hybrid and flexible nature of our working lives now allows us to be at the forefront of crafting a role within a firm that meets expectations of both the firm and the future employee. Weave into this the budget that the BDE will have to fully do their role.

6. Culture, culture and culture

Over the last couple of years, culture has won out every time over technical strengths. Why? Because culture = longevity + engagement of an employee.

Final Words

Good BDEs literally pay for themselves. It won’t happen in six or 12 months, but you should start seeing results soon thereafter. However, the investment in time to get a good BDE into your firm from the start needs key partners, influencers and business professionals alike to set aside their personal time to have meaningful discussions.

Recruiting is an art, not a science. You have to think about how you market the BDE opportunity to the person who will fit well in your firm. Then, plan the path forward and get the right people to help you execute. This requires ongoing, purposeful human interactions that show transparency and empathy. When done correctly, your efforts result in a wonderful investment.

About Kate Harry Shipham


A believer in pushing yourself each and every day to achieve things you didn’t realize possible, Kate takes this personal mission with her into each day. She does this through the lens of being positive, tenacious and empathetic. She uses the skills she has acquired both as an attorney and as an avid “people observer” in the search business to understand the needs of her clients and candidates. Both clients and candidates work with Kate because of her deep understanding of the market and her ability to relate based on her attorney and search experience combined.

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