Business Dev/Sales

Transitioning to Business Development: How Does Culture Play a Role?

Plant Growing in Concrete to Display Business Development Firm Culture

Are you a marketing professional who has been tasked with overseeing business development? Well, that happened to me. One year ago, I was asked by my managing partner to develop a business development culture at my firm. In the 14 years I’ve been here, we haven’t pursued business development and are a little behind. So where to begin?

I first started with research. I reached out to my fellow AAM friends and asked them how they did it. How do you introduce business development to a firm that wasn’t knowingly participating in business development? And today, how do you keep the efforts going amid a crisis?

I learned it starts with your firm culture. Building a business development culture at my firm where business development efforts are always top of mind became my new goal. So, how do you change the culture at your firm to be focused on business development?

Partner buy-in

You must get buy-in from the top. If you don’t have buy-in from your partner group, you will not succeed. Put together a plan of how you want to change your firm’s culture. Once you have a plan, present it to your managing partner and executive committee. Partners love to hear what others are doing, so make sure you provide them with that information too.

Once you have buy-in, you will want to make an announcement to the firm on the importance of the culture change, why it benefits them and the firm, and the firm’s plan. You can have a kickoff celebration, video announcement, or whatever works at your firm. I chose to have an announcement at our annual firm wide meeting, and it came from the managing partners, so team members saw this is an important initiative.

You will then want to find a champion in your partner group that gets it and wants to make it happen. Work closely with them in implementing your plan. Then, identify who doesn’t want to do this, and who will never do this. Don’t force people as you will find that you will not get anywhere, and this will just take you down a rabbit hole. Focus your efforts on the people that bought in and are eager to participate.

Besides getting buy-in, you will want to develop a high level of trust within the partner group. You can do this by meeting with each partner individually to find out their goals, what they want to accomplish and how you can help them get there.

One other thing you will want to discuss with the partner group is their compensation. Depending on your current role at the firm this might be tough for you, but it must be done. “If your firm is an ‘eat what you kill’ mentality, the culture change will never work,” says Jennifer Cantero, Director of Marketing at Sensiba San Filippo, LLP.

You are changing behaviors

Keep in mind that you are changing the culture of a firm that has been around for many years. “To do this large task you are asking people to change behaviors, and people only change behavior because something bad happens if they don’t, or something good happens if they do change,” said Rachael Higginbotham, Director of Marketing at Postlethwaite & Netterville. You need to find out what the good and bad is that will ultimately change someone’s behavior. Whatever it is, it must outweigh the efforts it takes to change.

“Postlethwaite & Netterville has worked to align job expectations with appropriate business development actions for each level. For example, at the staff level we expect team members to begin to develop a professional network, while at the manager level they are expected to work on identifying new opportunities. The ‘bad’ of not participating in business development activities is not meeting expectations, and the ‘good’ is being recognized and rewarded for doing the right things to grow the firm,” said Higginbotham.


Many firms struggle with accountability, but if you do not hold your team members accountable it will fail. The culture cannot change without accountability. “If accountability is new at your firm you can start small with things like coming to a meeting on time,” said Cantero. Other firms have tracking systems in place to help hold people accountable with their business development efforts. “We use Quantum where staff can set-up their goals and check-in on them. People input their referrals into CRM to track who’s sending them business and visa-versa. We have coaches that have business development efforts as an item to cover, so it gets communicated there as well,” said Lindsay Suelmann, Director of Marketing at Anders CPAs.

This is long-term

Remember that you are in this for the long haul. You will not build a business development firm culture overnight and certainly not in one year. After I spoke with my AAM friends I learned this is going to take us about six or seven years before we can proudly say we have a business development culture. To better manage expectations, I informed the partner group of the longevity of the plan.

Your role will change

Let’s face it, changing a firm’s culture is a big job and will take up a lot of your time. You will need to prepare how that will affect your role in the firm. Who is going to do what you are currently doing since you won’t have time? You will find that you will not be spending time on branding and promotions, but instead more time in pipeline meetings and implementing strategic plans to move the needle. You might find you need to hire an additional employee, and will your firm support an additional marketing professional?

Business Development in a Crisis

Your plan is in place and efforts are starting to happen when you are faced with a major crisis. How do you keep business development going when you are up to your eyeballs with crisis communications? It’s important to get crisis communications out timely, but it’s also important to keep business development moving forward. While still encouraging business development activities at your firm, you want to make sure you are not coming across as insensitive to the current situation. So, what can you do?

  • Listen – The first thing you want to do is make sure your professionals are reaching out to their clients and listen to what they have to say. Don’t sell additional services or discuss their upcoming bill but lend an ear and just listen to their wants, needs and fears. Be the trusted advisor they need right now.
  • Resource – Not only do you want to listen, but you also want to be a resource. Provide them with informational articles they can use. Instead of fielding questions one-by-one, take the questions you are getting and turn them into a webinar. Follow-up with the webinar attendees’ questions personally after the webinar to confirm you answered their questions.
  • Social Media – Make sure your professionals are using their social media accounts by posting helpful content regularly, so they stay top of mind. The more times their followers see their face and name in their feed the more likely they will remember them. Make sure the content that is being posted is not making them sound tone deaf.
  • Technology – Now is the time to utilize online platforms to schedule virtual happy hours and coffee meetings. These business development meetings can still happen, but they will have to happen virtually.

Bottom line is, connect with all your clients, prospects and referral sources. Find an excuse to reach out, host a virtual happy hour or schedule your next webinar.

You are going to be faced with frustration and will feel like business development will never happen and especially during a crisis. Don’t give up. To keep your sanity, you will want to set up smaller milestones to show that the needle is moving and that you are making progress. Celebrate all wins no matter how small they might be. This will keep you sane and your team members excited and engaged.

About Jaimi Koechel

Jaimi Koechel leads the Firm’s Marketing Department in all marketing efforts including branding, public relations, social media, special events, advertising, collateral, newsletters, the website, proposals and the planning and implementation of the Firm’s strategic and niche marketing plans. Before joining Henry+Horne, Jaimi was the Marketing Events Coordinator for a well-known accounting firm in Madison, Wisconsin where she managed all seminars and events held by the parent company as well as its affiliate entities. Jaimi graduated from Arizona State University – West with a Bachelor of Applied Science Degree with an emphasis in Communication. She received her Associate of Applied Science Degree in Marketing from Madison Area Technical College. Jaimi is an active member of the Association for Accounting Marketing (AAM) and is a committee member of the AAM Minute newsletter. She also received the Firm’s first AAM-MAA Award. The Firm has gone on to receive a total of nine AAM-MAA Awards under her leadership for a number of achievements including a social media campaign, rebranding, creating and launching a new website, content marketing, advertising, niche building, publications, blogs and featured articles. Jaimi was also nominated in 2011 for AAM’s Marketer of the Year award. When she’s not working, you can find Jaimi spending time with her husband and son and working out. She likes to travel and hopes to visit various European countries and Australia.

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