As appeared in Forbes, February 27, 2023. Business development training in professional service firms used to be an oxymoron. Lawyers, accountants or consultants usually were not trained in selling because the thought was that once they became a professional, they were in practice; that meant sales and marketing were separate from the job description.
As a result, business and development were dirty words for some, especially when spoken in tandem. In some cases, professional service firms had a rainmaker or two who had a knack for developing clients, but that was about it.
Today, training for professionals has grown in sophistication, both due to the expertise and focus of trainers and to the recognition by professional service firms that they need to offer expert training to their people. The rise of the critical role of chief talent officer is just one indication. As firms look at how they will attract and retain professionals, many know that giving new hires training and a sense of how business is won and maintained is essential.
By Level Of Experience
There is growing recognition that most junior lawyers or accountants need custom training that applies to them. While first-year lawyers may need to learn how to stay connected to their college and law school classmates, more senior associates want to think about how they cultivate relationships with their compatriots at the clients they’ve been assigned. They may also be thinking about how they develop a reputation for the work they want to do and how they establish a personal brand within their industry. Creating training for the various levels of seniority that is custom to their needs is essential. A professional firm requires proper research to establish what skill sets are essential for professionals at what stage of their career, but once that is done, the program’s design can begin.
Coaching used to be seen as something of a rarity in consulting and other professional service firms and generally something that was only given to employees who had specific hurdles to overcome. Today’s business development coaching is something completely different.
Due to the imperative for all professionals to be able to sell themselves and their firms, coaching is something that we now see given to high-potentials, those individuals who show great promise but may just be lacking the right skill set. By agreeing on objectives, often involving some 360 reviews and working on a plan, coaching in the business development arena can be a huge support to someone who has not been exposed to or mentored by rainmakers. While the engagement may be quite structured with a good plan in place and agreed-upon goals, the coach-coachee relationship also allows the coach to guide the coachee for real-time opportunities.
By Industry And Practice
As each industry or practice is different, so are the ramifications of how clients make purchasing decisions. A midsize law firm focusing solely on litigation may receive business primarily through referrals from other firms, and a banking practice at a large firm may get work through investment bankers rather than a legal department. Understanding the nuances and training with those in mind is essential.
By Understanding That We Each Learn Differently
Each of us learns differently. I could listen to a TED Talk or a Masterclass, take some notes and retain most of it, but if you gave me a lengthy academic article to read, my mind would wander off halfway through.
We are a diverse community of professionals, and each one of us learns differently. Understanding and providing different modalities to teach business development skills is essential to a successful program.
Mix up some reading, with presentations, with Q & A sessions and panels. Make it interesting. Have people workshop together and find ways to apply what they are learning. By understanding that we each learn differently, we can help everyone improve.
Deborah Farone is strategic advisor at Farone Advisors, working with leaders of the world’s most successful companies in marketing and business development. She is a frequent speaker and is the author of “Best Practices in Law Firm Business Development and Marketing” (PLI 2019). www.deborahfarone.com.