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What about partners who won't engage in business development?

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Craig Weeks
Craig Weeks

In every engagement I have ever undertaken for accounting firms where the purpose of my presence was to teach/empower/motivate/etc. the partners and managers to become more proficient business developers, I have run into the following problem:  some of them simply won't.   No combination of threats or incentives from firm management seem to make a difference.

Based upon this experience, I now explain this reality to firm management and we wind up narrowing the scope of my engagement to helping those individuals who proactively wish to enhance their skills.

Needless to say, firm managers tear their hair out over this because it means revenue per partner is always less than what it could be.

My question:  Have others run into this problem?  Have you found any answer(s)?  I've been teaching business development for over 10 years and tried any number of approaches to solve this dilemma without any meaningful success. 

Any insight you can offer is most welcome.

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Martin Bissett
Martin Bissett

Hi Craig,

I think that my take on this is that in any business, not all the directors/partnes/shareholders are hunters of new work.

This is an even more acute situation in a profession whose tradition is in building firms by reactivity and without a pressing need to sell. Let's face it, in any other business of the size that you and I deal with in the Accounting Profession, you'd normally find a whole sales department from director down to sales team.

In this sector however, we have partner boards made up by those who have studied for years to pass accounting exams, spent a career honing those technical skills and yet have typically spent less than 24 hours of that career learning anything relevant to proactive selling. Professional Selling methods and infrastructure is a mystery to many of them

On that basis, not every old dog is able to/prepared to learn new tricks and so I feel that a better focus is to build a sales team within a firm based on those who want to be in it.

Those that don't, fine, they bring other things to the table than new fees and maybe that's even reflected in a revision of partner compensation ratios...but that's a whole other topic!

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Rob Nance
Rob Nance

It appears that many firms have had some success in getting non-BD partners to contribute in these efforts once they've redefined and expanded how BD is to take place at their firms. Many partners who have resisted BD in the past seemed to think of it all one-dimensionally, i.e., "sales, networking, public speaking"--functions that went against their grain. Smart firms have found at least one BD effort that fits each personality; many are computer-based, which fits a lot of people who do not want to do a lot of hand shaking, law firm cocktail mixers, etc.

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Craig Weeks
Craig Weeks

You're correct, Rob.  I have suggested alternate activities such as blog writing and the like and that has worked reasonably well.

If a firm is large enough they can encourage their "non-sellers" to become highly specialized technicians e.g. 1031 exchanges, complex M&A, venture capital funding, etc.) and obtain more revenue from that individual by generating higher hourly rates for the niche-related engagements.

Still, the bottom line seems to be some will and some won't.

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Debra Andrews
Debra Andrews

Having Partners that don’t do their fair share of outreach / business development can be frustrating and create a great deal of resentment.  But, the reality is that these Partners don’t networking and build a sphere of influence because they are uncomfortable doing so.  They may then dismiss the effort as “not important” really to save face.  However, in today’s digitally driven marketing world, all Partners can contribute to outreach even without shaking a hand.  Uncomfortable getting out from behind your desk?  How about trying blogging; writing a white paper; sending out thought leadership by updating your network status; building a following on Linkedin.  You can do all of these things without shaking a single hand or getting out from behind your desk.  So, instead of giving Partners one choice – get out and network – give them many options to help the firm raise its visibility.

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Patrick McLoughlin
Patrick McLoughlin

I have faced the same problem myself, working with partners who either won't get involved in marketing or worse still, who undermine their firm's marketing efforts. 

Sometimes it's because partners are presented with an action plan that they have had no involvement in creating.  Then they can often be resentful and obstructive.  Some of the more 'traditional' partners also view marketing / sales as beneath them.  

I have found that when I can get all the partners involved in discussing / agreeing action the results improve.  Even then you can only minimise the problem.  I wrote a blog about it last month: Why Accounting Marketing For Multi-Partner Firms often Fails

As a partner said to me last year: "If I had known I would have to worry about winning new business I would never have bothered qualifying in the first place."

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Craig Weeks
Craig Weeks

I appreciate everyone's input and thoughts.

Debra's point that not everyone must engage in the same behavior to be a contributor is certainly correct, and Patrick's blog focuses upon obtaining buy-in from all individuals who will be expected to participate.   Even better when combined, these techniques can generate meaningfully better results when compared to a draconian, top down, assigned goal process.  

Nevertheless, if there are, say, 10 partners, my experience is that there will still be 2 - 4 of them who simply won't perform.  My personal epiphany was realizing that this is the reality and I need to focus my energy upon those who are willing to participate.  And, of course, an accounting firm is typically a relatively small entity, so everyone is aware that "Frank" won't participate and "Debra" will, so it's not like anyone is fooling anyone.

I've consistently obtained the best results by concentrating upon those who will, and then identifying the 1 or 2 (out of my theoretical 10) who want to be superstars; spend even more time with them, and thereby achieve the firm's goals ... even if we did it with only 5 - 7 of the 10.  The firm wins, those who participated win, I win, and firm management has had a reality check that they can work with as they move into the future.

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Thomas Gay
Thomas Gay

First of all, in full transparency, let me say I have a "dog in the hunt" as the founder of a firm that helps leaders in professional services firms learn how to build their practices using a cloud based referral tool.  Our findings are that people know what and even how to do the things they need to do to build a thriving practice... They just lack the system and the mindset to achieve consistency.  The critical first step one has to take is to understand the value and power of the relationship one has with their clients. Then becoming systematic in nuturing that relationship and teaching the client (or a key community influencer) how to help you grow your practice is pretty simple. Start with the goal of building a "know, like, trust" reputation (its easy for the trusted advisor), be a giver..., and then teach those people how they can "reciprocate." Its easy, relational, subtle and doable at any level in an organization. Its not really selling... instead its harvesting the fruit of what the has been already given by the professional.  Here's a little white paper that depicts the process.

Download Attachment (5_Steps_to_Unlimited_Referrals_-_White_Paper_-_V1_(2).pdf)

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Alan Vitberg
Alan Vitberg

As Craig points out, not everybody is going to have rainmaker  skills, and I'd like to add my comments to Debra's insight about blogging. Here's one perspective: reluctant rainmakers should be required to make their contribution to BD in the form of content marketing. Here's a blog post I wrote that got quite a few comments in some of the LinkedIn forums that I'd like to add into this discussion:Should Your Firm’s Reluctant Rainmakers Be Required to Do Content Marketing?

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