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By Sibson & Company

It is often all too easy for accounting and consulting practices to view business development as the exclusive realm of the rainmakers. There is a false sense of security that comes from relying on a few major business developers holding major client relationships. As you can well imagine, the major business developers are often most comfortable with this view.

But what happens if, heaven forbid, one of your major business developers suffers a health reversal or decides to pursue the greener grass? Is your base of business generation broad enough and solid enough to carry you through?

The secret, in our view, is to create an appropriate business development orientation across the staff. Not everyone can nor should be direct business generators, but having broader, more active, and more conscious involvement by all creates a more stable, more productive flow of business over time. Our experience has been those firms that preach and practice that all professional staff play important roles in developing business usually reap at least some, if not all the following benefits:

  • The firm develops both more and more effective rainmakers, because even the most established business developers can continue to grow and develop if they have support.

  • Supervisory staff receive stronger leverage to help maximize the value they bring to the firm both in business development and in client service.

  • Teaming among less experienced and more experienced staff fosters the institutionalization of the client portfolio and speeds staff development.

  • More discipline around teaming translates to more discipline in managing the pipeline and fewer valleys in managing firm economics.

  • More implicit sources of revenue defray the impact of economic downturns when they occur.

  • Staff gains a greater sense of "one-firm firmness" through team efforts and working together.

While our focus is on how nonpartner, professional staff can participate in business development activities, it is important to remember the single highest impact staff can make is by doing excellent client work and by delighting clients on their engagements. Doing excellent work is the essential core for supporting revenue generation.

The key to firm-wide participation in business development activities lies in recognizing there are different facets of revenue generation. Even the classic lexicon of "finders" who bring in work, "minders" who tend to it and see it gets done, and "grinders" who execute, gets in the way of demystifying the business development process. It implies "finders find and minders mind."

When you look more deeply at business development (especially in light of the great-client-work-is-the-best-business-development principle above), the picture becomes considerably more muddy. By understanding the pieces, relevant business development activities can be incorporated into the job roles of the grinders and minders as well as the finders. Let's take a look at how all levels of staff can engage in and support business development.

How Business Comes in the Door

One of the first steps to demystifying revenue generation is to look at how business comes in the door. This means looking at the drivers of the business and the factors that influence increasing your share of a given client's spending on professional services. On the most fundamental level, all new business passes through these steps.>

Marketing and Generating Leads. This includes all the ways of getting companies interested in what you have to offer, such as industry and technical competence, speeches, articles, needs identification, referrals, add-ons, and other marketing initiatives. This is the point where great client work is most directly great marketing, working with current clients, generating new leads for business, and knowing who your client knows, talks to, and gives references to. The result of these reputation-building efforts is an inquiry for new business that must be pursued.

Selling. This includes sales calls, the proposal process, and closing.

Generating Leads

Lead generation, the most relevant means for nonpartner staff to participate in bringing business through the door, happens both by developing relationships and industry and technical expertise. Some individuals have natural talent in building relationship networks whereas others have significant technical knowledge and expertise. Most firms need both types of professionals, and this approach offers a simple means for focusing staff on their strengths, gaps, and future professional development.

Building Broad-Based Relationship Skills

Senior relationship managers have a track record and ability to establish relationships with counterparts in client organizations and in the community. In their case, those counterparts happen to be very senior people.

There is little reason others lower in your firm cannot exercise similar skills with their particular counterparts. Whereas those with an expertise orientation concentrate on the technical side of an engagement, those who emphasize relationship skills are concerned with client dynamics--but not to the exclusion of technical competency.

Needs identification, for instance, is typically a relationship management strength. While developing relationship networks should not be the primary focus for a grinder, minders, as well as experienced finders, can best learn by working with someone who knows how to do it, be that individual a peer or a superior.

The ideal mentor for the budding relationship manager--

  • has a natural talent for dealing with people,

  • has built client networks and often, networks throughout different client organizations, and

  • is (typically) a trusted advisor on broad topics to leadership within the client organization.

The classic mentor for relationship skills knows how to qualify and sell opportunities, and will naturally follow up and stay in touch with client contacts. For example, he or she will call to find out about the success of implementing recommendations or about the overall impact of an engagement. Some maintain the network by frequently mailing firm publications or relevant articles to clients.

Younger staff best learn about managing relationships by watching a variety of relationship experts in action, and working with those different gurus, and then applying those learnings while working with peers in the client organization. Modeling the behaviors and perhaps assisting the senior people in their follow-up and network maintenance activities is a key opportunity to develop skills.

Leveraging Technical Expertise

The technical expert writes articles, delivers speeches, is frequently quoted in the business press, and is called on by clients as an expert. Expertise is developed throughout the course of a career, starting from the very beginning. Developing nonpartners' ability to market expertise requires strong, consistent mentorship, and the individual must have a passion for the desired area of expertise and the drive and discipline to succeed and specialize.

Ways to build market-demonstrated expertise within your firm, include the following:

  • Encouraging less experienced staff to co-author articles with senior colleagues or other established experts in the field to build the credentials. Such credentials can later be used for selling.

  • Ensuring co-authored articles are, in fact, prepared jointly in controlled ways so everything the firm produces is representative of the firm's thinking.

  • Motivating less experienced staff to conduct research for articles to build
    their knowledge and subject expertise and, at the same time, build the firm's intellectual capital.

  • Establishing ways to help those less experienced to become more facile, in general, with the issues in a given field. This happens over time as professionals accumulate more engagement experience. Firms can accelerate this process by carefully planned engagement staffing. In addition, internal symposia, e.g., on the last Friday of every month, a bring-your-own lunch in which staff at various levels present aspects of a current assignment can broaden the exposure professionals gain on client work.

  • Ensuring no "teeth cutting," either in the publication of articles or on the project side. Every activity must add value in some form, and mediocrity cannot be permitted to enter the equation. This ensures a consistent look and feel to what the firm produces and that the firm's staff continues to respect the quality of what is produced.

  • Assisting less experienced staff build their technical expertise by accumulating a repertoire of examples and anecdotes and developing the versatility to create analogies across experiences directly and indirectly related to a given field.


Preparing staff to support selling and sell business once they are partners is a function of exposing staff to good business developers with different styles. Growing into an effective salesperson of professional services requires "learning one's voice" or an individual's unique approach to developing business. The only way to do this is to expose staff directly to the selling process as early and as often as possible. Although training is valuable and can be the source of important skills and insights, we believe business development training is best used to nurture growing philosophies and build basic skills.

Regular discipline is a prerequisite, and if not set as the first priority, will too easily become postponed and subordinated, to the detriment of those who don't learn, those who don't get leverage, and the firm that doesn't maximize its prosperity.

Ways to develop selling skills include the following:

  • Asking less experienced staff to conduct research and analysis on a client organization that can educate the client during a sales call or that can help quantify the identified need and hence make the proposal hit close to home.

  • Involving less experienced staff in meetings and prospecting activities.

  • Teaching less experienced staff to always prepare for calls by being able to tell potential clients something they don't already know, enhance their knowledge, and make the visit more valuable than their own time. This often requires role-playing before-the-fact that has the added benefit of improving the preparation of everyone involved.

  • Assigning less experienced staff to help with a proposal or select portions of a proposal. It is too easy for proposals to be dumped on those who have little to no knowledge of the situation and who have received less than adequate briefing on the situation to write a meaningful proposal. Delegating proposals needs to be done in a meaningful way, for example, by giving specific parts of proposals to individual staff members. Often, the best part is issue identification, following a conversation with those who know the organization best.

  • Ensuring a less experienced staff member goes along on every sales call, with little exception, e.g., long distance travel. However, less experienced staff must be given a role, and the client's expectations of that role must be managed as some clients will not expect this.

  • Discussing the sales meeting with the inexperienced staff, as a debriefing session during which key issues are outlined.

  • Again, no teeth cutting--if it is not strategic, do not set staff off to learn alone.

    As in the development of experts and relationship managers, different rainmakers have different styles, and a variety of experiences is critical for staff learning the new roles. In addition, potential partners should become comfortable with one, two, or even three powerful frameworks to use in selling situations. Colleagues can always learn from each others' tools and thereby improve their flexibility in selling. Again, having a repertoire of anecdotes and versatility with analogies is key for success.

    The single highest impact any professional can have on business development is doing excellent client work and delivering on client work. You can create that impact by following the best practice suggestions in the accompanying exhibit.

    Sibson & Company is a management consulting firm that helps its clients improve performance through the effective use of people. For more information, contact Bruce Sherman at (312) 580-7770.

    Reprinted with permission of Insight, the magazine of the Illinois Society of CPAs.

    Michael Goldstein, CPA
    The CPA Journal

    The CPA Journal is broadly recognized as an outstanding, technical-refereed publication aimed at public practitioners, management, educators, and other accounting professionals. It is edited by CPAs for CPAs. Our goal is to provide CPAs and other accounting professionals with the information and news to enable them to be successful accountants, managers, and executives in today's practice environments.

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