Essential to Accounting business development is building your A team. By A team, I mean surrounding yourself with the very best people you can get. For the purpose of this exercise, I am focusing on the team you need to make business improvement services a sizeable part of your Accounting business’s revenue. Set aside the people required to do the Accounting and tax work, although the principals apply to any area of your firm.
To be successful in Accounting business development, your starting point is the structure you need. There are five functions that need to be filled:
You need something to sell. Oftentimes in business improvement work, you will find yourself going with the flow in meetings with clients and coming up with new intellectual property on the fly. That’s fine, but if you want others in your firm to be on the lookout for opportunities to cross sell clients into your business improvement service offerings, it needs to get out of your head and into a system. When we first started running planning sessions and profit improvement programs, there were only a small number of us involved in the delivery. Problem was, because we did so much of it on the fly, we were not getting cross referrals. No one else knew what we did or how we did it. To address that, we decided to systemize our approach with clients and to give it a product name – not so much so that any Accountant in the firm could deliver it (although that certainly adds value to the product) but more so that others could conceptualize the service and talk with clients and prospects about the sort of work we were able to do in the firm. It is an important function, although unlikely to be a full-time person.
With product, of course, you have a make or buy decision. There is plenty of good quality business improvement or business advisory products available for you to fast track your development. I recommend you take a good look at the various offerings and weigh up the value of buying something rather than building your own. In saying that, however, your firm should have something unique to offer the market so my view is work on a hybrid of make and buy.
Your product champion should be task driven and systems focused. You can enlist creative people to come up with product names but you need someone who can work methodically and who is good at getting projects finished.
All Accounting firms in growth mode should have a full-time marketing coordinator on the payroll. This is an operational role, not a strategic role. Someone to make things happen. If you are championing the business improvement service, part of your role is to come up with the marketing strategy. This might involve obtaining referrals, case studies and testimonials, nurturing bank managers, running seminars and boardroom briefings and sending out articles and newsletters. Your marketing coordinator picks up your strategy and organizes the activities required to bring it to life. The partner’s role should be to turn up where and when instructed. The sole KPI for a marketing coordinator should be to maximize the number of quality leads delivered to the sales team.
I have seen a number of firms successfully outsource this role but if you are considering this, you need a very good person, especially if they are working remotely.
The natural tendency is to think that you need a super-creative person in the marketing role. Not necessarily the case. Whilst ideas are always welcome, making activities happen within deadlines and monitoring the outcomes of each activity is more important. As such, that rare mix of an analytical creator is perfect. Strong interpersonal skills are essential; your marketing coordinator will likely be dealing with venues, spheres of influence, clients and most importantly, the partners in your firm. They need to be able to communicate and also not be afraid to chase partners to deliver on promises (for example, creating case study or article outlines, or asking key clients for referrals.)
Without sales, nothing happens. The best salesperson for introducing business improvement services to existing clients is the partner or lead client service manager. You will likely find that different partners have varying levels of skills and self confidence so consider an option whereby partners introduce one of the firm’s business improvement specialists to a client. I have seen this work very well. In fact, I recall being introduced to a client by a partner in firm as ‘an expert in helping small businesses grow and one of the best people we have ever hired.’ That did wonders for my self confidence, imbued the client with similar confidence in me (we had not previously met) and also took the pressure off the introducing partner as he could then take a back seat in the sales meeting.
Once your marketing starts to deliver leads, you will find yourself in front of non-clients. Identify the best rainmakers in your firm to handle these meetings; most firms will have at least one person who stands out as regularly bringing in new work. They will be the most comfortable in this environment and as such, most likely to generate new work from meetings with prospects.
You need a strong core team of people to deliver your business improvement services. You can build this up from one person initially. Involve others in your meetings to transfer skills. When provided with an environment that encourages skills development and supported by systematized products, people will step up and be willing and capable of delivering sessions with clients. I strongly believe that any good Accountant can deliver business improvement work as long as you stay close to the numbers.
If you are moving into business improvement from scratch, your name may be in several boxes right now. And that’s fine. But think of this as a discrete business unit and resource it appropriately as you grow. If you are a partner or other senior person in your firm, you are best suited in the sales and delivery roles. Avoid getting dragged into marketing coordination – and arm yourself with a strong PA. Once you have these five functions operating well, you have your A team in place.
One final word on your A team – if you have any bad eggs it can be seriously demoralizing for the quality people. In almost every firm I have ever coached, when the partners get serious about the A team they find that they have at least one person on their team who simply should not be there. Sometimes that person has been there for a long time and you can make all the excuses under the sun for not making the hard decision. But if someone needs to go, pull the trigger early. It is only fair for them, for you and for your team. When a ‘cultural terrorist’ is relieved of their role, you will find that even team members who have never expressed difficulties in working with that person start to come forward to thank you. You will find that the mood in your team lifts; that people are seeing opportunities, rather than problems. Barely a month goes by when I don’t receive an email or phone call from an Accountant thanking me for encouraging them to make a tough decision concerning a problem team member. And you know you will feel much better when you do it as well, don’t you?
About the Author
Colin DunnDirector & Co-founder at PANALITIX
Colin is a Chartered Accountant who, having spent almost 10 years with one of the fastest growing and most innovative firms in the UK, has spent the last 19 years working exclusively with the Accounting profession with a focus on helping them implement business advisory services with their clients. He is passionate about helping turn Accounting practices into Accounting businesses and holds a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) and is a qualified ACA. Colin is relentless in the pursuit of improving the performance of every firm he coaches.
Colin is the brains behind ENGAGER (previously the PANALITIX app), TRUST and Proactive Success System, PANALITIX’s three cloud applications for Accountants.
He is also a prodigious author and generator of content, primarily in the form of ‘how to’ material to enable Accountants to respond to client needs with value-based services. He is the author of the bestselling book “Accountants: The Natural Trusted Advisors.”