Is your BD team hiding behind bureaucracy?

John Morris is business development partner at Smith & Williamson, a role he took on in 2013 after a five-year stint at EY as a business development director. Before that, John gained a broad range of commercial experience working in a variety of different industries, including manufacturing, IT services, management consulting and Business Process Outsourcing (a “brutal sales environment,” says John). Here he writes about how that background forms his view of effective business development at professional services firms…

When it comes to business development, how do you split your market-facing role and your internal-operations function? Doing both well is fundamental to winning the hearts and minds of partners, and crucial to creating the market-leading growth you desire. But what does doing both well look like?

From what I’ve seen across the professional services industry, typically there is more of an emphasis on internal process. Business development teams tend to focus on doing ‘useful not valuable’ tasks like creating pipeline reports and account plans, and then challenging fee-earners as to why they haven’t done certain things. Entire cottage industries spring up around reporting, metrics and monitoring.

When that happens, your business development team has become an ops team, not a sales team. The average partner does not get value from that.

Create the conditions for growth

A book by Bill Walsh, a legendary American football coach, called ‘The Score Takes Care of Itself’ emphasises culture, tone from the top, empowerment, competitiveness and accountability as the key requirements of high performing, successful teams. I agree wholeheartedly. Critically, these are not things that appear as outputs from a spreadsheet or a plan. They are attributes of a mind-set and mentality that needs to be nurtured, developed and encouraged.

I want to create a best-in-class sales culture, capability and function here at Smith & Williamson within three-to-five years. I know I won’t achieve that through a focus on operational excellence alone.

Don’t get me wrong: management information is important – we need to understand where we are successful so we can replicate the methodology, approach and mindset that have led to that success. Conversely, we need to understand where we’re not winning so we can fix that. But creating layers of process and measurement doesn’t drive value and it’s not really the remit of the sales function, either.

Business development misconceptions

I want to break down misconceptions about business development. It’s not, or it shouldn’t be, an internally focused function and activity. While creating the internal conditions for success is vital, business development should be more about getting out there, being visible, being active and making a difference in every area of the firm’s interests.

If I’m not out in the market talking to prospective clients then I’m not relevant or credible because I don’t understand what the market wants. If I’m not directly creating my own opportunities then I’m not credible or relevant, either. We need to get most of the organisation acting in the same way – business development must become part of the culture rather than being left to just a couple of lone wolves.

So think about how you split your market-facing role and your internal-operations function. Are you wasting time micro-managing internal affairs when what’s really needed is greater visibility out in the market, along with the leadership that creates an effective business development culture?

John Morris was talking to John Maffioli, founder of