The one thing about business development you have to know

By Andy Clewer, partner at Ernst & Young

How many sales calls have you and your team made today? Generated many new leads?

The reason I ask is because the success of all professional services firms is based on the effective selling of not one but two things: a relationship and a service. Typically, partners know how to sell and implement a service but find it less easy to pick up the phone to start building a relationship, which is the crucial first step in the sales process – after all, you can’t sell a service without a relationship being in place first.

This is why the role of the lead-generating, relationship-building business development director is critical, and also why we should all see ourselves as business development directors to some extent. Most professionals don’t think selling is a primary part of their job – it’s an afterthought, something to do when things are quiet. Not true. You and your team’s ability to unlock doors to start building positive relationships is your ticket to success.

Good business development professionals are masters of the ‘social sell’. Using charm, persistence and initiative, they warm up leads – from secretaries to chief executives – via social calls and meetings. There doesn’t need to be a huge amount of content in these calls but they will be delivered in such a way as to make potential clients feel like it’s a priority to meet up. It takes time to build rapport – two, three, maybe four calls and possibly an invitation to a social event – but once trust is there, an introduction can be made to the rest of the firm. And that’s when the content must be delivered.

So, the secret behind every successful market-facing partner is an effective business development structure, starting with hungry, high quality social selling. For this to happen both the culture and system – as well as the personnel – must be right. Driven, exciting business development directors are often hampered in their door-knocking quest by bureaucratic constraints such as monthly reporting and other internal processes. There is no doubt such structure is important, especially when dealing with large, mature or fast-growing accounts. But the danger is that dynamic business development professionals become blunted by the bureaucracy and hide behind it.

Effective business development directors also need to feel free and empowered in the workplace. While generating leads and social selling they are likely to make the odd mistake, but that’s nothing compared to the calamity of not making the call in the first place.


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