Why you need a big bag of business development tools

Jacqui works with the tax consulting and corporate finance teams at Price Bailey delivering commercial and tax effective solutions to SMEs and their stakeholders. Most recently she has been working in a business development role. We spoke with Jacqui about the challenges and opportunities facing the qualified tax professional working in sales…

You’re a qualified tax professional. What attracted you to a business development role?

I have a natural curiosity for people, their motivation and ventures. This led me to consistently ask what my clients were trying to achieve, instead of just providing answers to tax questions. So it was a natural progression. The role plays to my strengths and I really enjoy it.

What has been the biggest challenge switching from being an out-and-out fee earner to a full-time ‘door opener’?

There was a noticeable difference between how people treated me in terms of respect and appreciation. The biggest challenge was to be seen as someone who adds value despite not directly billing fees. Professional partnerships like to measure contribution in terms of output in a short-term, numerical way, and struggle with longer-term investment. So I had to be comfortable knowing that business development is a long game with many intangible ingredients and outputs along the way before crystallising into fees. I had to believe I was doing the right things and that my role was important, even if some people didn’t see it that way.

What are your preferred tools for winning new work?

I’m not sure I could pick preferred tools – gaining the opportunity to win work is a blended approach, so I have a big bag of tools! Making sure you know whom you want to do business with and how you are going connect with the right individuals to start building a relationship is important. Having a structured process to qualify prospects and monitor touch points is also key.

I used to discount a lot of networking events because they didn’t give me direct access to the people I was trying to meet, but over the years I have realised that you never know who you will meet and how they are connected to others. I now go to lots of events because of the people you meet and the people you hear speaking.

My blended approach is all about getting in front of people you want to do business with, which is just the start. Once you have secured a relationship with your prospect, to actually win work you need sincerity and tenacity. You must do your research and be interested enough to demonstrate your understanding of their business. And you may need to keep up that interaction for a long time. You need to build trust and rapport so that when the time is right, your team is on the pitch. If I strip all of that back, my favourite tools are listening and asking great questions with genuine curiosity.

What advantages does being a fully qualified professional brings to business development?

I once sat in front of a prospect at an initial meeting with a colleague. The gentleman in question proceeded to demonstrate that he had done his research on us as much as we had researched him. He said to me: “So, you know about tax. I expect you will sell me something because of that.” I explained that I wasn’t there to sell, merely delighted to have the opportunity to talk to him about his business and understand how he saw the future. He talked and we listened about how he wanted to grow the business to a certain point and then sell, but had a few challenges to overcome. There it was. One of the challenges he outlined had a clear solution in my mind and when I outlined how a certain type of share scheme would solve the issue, he was delighted – partly because it sounded like the answer to his problem, but mainly because he’d been right. He said: “See, I said something you knew about tax would win you work.” And he was right.

My experience means I really understand the issues. It means I can talk the same language and suggest appropriate solutions. I have an idea of cost, complexity and timescale on a broad range of areas because I have experience of being involved either directly or peripherally in the sort of projects I am talking about. I don’t know if it is essential but having a technical background certainly works well for me.

Why do you think so many professionals struggle with business development and getting out into the market?

I think many people embark on their professional career because it is an area they are interested in and they want technical mastery of it. The professional world is measured by qualifications and professional development. Few people appreciate that personal skills are as important, if not more so. It is a cliché but IQ and EQ are not the same thing and professionals often have an overload of the former and lack the latter. I think emotional intelligence is difficult to teach if it doesn’t exist.

I also think business development is seen fundamentally as selling (I see it as identifying and meeting a need by demonstrating how you can help) and therefore it is both outside the scope of the job and uncomfortable. It is much cosier to stay at your desk, deliver the report and raise the bill. Meeting new people and being genuinely interested in them isn’t for everyone.

You have recently moved from a well-known brand to a smaller mid-tier firm. Has it been harder trying to win new business as a result, or do the same principles apply?  

The same principles apply in terms of approach, and the clients and prospective clients I am working with are almost identical. I fully understand the power of brand and having a vast resource at your fingertips. But I also know that in the entrepreneurial market, what people are really looking for is a great partnership with their advisers. Brand will rarely be a deal breaker if you get on the pitch in the first place. In fact there are times where some consider that a well-known brand has an in-built premium on fees, so that can be a negative.

I know it’s a dreadful cliché but people do business with people; more specifically with people they enjoy spending time with. Delivery of the work to a competent standard is a given. The experience the client receives when interacting with the team is the key so it comes down to the quality of your people and the culture of your organisation. Understand your market, know your value proposition and present a great team.

What do you see as the biggest challenges for professional services firms in the years ahead?

Keeping pace with client needs and retaining great people. The finger needs to be on the pulse to understand what clients actually need and deliver it in a way that recognises that most are very time poor. We all know that compliance is being commoditised and advising on areas that ‘make the boat go faster’ is what adds value. But equally the sector needs to recognise that the employment market is buoyant and retaining and developing great people needs to receive equal attention.

What is the single most important piece of advice you would give to aspiring business developers?

Be sincere and tenacious. If you approach business development primarily as a numbers game with the aim to sell to meet the goal, you may have short-term success. The numbers should be measured but behaviour is what drives true long-term success. Be sincere in your interactions and keep the contact going in the long game of winning new business.

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