BD: giving clients that little bit extra

A business development function need not be the albatross it is often deemed, says Darren Francis

While the ‘should we or shouldn’t we?’ debate over whether to create or expand a business development (BD) team rages on in the boardrooms of those larger firms which have still not agreed on the necessity for such a function, there are many more small and medium-sized firms which, sadly, feel they do not even have that choice.

Like the larger firms, there are plenty of small-firm partners who balk at the mere suggestion that anyone other than themselves could develop their business. For the record, they are wrong. However, there are significant (and increasing) numbers of firms that do recognise the benefits of professional BD support, but which feel that it is out of their reach, either financially or because they may struggle to apply meaningfully the inaccessible language of the marketing guru to their own businesses (and clients). They, too, are wrong.

Admittedly, the salary and support costs involved in creating an in-house function are high and may well be something that many firms are unable to consider. Likewise, the prospect of an invasion by a clutch of Prada-bespectacled jargon-meisters from a trendy agency may be as abhorrent as it is expensive. There is, however, to paraphrase one such jargon-meister, another way.

If a BD function is set up and managed in a smart way, it need not cost the earth. Neither need it be obtrusive or offensive to those partners who have still to ‘get with the programme’. Think of BD as merely a strategy by which to achieve your firm’s business objectives (or indeed the respective business objectives of your various areas of practice). You will set your financial targets for the year or for the quarter – and now you need to achieve those targets in the simplest and cheapest way possible.

The key is to conduct activity that is targeted properly, with individuals within your firm being responsible for the delivery of these targets. It is also important that the targets are realistic and measurable – from that perspective it is often effective to begin with your existing client base. Identify your key clients. The criteria you use is up to you – it may be that your key clients are your top five income providers. Or you may want to get more creative and define key clients as those capable of buying more than, say, 80 per cent of the services you have to offer.

With that done you can then set up account plans for these clients. Again, this does not have to be complicated or expensive – just targeted and measurable.

Decide what share of the budgeted additional income for that year can realistically be applied to that client, allocate responsibility within your firm for delivery and arrange a reporting cycle to discuss progress. That way your business objectives can be dovetailed with a ‘client relationship management’ programme. It does not have to be a hard sell – just a case of establishing regular review meetings with key clients and ensuring that you have a section of the meeting where you can at least suggest to your client what additional services may be available to it.

Once the attractiveness of this model is established you can extend your relationship programme to ‘future’ clients. Indeed, the same account plans can be used to secure work from new clients as well as existing ones.

Ultimately, and with a degree of creativity, these programmes can be fun too: just suggest to the representatives of a key client that you can give them their own hospitality budget to manage for themselves and watch the look on their faces.

Darren Francis is a director at consultancy Pepper Co