YOUNG'S GEN X VIEWPOINT

It's impossible to sustain growth without bringing in new business. I believe that every person deserves an opportunity to enhance their business development abilities. As an up-and-coming tax staff member, I have identified three factors that have facilitated my own business development skills: a firm culture that values growth, empowerment, and opportunities to practice my skills.

The head "honchos" in my firm constantly consider how we can best generate new business. It's a message conveyed at company meetings, and we see firm leaders gather regularly for pipeline meetings. After those meetings, a list of prospective clients is available for perusal by the staff; the strategy is to leverage each individual's circle of influence to help close new business. By sharing this information, our leaders set a tone at the top of persistently pursuing new business, and that trickles down through the office.

Often, staff members feel it's not their place to drum up business. It might even be perceived as overstepping bounds. A winning firm clearly and consistently communicates that new business is everybody's business. To build these skills, it is important to encourage selling activities. Then, praise and reward your staff when they do so.

It's also important to provide up-and-comers with opportunities to practice business development skills. Examples include inviting up-and-coming staff to attend professional community events, mixers among related industries, and in-house social events - especially with others in your firm who are more adept at networking. These all provide a backdrop to hone small-talk skills, exercise active listening, and get comfortable speaking in a professional setting.

Often, employees are hired for a specific job and skill set, but we all possess abilities that are not used on a daily basis. When we are given a reason to employ our business development skills, they grow and develop. And if an employer communicates the importance of these skills and encourages activities to develop them, staff members are much more likely to become competent rainmakers. It's up to firm leaders to let employees know what they want, give them the proper tools, and let them come along to develop their skills.

SULLIVAN'S BOOMER VIEWPOINT

When I find a budding business developer, I waste no time in throwing them into the fire, putting them in what might be considered uncomfortable situations. The good ones rise to the challenge. While this may seem harsh, it's the best way to truly assess whether they have natural aptitude. Frankly, I'd estimate that less than five in 100 have this natural gift.

I determine the rainmaking "it" factor based on personality, the ability to stay calm under pressure, and capacity to command a situation. These traits come to life in a number of ways: how a person carries themselves, their tone of voice, their ability to draw people together, to listen and summarize what they've heard, or to get people to like them and be drawn toward their ideas. When you discover the social geniuses on your team who have this natural talent, they should be put to work developing new business for your firm.

Upper management should celebrate these people, even if it means putting them ahead of the class - potentially out of order per the "normal" stages of career development. Offer them speaking opportunities, invite them to brainstorming meetings, and bring them to internal proposal and prospect meetings to teach them how to run their own meetings in the future. This will require someone to mentor them. If you don't have a strong mentor in-house, find someone outside and pay them to educate your budding star.

An individual with natural talent will develop even further when you encourage them to join a committee or board and take an active leadership role. Encourage them to read articles and books about relationship-building and networking, take a speaking course, or lead a peer group of other professionals. Of course, all of the personality and charisma in the world won't make up for a lack of interest in being an advisor and confidant to a client. They must have a desire to probe and show care for the client's success, and begin to have the confidence to offer ideas and insight. They must also have an interest in doing a lot of homework to begin forming their own ideas about how to conduct client and prospect meetings.

Identify and foster your employees' talent. Allow them to make mistakes and watch them blossom into difference-makers.

This column is facilitated and edited by Krista Remer, the Generation X consultant, and Jennifer Wilson, the Baby Boomer co-founder and partner of ConvergenceCoaching LLC (www.convergencecoaching.com), a leadership and marketing coaching and training and development firm that specializes in helping CPA and IT firms achieve success. To have your firm

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