Recruitment and retention of your business developers

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What’s more important to your firm: someone who can do the work or someone who can sell the work? It’s a chicken-egg conundrum to be sure. In the opinion of many marketers, neither could exist without the other in today’s competitive accounting marketplace. But if that’s the case, why are our recruiting and retention efforts so narrowly focused on those who can do the work?

Flexible work arrangements, unlimited PTO, retention bonuses, and dress-for-your day policies have all been designed to recruit and retain client service professionals. So what would entice those with great business development potential to join your firm – or stick around for a while?

The first step is to recognize the value of someone with business development talent. So many firms look at business development as a back-burner activity reserved for after someone has developed technical competence. The value of someone who can bill 1500 hours a year at $175/hour for four years of their career is very easy to measure. But compare that to someone who can generate $150,000 (or more) worth of new business annually from their 5th through 35th years of their career. If you look at it this way, it becomes clear what carries more monetary value. Unfortunately, the sad thing is that most of these young professionals will leave their firms before this business development talent is discovered, cultivated, and ultimately valued.

Your firm probably already has those professionals who are better than most at relationships with clients, their peers and firm leaders. This can be an early clue that this person could be well-suited to the role of bringing in business. Some firms are working to cultivate these people – earlier than ever before – in the hopes that they find meaningful rewards in both client service and business development that benefit their career growth potential.

A retention strategy for someone with above-average business development talent could very well be an elevated time budget to go out and do some business development, with a reduction in billable hours. It may also be a unique compensation model that places greater value on new business generated rather than the billable hour. And it may be a special opportunity to shadow a rainmaker, attend business development training, or be paired with a sales coach. Remember that these people are somewhat out of the mold, so it seems that a more customized approach, that meets their specific and unique needs, is probably the best course of action.

And what about the hiring process? Why not hire those who exhibit an above-average potential for business development right from the start? Quantity or quality of relationships within the community could be a leading indicator of success. Activity on boards and with charitable or civic organizations could be a clue. An entrepreneurial position in a former life could also be a leading indicator, as well as excellent communication skills. Finally, someone who asks great and probing questions may very well be someone with above-average business development potential.

So many of our young professionals don’t even get the chance to be involved in business development before they choose to leave the firm or the public accounting profession. This potential is simply walking out the door before it is even discovered.

While some firms have hired full-time business developers from the outside, others have looked inside their firms. How about converting existing partners from client service to full-time business development? What about opening up a path toward part-time and even full-time business development for professional staff with as little as three or four years of experience?

When it comes to recruiting and retention of business developers, it’s a different game. You can’t play by the same rules you always have and expect to succeed.

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Recruiting Employee retention Workforce management