Jobgen, BKD LLP
Generalists Work as Matchmakers
The business development
generalist is what most people picture an accounting firm BDE doing. While
these BDEs may, at times, target specific companies for specific services, they
are generally responsible for converting any viable prospect into a client. The
generalist uses direct prospecting and relies on referral sources to match the
right partner with a prospect. Together, they then diagnose the prospect’s
needs and craft a solution.
Often generalists lead a long
prospecting process; building a relationship with their prospect over months or
years. While a basic understanding of the prospect’s business is required,
these professionals rely on their strong sales and communication skills and
leave the deep technical knowledge related to the firm’s services to client
service personnel. To be a successful generalist, one needs a basic
understanding of all the services the firm provides. Prospecting will likely
focus on a specific city or geographic region, and the generalist will rely
heavily on his or her existing network in the business community.
The career of a BDE generalist
The ability to cast a wider net. BDE generalists are able to target any
organization that meets the firm’s expectations as a prospective client.
More to sell. By learning how to identify the need for
each service your firm provides, generalists are more likely to identify a need
or two when meeting with a new prospect.
There are downsides to being a
generalist, too, including:
Limited involvement after introducing a
partner. In many firms, the
generalist is only involved in the first few stages of the pursuit. Once an
opportunity is identified, a partner typically steps in to lead the proposal
process. This can be frustrating for a sales professional and creates problems
when it is time to calculate commissions if clear guidelines are not
A longer sales process. Generalists will likely be targeting new
tax and audit clients for the firm. Decisions to change core service providers do
not happen overnight.
A lower success rate. It will probably take 12-24 months for a
BDE to ‘ramp-up’ and develop a full pipeline. Unfortunately, both firm leaders
and new BDEs rarely plan for this start-up time. As a result, most generalists
new to the accounting industry do not make it past the first two years.
Specialists Have Narrower Focus and Deeper Understanding
With a more narrow focus,
specialists might concentrate sales efforts on a specific industry, a specific
service, or a small group of services. Potential specialties include technology
solutions, specialty tax projects, or a consulting service. They may even focus
on core services for a specific industry. Most specialists are found in larger
firms that have a more comprehensive suite of services, greater geographic reach,
and the capacity to justify a full-time sales person with a narrow focus.
BDE specialists need to
develop a comprehensive understanding of the technical aspects of the services they
are selling. Former client service partners transitioning into sales often
thrive in this role. This role is expected to lead the entire sales process
and, in some firms, be involved in the delivery of service.
Those choosing a specialist
career path have the opportunity to:
Become famous. Specialists can become famous in their
selected service or niche area as they are often the face of the service they
sell in the market.
Have a book of business. In some firms, technical sales people have the
opportunity to build a book of business, while also building the case for a
larger share of the firm’s profits.
The biggest shortcomings to a
specialist are that:
All eggs are in one basket. Regulations, tax policy, and market forces
can change in an instant. The wrong change could eliminate that single service a
career was built around.
The BDE specialist is a one trick pony. As a sales professional, specialists can
certainly identify opportunities outside a chosen specialty but that will be
the exception. The geographic focus will probably need to be expanded to find
enough qualified prospects to be successful.
Play to One’s Strengths
Just as no two firms are
alike, neither are two sales people. They have unique strengths and skills that
will make it easier for them to sell in one situation than another. You will
have the most success when you deploy your BDE in a way that makes the most of
If you are currently in a BDE
role, think about your strengths and the strengths of your firm, and decide how
you want to spend the next phase of your business development career.