AAM Minute - Best Practices

Building a Business Development Culture

Rachael Higginbotham, Postlethwaite & Netterville


As accounting marketers, we know that s#!@#$% does not just happen. (Of course, I am talking about selling—what did you think I meant?) In professional services sales, it is very difficult to separate the ‘professional,’ the ‘service,’ and the ‘sales,’ which means that accounting firms are most commonly reliant upon their ‘doers’ to be their ‘sellers.’ It takes a concerted, sustained effort to develop a culture in which doer-sellers embrace their roles in sales and business development and do not just consider “sell” to be a four-letter word. Consider these three steps as you work to evolve the business development culture in your firm.


Step 1: Set Expectations

You want me to do WHAT? True cultural evolution can only be achieved when your sales team (i.e., your professionals) know that expectations of them have changed. A great place to start is ensuring that job descriptions and performance evaluations include appropriate business development descriptions, metrics, and activities. You also can underscore expectations through internal communications such as intranets, town halls, managing partner messages, and other avenues. Improving focus on business development cannot happen without clear communication that everyone is responsible for helping the firm grow.


Step 2: Provide Training, Tools, & Processes for Success

I went to school to be a CPA, not a salesperson. This is the ‘how’ in the process. You cannot expect someone to fulfill your expectations if they have never been taught how. Soft skills training is critical to evolving your team to develop business. Our firm, Postlethwaite & Netterville (P&N), offers a lifelong learning program with an in-house business development curriculum designed to help professionals succeed at all levels within the firm. We also spend time training team members on the dictionary’s worth of services our firm offers through an “A to Z of P&N” class. And, do not be afraid to outsource training. Consider using advanced business development training programs for select individuals who have higher aptitudes for sales.


An amazing thing happens when your doer-sellers become more proficient at selling: your marketing department gets busier. Whether they want to hold more seminars, need you to proof content, need assistance sending out campaigns, or need help producing more proposals, the stronger your sales team, the more they lean on marketing. So what is a strapped marketing team to do when there are no more hours in the day? In a word: leverage.


Consider how your marketing tech stack supports your internal sales processes. Do you have a customer relationship management (CRM) tool? Do you have access to data? Do you have a searchable proposal database? Are there new tools you need to consider?


One new tool P&N uses is POUNCE, a web-based system, which allows professionals immediate access to marketing collateral to assist in business development efforts, including professional resumes, industry experience summaries, and service capability summaries. Users can prepare customized sales packets without relying on the marketing department for assistance, which frees up valuable marketers’ time to pursue more strategic initiatives, including training, coaching, and pursuit development. With more focus on creating a business development culture, marketing teams need as much time as possible to support the entire sales cycle, and should not be focused on administrative tasks like pulling together resumes and materials.


Step 3: Establish Accountability

Wave the carrot and the stick. Once you have established expectations, trained people to develop business, and provided tools and processes to support their efforts, you must introduce an aspect of accountability.


People only change behavior for two reasons:

1. Something bad happens if they do not change.

2. Something good happens if they do change.


The outcome, whether good or bad, has to outweigh the amount of effort it takes to change. Consider your carrot and stick carefully. Many firms hold teams accountable through performance reviews, compensation, bonuses, leadership opportunities, and other avenues designed to ensure your doer-sellers are performing up to expectations.


Is the Cultural Needle Moving?

One of the most important things marketers can do in the process of cultural evolution is to not expect too much change too quickly. It takes time. A. Lot. Of. Time. Things do not happen overnight, and sometimes, it can feel as though you are not making any progress. So how do you know if your efforts are paying off?


Objective measures of success include things like an increase in the number of proposals your firm issues, more opportunities being led by non-partners, or increased revenue. You can use data from your pipeline, CRM, or time and billing. Our firm also uses POUNCE reports to see which services, professionals, and materials are most (and least) popular, which helps marketing create campaigns and content for lead nurturing. If your firm has job competencies and expectations, you can use aggregated employee scores in the business development competency. Subjective measures of success include higher engagement in pipeline meetings, more team-based pursuits, and general willingness to participate in the business development process.


Achieving a culture of business development takes an investment of time, money, and significant patience. By setting expectations, providing tools and training to ensure focus and consistency, and holding people accountable, your firm will broaden your sales force and make a positive impact on your growth goals.