Business Development News

How Business Developers Can Support Firm Evolution

Carrie Steffen, The Whetstone Group, Inc.

As firms continue to navigate their future ahead of the disruptive forces in the market, it’s becoming clear that marketing and sales professionals need to play an active role in the transformation. In particular, savvy business development executives (BDEs) who aspire to be strategic contributors in their firms need to align their activities with the firm’s plan for growth.

For most firms there are significant opportunities in advisory and consulting services. Not only do many practitioners aspire to deliver more of these high-value, challenging and professionally rewarding services, the market is increasingly demanding them. And, because clients and prospects are facing just as much disruption as the firms who serve them, they are looking for more from their CPA relationship than ever before. This creates opportunities not only with the firm’s existing clients, but also opens doors with prospects who are not getting what they need from their current relationship.

Firms generally are in one of two places as it relates to advisory in consulting practices. Innovators and early adopters are working to grow existing practices, while the early and late majorities are working to figure out their entry point.

Supporting Innovators and Early Adopters

While there are many ways a BDE can contribute to innovation, the following are two great places to start:


  • Selling consulting services. Those who are working inside firms with well-established consulting practices need to familiarize themselves with the firm’s delivery of services including scope, pricing, demand drivers and target market. Their time is well spent in circles that match the profile of not only the ideal client for the service, but also where there can be a symbiotic relationship between consulting and compliance.


  • Providing pricing insights. The experiences of a BDE can be used to develop pricing models, as well as creative strategies for bundling more profitable consulting packages with compliance services which may be under greater margin pressure as a means of attracting new clients.


To be most effective, BDEs should be well integrated with the firm’s marketing function verses operating inside their own silo of activity. There should be regular communication between marketing and sales professionals regarding the sales funnel and the lead nurturing process so messages are aligned, especially as the messages continue to evolve with the firm’s shift toward a different service mix.

Supporting Early and Late Majorities

BDEs are in a unique position to be able to gather market intelligence—which is valuable to firms wrestling with the question of what services, in addition to compliance, they should be delivering. In order for advisory and consulting practices to gain traction, the service offerings need to be a solution to something the market is facing. BDEs can also play a significant role in helping the firm understand the pulse of the market, as they are one of the firm’s best sources of market intelligence. As they are interacting with prospects, BDEs generally document their conversations in some format. Whether in a formal system such as CRM or informally in a notebook, there is a wealth of information that can be useful in the firm’s positioning efforts.

In either situation above, BDEs should create an “issues brief” to share with firm leaders and the marketing team based on what prospects are talking about. This should feature business:

  • Needs
  • Challenges
  • Issues

This is not a list of potential services, rather, it’s a list of those things which drive demand for services.

Many practitioners have difficulty translating what they do (service) into what they are solving (need). BDEs can play a role in creating the right messages for the firm’s go-to-market strategies by offering their knowledge of prospects’ needs. This insight will help firms understand what they need to have on their radar and to brainstorm internally what resources, services and relationships they can offer today, or what capabilities or alliances they may need to develop for the future.

The Role of Industry Specialization

Another immensely useful practice is to segment those needs based on industry. True industry specialization is one of the most significant opportunities for firms and, in many ways, is an enabler of consulting and advisory practices. Specialization means going beyond merely serving a concentration of audit and tax clients in a particular industry to developing a deep understanding of issues, opportunities and KPIs, as well as creating industry specific consulting services. Specialization also supports business advisory services as effective business advisors have deep enough knowledge of their client’s business to transition from providing advice based on hindsight (what happened in the past) to meaningful foresight (an understanding of what is likely to happen in the future).

BDEs can support the transition to more advisory and consulting focused practices by offering firm leaders insight into what is happening inside a particular industry segment. To be most effective BDEs should consider directing their activities (lead generation, relationship development and networking) toward those industries which are key opportunities for the firm, and even offer ideas for which niche practices present the greatest opportunity. A BDE who makes significant inroads into a specific industry may even become a nucleus around which a practice may be aligned.

The Time is Now

The forces of change are creating opportunities for practitioners as well as public accounting marketing and sales professionals. As the saying goes, a rising tide lifts all boats. BDEs and their marketing counterparts who are eager to elevate their positions inside their firms should seize their moment.