As you all know, professional services marketers and BD’s love to share and learn. In that spirit, I’ll be continuously updating this post with common challenges and solutions that I hear from my network. Check back each month for new ideas.
“I lead the marketing team in my firm and I struggle to keep my senior BDs challenged.”
Proactively managing team members is a hard nut to crack. Not only does your management style has to change and resonate with each individual team member, you have to do this on top of your day to day technical remit. Here’s two tactics to help ensure your senior BDs are engaged and challenged:
(1) Add to their duties a responsibility around client relationship management. Specifically, empower them to have their own relationships with the firm’s clients as a means to enhance the client experience overall. Some senior BDs and their firms then feel comfortable introducing revenue targets around new business that is brought in as a result of these relationships. Apt senior BDs ready for this challenge love the client facing role and responsibilities and feel like they are contributing to the firm at a much higher level.
(2) Give them their own team or people to manage. Odds are you have too much on your plate already, so let the tier below you take some of that burden. Managing people requires a different skill and leadership capability that your senior BDs can learn from you and sharpen as they get more comfortable.
“We’re hiring a BD professional, but the candidates we’re seeing don’t have enough ‘true BD’ experience.”
The words “business development” mean something different in each firm, and sometimes even to different people in the same firm. There are also numerous ways BD is practiced and executed. For example, the preparation of proposal documents versus responsibilities around bringing new clients into the firm. Often, the gap between the candidates and hiring manager expectations is related to different definitions of the catch-all term “BD”. As a hiring manager, you need to specifically spell out what the role entails to attract the type of BD-focused professional you’re seeking. Consider these two tips:
(1) In the job description, explain the proportion of time that will be spent on each task and get specific about this apportionment. Additionally, try to define what you mean by BD. This tells the professional applying to your role exactly where the time will be spent, and that it will – in your case – be spent on true BD initiatives and projects. True BD professionals will be drawn to a role that shows it has true BD.
(2) Look at the potential of the BD professional in addition to what they have done. What I mean by this is just because a candidate hasn’t done something you were expecting, doesn’t mean that they can’t do it. Consider what happens if you hire a candidate who can do your role perfectly, where is the challenge in that role for them? Similarly, do you have the capacity in that role to expand it and grow it to accompany the candidate’s learning curve?
“I’m a solo marketer at a small firm and I’m hungry for the ‘big law’ experience. What do I need to be aware of with this career move?”
I love working with solo marketing and BD professionals who come from smaller firms. Why? They are typically resourceful, relationship-minded and client centric professionals. They have also had to be solutions-focused in an environment within minimal marketing and BD leadership, and with little to no resources under and around them.
But I find some of the small firm solo marketing professionals in my network feel that they may not have what it takes to go up against their bigger firm peers. And yet, many big law firms seek out skills unique to smaller firm candidates.
There are certainly pros and cons to working in both small and large firms. As an eternal optimist, I focus on the pros, but I am aware of the cons. After this, my best advice to the solo marketers seeking a bigger firm is to leverage the things that make you different to your competition (not the things that make you the same). Firms like different. They embrace that perspective and seek it out. And, if you are a great cultural fit for them, then it often does not matter what size of firm you are coming from.
As a person who spent her early years in smaller firms before also getting hungry to work in the bigger firms, consider this as you contemplate your ‘big law’ move:
Firms share with me each day what is happening inside their marketing and business development teams. The conversations have changed subtly over the last couple of months in particular. They are noticeably less about the technical aspects. Firms are looking for professionals who can achieve results inside of a partnership model with other valuable skills. Below I share four common themes that are emerging and are fast becoming key influencing factors to firms as they grow their business development and marketing teams further in 2019:
Why? Firms who hire based on the above typically experience a better and longer-term fit. Similarly, candidates who bring these elements into a role are quickly and effortlessly integrated, and soon become higher performers.
Kate Harry Shipham is the Principal of KHS People LLC, an executive search firm for BD and marketing people in professional services firms. Kate has done search and recruiting for nine years and prior to that was an attorney.