Blog/Podcast: Want Business Development Buy-In? Take a Note from the Big Four
Looking for a marketing and business development refresh? You might find inspiration from another area of the professional services world, that is, accounting firms.
Doug Ott, head of Doug Ott Consulting, is an executive coach, trainer and speaker who’s worked with lawyers and CPAs for 30 years. From his perspective, accounting firms have truly embraced business development, and law firms would do well to follow in their footsteps. Doug offered his thoughts on how law firms can learn from accounting firms on the latest episode of the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst podcast and we’ve summarized his discussion below.
Since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, here are Doug’s five Big Four business development tenets law firms should implement:
- Accounting firms train early and often.
The Big Four all have extensive business development training programs for young accountants right out of school (and even while they’re still in college). Newcomers are given comprehensive training upon arrival. Even firm veterans receive ongoing training, and not just in compliance, but also in business and professional development.
Why are accounting firms so invested in training their employees? First, when training programs are offered to young professionals, it helps them jumpstart their careers. Upcoming generations tend to be more open to selling their services, so it’s not difficult to get buy-in from them, and planting that seed early will lead to dividends later. Teaching small steps now is much easier than trying to teach an old dog new tricks later, as the saying goes.
Second, training is important for retention. Continuing education is expensive, and CPAs know that. When a firm offers professional development training, it tells employees that they work for an organization that is willing to invest in them. By offering the opportunity for career growth, firms tend to attract and retain ambitious professionals.
- Accounting firms have internal business development teams.
Accounting firms recognize that if they’re going to be committed to marketing and business development, they need full-time, in-house teams to spearhead these efforts. These teams not only manage strategic initiatives, but they also drive training programs and business development coaching, which has a positive impact for everyone in the firm.
These business development professionals don’t always come from the accounting world. Firms often look outside to bring in seasoned business development professionals, rather than promoting from within. For example, when Doug joined the business development team at Deloitte, he wasn’t a CPA and he had little accounting experience. But Deloitte recognized that he was a pro at building relationships, and that was an essential part of the job.
- Accounting firms coach their star players.
Internal business development staff often don’t have the time or experience to handle one-on-one coaching. But the Big Four are more than willing to hire outside coaches to support their most promising CPAs. It’s not financially feasible for firms to pay for coaching for everyone, but management is happy to provide this opportunity to a select group of up-and-comers who need (and want) it to reach the next level.
Coaching teaches people habits that stick. A six- to twelve-month coaching program can fundamentally change the way participants approach their work. To be successful, though, coaching needs to be approached from a growth perspective, e.g., “You’re doing great and we want you to do even better,” rather than saying, “You’re doing something wrong, so we’re giving you a coach.” To get the most out of it, participants need to understand the value they’re receiving.
- Accounting firms help themselves by helping their clients.
Doug teaches both his accounting and his law firm clients to give back to clients and referral sources without attaching a bill to it. Professional services (emphasis on services) need to find ways to help prospects in whatever way that looks like. It could be as large as hosting a conference or as small and informal as making an introduction.
At Deloitte, the firm developed the CLO Program, which hosts peer-to-peer roundtable groups for Chief Legal Officers. The company created similar programs for Chief Risk Officers (CROs) and Chief Financial Officers (CFOs), with Deloitte facilitating idea-sharing discussions. These opportunities are not only beneficial for the professionals who participate, but they’re also an important way for the firm to develop relationships with key accounts and build on the law of reciprocity.
- Accounting firms aren’t afraid to exercise some control.
Perhaps what differentiates accounting firms from law firms the most is their management structures. Accounting firms have a “command and control” structure with clearly defined leaders and firm-wide systems. Managers have more leverage to compel people to participate in firm initiatives, including marketing and business development initiatives.
Managing a law firm, on the other hand, can feel a bit like herding cats. The traditional law firm structure is great for highly independent lawyers, but it can impede firm-wide projects and strategies. Even small shifts to emulate the Big Four management style can be hugely beneficial for your business development efforts.