Business Development Lead, DeloitteHabits beat gestures when building a BD culture, says Martin Bragg, Business Development Lead at Deloitte.

Relationships oil the wheels of professional services. Even today, in a world of reverse auctions and ever more competitive tenders, no one denies the value of understanding what makes the client ‘tick’.

The art of managing and growing the relationships that help us develop that understanding is at the heart of the business development (BD) coaching I am doing with some of the assistant directors at Deloitte.

Over the course of a year, we are working to demystify the process of BD.

In a recent coaching session I ran, I asked the delegates ‘Why is BD hard for you?’ The answers were relatively predictable, but nonetheless instructive. To mention a few: ‘too little time’, ‘fear of rejection’, ‘soft deadlines’ and ‘vague’ were some of the reasons people gave. I find the word vague particularly interesting in this context.

‘Do some more BD’ is often the ask as professionals hit the point in their career when they are starting to look towards a directorship and beyond. But what does that even mean? In practice it often means a rush to the marketing team because ‘I have to produce some eminence to share with the market’. It all too rarely means what am I going to do to have more conversations with clients and targets?

In the coaching session I refer to above, Vicky Smith, Head of the Government & Public Services Sector for Financial Advisory, told the delegates, “I make a promise to myself to try and speak to a client every day. I don’t always manage it, but I try.” That is a habit. A discipline. And habit and discipline are much more powerful than inspiration and motivation. With the right habits and disciplines in place, good things will happen.

When I am coaching on business development, everything we talk about is designed to generate opportunities for conversations. To do this I focus on two things:

• Encouraging good habits – the small changes that fit around a busy professional’s day-to-day work.

• Solving today’s problem today – asking the delegates to identify a BD challenge they are facing right now and discussing how they can effectively tackle it.

If we want to change results, we need to change behaviours. Any gym instructor will tell you that consistency is more important than intensity, and the same is true in BD. So, we are aiming to instil small, habitual changes that are repeatable over the long term, because that is when results will change.

This is where the importance of coaching delegates being open to coaching comes in. Over my career, I have lost count of the number of conversations I have had which have included a sentence broadly along the lines of ‘That’s great, but isn’t there a way to skip all that, and just win more work?’ Sadly not, any more than my gym instructor can offer me a shortcut to abs.

Progress comes incrementally, and just because we cannot make something perfect, does not mean that we don’t have an opportunity – or even a responsibility – to make it better.

This is why we do BD coaching over an extended period. In my experience, you don’t pick up a professional, or group of professionals, turn them 90 degrees in a different direction and set them off running. You nudge them. One degree at a time. And over an extended period, you ingrain new behaviours that they won’t even notice they have taken on.

I have been coaching the delegates at Deloitte for nine months now. In the group session I mentioned earlier, I also asked them what they had learned in that time. I will leave you with three of their top tips:

• Discipline: you will never find time for BD, you have to make time for BD. It doesn’t even really matter how much time. You can make progress with 10 minutes a week if that is all you have. Put that time in your diary so you feel guilty if you skip it.

• Habits beat gestures: hosting a round table, an industry dinner or writing a regular column in an industry publication are all great ideas and they have their place. Over the long term, they will build your reputation and that’s important. But calling a contact you know every week? It is a much smaller investment of time (and money) and gives you the best chance of being at the front of your client’s mind when the next big project is going to market.

• Business development is not sales: this is about developing the relationships that will sustain your career and, at some point in the future, will deliver revenue. If all you are focused on is getting the next cheque signed, you will, by definition, concentrate on where you can get value from the client and not where you can deliver value to the client.

I have concluded that BD is like a game of snakes and ladders. Now and again, you will land at the bottom of a ladder – you might win a bid you weren’t expecting or get a direct award from a client. And now and then you will land at the top of a snake – you will lose a bid you thought was in the bag or discover that a particular client wasn’t giving you ‘all their work’ after all. These things happen. All you can do is keep rolling the dice and keep doing the little things that help move you up the board, one step at a time.

Happy business developing.

Martin Bragg is the Business Development Lead for the Government and Public Services sector within Financial Advisory at Deloitte. He has spent his entire career within professional services, and the last 20-plus years in various roles across the business development and marketing spectrum at big law, accountancy and consultancy firms.

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