By John Borrowman, CPC
Borrowman Baker, LLC, BV Staffing + Consulting
Transforming your doers into doer/sellers is likely one of the biggest challenges in running a BV practice. Listen while we share confidential advice from some doers who are successfully navigating that transformation.
They won’t get it by osmosis. Selling may be one of those things that can’t be taught. It can be learned, however, and you’re responsible for providing those opportunities to learn. When you’ve known what you know for so long that you’ve probably forgotten what it’s like not to know it, it can be hard to decide where to begin. But, a stance like “I figured it out … they can figure it out” only sets you up for failure.
Learning by example is an easy route for most people. So, let them watch your example. At the simplest level, invite your staffer to listen in on speakerphone to your conversation with a client about an upcoming project. Take a few minutes before the call to brief the staffer on the project and what you want to accomplish in the call. Introduce the staffer as “someone who will be working with me on your project and I know we’ll do a better job for you if she has a running start.”
Have a short debrief after you finish the call. What did your staffer hear? Were your questions answered? Did the conversation trigger additional questions? It doesn’t have to be a full-on lesson. You might be surprised by the extra interest the staffer takes in the project simply because you’ve included her at the beginning.
Take the more experienced staffer along on a sales call when you’re actually prospecting for business. Use the drive to the client’s office to discuss what you know about the situation and what your objectives are for the meeting. Again, introduce the staffer as above. She won’t need to say anything. (Depending on her experience level, if may be best if she doesn’t.) Use the return trip to the office for debrief. How do you think it went? Were there other questions we should have asked? What approach(es) do you think we should think about using on this project?
Focus on the soft-skills. Finance people tend not to be sellers, by nature. Your typical accountant type is not a seller. Being a good advisor to your client requires the ability to listen and ask good questions. And yet, many employers miss the boat by not focusing on the soft-skills that are the key to developing relationships which lead to referrals. What your practice should be encouraging is the relationship – not the sell.
Bring in some outside help to train your people in these soft-skills. There are plenty of options if you just look. Experienced employees who are already on a business development track will discover ways to up their own game. Even once-a-year training will produce benefits that will pay off in the long run. Sitting back and thinking that you know better and just expecting people to do it without training is shortsighted.
Support them. There will be costs. But, you don’t have to start big. A good place to start is in examining your own attitude. Do you see business development as an expense or an investment? Your staff will see it the same way. So, when a staffer comes in with an expense request the question is not “how much will this cost?” but “how do you think this could pay off for us?”
If you’re inside a larger employer, think about encouraging stronger inter-departmental relationships. With stronger relationships and a better understanding of what business valuation is, you might find yourself capturing internal referrals you’re otherwise missing. Who better to do that relationship building than your “doers”? They’re the ones with the day-to-day client contact and in the best position to make the referrals. Building those relationships within the firm can be easier than trying to build them from the outside.
Be prepared to reimburse for organization memberships and networking event fees. And be proactive in helping your staffer identify those organizations that make the most business sense. Making those choices can be a good lesson in itself. Don’t overlook the avenue of involvement on community boards. As an additional perk, think about getting your staffer connected with a young leadership council, or similar organization, where you can get trained for productive board service. Other board members will notice and be more likely to turn to your practice to meet their needs.
As your staffer gets started in networking, help her think tactically about what she wants to accomplish at a given event. Is there something she wants to learn when there? Is there someone in particular she hopes to meet? What would be considered a real “win”? Then, do a debrief (five to ten minutes in your office is fine) to hear the results and offer suggestions for next time. For the dedicated staffer who really wants to learn business development, few things are more frustrating than to go into an event with no plan and come out with no results.
Don’t undermine your efforts by not also providing staff support or recalibrating your charge hour expectations if you’re going to expect your people to be away from the office developing the relationships that bring business.
The key “takeaway” from our conversations: All these things require support from the top. If you’re not going to get them started right, provide adequate soft-skills training, pay for memberships and conferences and allow the flexibility to attend events, you can’t expect doers to successfully transform to doer/sellers.