Will business development and marketing converge or compete?

Posted on: December 21, 2005

This was the subject of my web seminar in April for which I researched the views of a number of people at organisations including: Baker & McKenzie, Blake Lapthorn Linnell, Boodle Hatfield, Golders, King Sturge, Irwin Mitchell, Marketing Resources, Sherwood, sjberwin and Thomson Snell & Passmore. I summarised my personal views in the leader in Professional Marketing shortly afterwards. But here is a summary of the main issues that emerged:

The first thing to emerge was the confusion over the meaning of words such as ‘marketing’ and ‘business development’. Overall, people seemed to equate business development with sales and key client development programmes where there is a high degree of direct client contact whereas marketing was often taken to refer to the planning and analysis elements as well as marketing communications activities (including brand development).

The definition also seemed to determine who was responsible – with fee-earners (whether lawyers, accountants or surveyors) seen as doing the front-line client contact activities and marketers doing the behind-the-scenes planning, research and preparation.

An interesting structural issue emerged – those marketers who were in a central team were most closely associated with marketing activities and those marketers who were situated within a particular market or service department or practice team – along with the fee-earners – were seen more as business developers. The fact that those who worked alongside fee-earners had a much greater knowledge of the market, the clients and the technical products being promoted – as well as stronger working relationships with the fee-earners – was felt to be important. Although many recognised the difficulties of integrating marketers who were placed out in the fee-earner teams into the firm’s overall marketing thrust.

Whilst some firms were keen to have marketers who had both marketing and sales abilities there were some who thought the skill sets and competencies were too different. Some also thought that the skills required for new business development were significantly different from generating additional business from existing clients. There were some cases – albeit in situations where there was a very packaged product – where dedicated salespeople were hired to bring the business in – excluding the fee-earners from business development entirely.

There was a general feeling that whereas it was still difficult for many firms to measure the often long term benefits and results of a marketing approach, business development – with its naturally more short term focus on specific clients and deals – was more measurable. Clearly a wake up call to marketing teams to pay greater attention to setting clear objectives and measuring ROI.

There was one area where there was consensus – there were an incredible number of barriers to overcome in getting firms, fee-earners and marketers more focused on business development. Whilst time and culture were mentioned as common barriers, the need for good information systems and better training, development, recognition and reward systems were also frequently mentioned.

There seems to be no clear answer at present. But there are some trends – those who are relatively new to marketing will tend not to see a particular need to have separate specialists – the focus is on educating the firm to become more client-focused and implementing a more strategic approach to marketing. Those who have sophisticated marketing programmes will have recognised the need to provide support to fee-earners in converting opportunities into clients and cash and will therefore have a greater focus on sales training and business development skills. Clearly, larger firms have more resources generally and will tend to recruit specialist marketers and business developers accordingly whereas smaller firms need to have marketers who can provide support across the range of marketing, selling and client development activities.

My conclusions from the research were:

  • At present, it seems that marketers help get the fee-earners in front of the right clients, BD helps with structured follow up and conversion
  • There is great variation amongst the different types and sizes of firms in how they view and structure their marketing and business development activities
  • Marketing is often seen as long term, distant and internally focused (and often confused with marketing communications) – selling is seen as short term, closer to the clients, having greater impact and externally focused
  • Marketers must want, demand and deserve a front-line, client-contact selling role – a key element of this is for marketers to develop their technical product knowledge of the legal, accounting or surveying services they are promoting
  • Marketers need to develop their selling skills and experience and then must help fee-earners develop theirs
  • Marketing and BD are part of the same process – albeit with different skills – and the teams should be integrated
  • Greater attention must be paid by all to ensuring that firms devoted greater resources at improving business development skills

 

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As always, if there are particular topics you would like me to address in the future, please let me know. You will also find a source of more and up to date information on a broad range of management and marketing issues in the professions by checking out the blog where I also post regular reviews of books that might be helpful.

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