Get the best from BD training

How often have you come away very enthusiastic from a training or development programme only to revert to old ways and habits back in the office?

Throughout the UK, professional services firms are spending thousands and thousands of pounds on developing their fee-earners to be more commercial, better cultivators of new business, excellent client relationship managers and inspirational leaders.   When this training doesn’t lead to the desired changes of behaviour or practices back in the office, firms feel disillusioned and disappointed with the time and money they’ve invested.

So as marketers and business developers how can we realistically get fee-earners to implement the business development skills/processes they have learnt? How can we turn our firm’s investment into positive results, in terms of new client gains and enhanced client loyalty?

In this article we will look at how to get a better return on investment from your firm’s business development training.  The concepts we cover could however, relate to other areas such as client relationship management or leadership training. 

The seven practices of effective training and development

Just as Stephen Covey identified the seven habits of highly effective people, we have found, from working with a large number of professional services firms over the years, that the more successful ones tend to exhibit seven key practices.  These practices ensure fee-earner training and development leads to real change and positive results for the firms concerned.  We’d like to share these with you. 

Practice 1: ‘Just in time’ development
Fee-earners have so much on their plates.  In addition to their technical expertise, they are required to attract new clients and new work from existing clients. They are expected to formulate client plans to protect and develop their relationships. Many are striving to understand their clients’ businesses and organisations. In the public and private sectors, procurement professionals now expect their advisers to have a deep understanding of the procurement process and the pressures facing their organisations. Each of these roles requires a unique skill set and a real passion and motivation to be successful.

The success rate of any training and development improves dramatically when it is delivered ‘just in time’ for a particular challenge the fee-earner is facing, or at a relevant stage of their career.  The more targeted the programme can be made to what the fee-earner is experiencing, the greater their buy-in will be.  Unfortunately this doesn’t always lend itself to the economies of scale firms seek in their training budgets – getting a wave of people trained on a particular issue at a given time.  This often causes a lower adoption of the skills and behaviours being developed.  However, when you look at the success rate ‘just in time’ development has over blanket training, the rewards are significantly greater.

When faced with training that relates to a particular issue they are facing, fee-earners are certainly more willing to get involved and genuinely value the development experience that much more.  ‘Just in time’ development relies on the firm: 
– Understanding the changing development needs of fee-earners as they progress through their career and in relation to their daily work
– Defining the right brief that focuses on the experiences and knowledge of the individuals concerned

Practice 2: Real clients, real situations
The more successful firms make their training and development actively contribute to the bottom line.  They ensure all the working examples and case studies in the programme focus on real life issues participants are facing with specific clients in their portfolio.  This transforms any training from an academic to a ‘problem solving’ experience, with new skills, processes and behaviours being adopted a lot more readily along the way.  So with any business development training you are involved with, ensure that it focuses on particular clients or target clients in your portfolio.

Practice 3: Champions
Let’s face it, business development is an alien concept to a number of fee-earners. 10 years ago ‘selling’ and ‘cross selling’ were seen as tacky, grubby, unsuitable and not quite the right thing to do in professional firms. Client Relationship Management, if heard of, was nothing more than a database. Just doing a great job seemed enough to be assured of repeat business. “It used to be about a partner and a couple of mates down at Twickenham” a senior partner of a leading law firm recently told us.

The implementation of business development training dramatically improves when there are obvious ‘champions’ in the partnership – leading the initiative.  These individuals are there to champion the cause.  This involves reassuring and motivating their colleagues that ‘yes this initiative is important to us and here’s how it can work and bring us benefits’.  Successful firms also use champions to keep the newly found skills and development at the forefront of delegates’ minds.  They ‘follow up’ with individuals on the progress and changes each are making.  In this respect champions need to be part of the firm’s senior management, with the authority to take corrective action if a fee-earner is either struggling to implement their learning back in the office or is failing to do so for any other reason.  Rather than sending fee-earners on a programme and hoping they’ll change behaviour back in the office, these firms take a more proactive stance.  They ensure their investment in this training really brings about a change.  In this respect they have more control over the outcome of the training, as they are monitoring its results more frequently.

A word of warning with champions, though.  In order to inspire and motivate others to action, champions have to be seen to not only practise what they preach, but also be exceptional in that field.

Practice 4: Time allowance
The business of professional services firms revolves around time and its value.  All too often we see fee-earners being called upon to implement business development activities on top of everything else they have to do.  Their days are already full to the brim, and many struggle to put into action the skills and learning they have developed.  The more successful firms recognise this.  In encouraging a fee-earner to improve their business development skills and processes, they realign that individual’s day-to-day time and work targets.  They factor in the time it will take for the fee-earner to build their new skills into day-to-day practice.  In doing so they guide the individual (where necessary) on what areas of their work can be reduced to accommodate the new challenges and learning they are embarking on. They also ensure the firm’s performance appraisals with those individuals take account of their newly developed business skills and reward success accordingly.

Practice 5: Coaching
The implementation of newly learned business development processes and skills greatly improves when fee-earners are offered coaching ‘away from the classroom’.  This is often done after they have attended a training programme, to help them put their learning into practice.  We’ve seen firms use coaching very successfully in a number of different ways.  Some have partnered the individual with in-house coaches or mentors.  Others bring in external coaches to help the fee-earner build up their experience in this area.  Either way, these firms proactively help the fee-earner find their feet with their new learning.  They take a more active part in helping the individual overcome any obstacles they encounter and guide them on best practice or the firm’s preferred way on doing business in a given situation.  Those firms that send fee-earners on development programme and then do not support them with post-programme coaching, find the implementation rate of the learning a lot slower than those that do. 

Practice 6: Support systems
We have seen newly acquired business development skills generate greater fee-income when a firm’s support systems are also focused on the training programme.  Examples of this include:
– sharing of target client lists amongst the firm to amass greater knowledge about individual prospects
– refocusing of marketing initiatives to appeal to the interests of particular clients and prospective clients being targeted
– involving the firm’s market research to identify the key decision makers, issues of importance, industry challenges etc of specific target clients
– communicating, sharing and celebrating success to the firm as a whole

Practice 7: Tangible measures
It is important to measure the outcome of any expenditure in training and development, and to set tangible measures (which can determine whether the programme is a success or failure) at the start of the programme. What we mean by this is  setting SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, responsibility-assigned and timed) objectives about what the firm hopes to achieve from this investment of fee-earner time.  In being realistic, firms have to factor in all the other demands being placed on fee-earners.  In firms where fee-earners are subjected to one new initiative after another, the likely success of yet another new development will be significantly lower.  Fee-earners simply do not have the time or energy to implement everything.  Those firms that are:
– specific about the results they want to achieve 
– set out their definition of how they feel those results can be attained
– help fee earners fit these targets into their day job
– track the success of fee-earners in meeting these targets
– give fee-earners support along the way to overcome any obstacles tend to       experience the success they aim for.

The acquisition of new business development skills and processes offers an exciting opportunity to professional services firms.  It enables them to:
– move a step closer to their fee income targets
– secures exciting and challenging new work
– builds closer relationships with  key clients and 
– creates a more profitable business from doing the right kind of work with the right kind of clients

When fee-earners are given BD training and development in isolation of their day jobs, their client portfolios, the firm’s support systems, good leadership, the firm’s targets and ‘way of doing things’ their chances of being successful are greatly reduced.  Marketers, business developers and their colleagues in HR have a great role to play in ensuring their firms turn business development training into a real new business opportunities.  By building the seven practices of effective training and development into their BD training briefs, they can ensure all the time and money invested brings exciting results both to the firm and individuals concerned.


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