Planning and Managing Business Development in Professional Services Firms – Digest of PACE Research

bdIn this report, The PACE Partners LLP – a firm that specialises in leadership, business development and client relationship management for professional services firms – provides comparative information on how participating firms perform in the implementation and application of business development and client management processes – in eight key areas. The report also provides the different sectors of the professional services marketplace with a picture as to how, in this area of business management, they compare with each other. In addition it provides comparative information on:

  • the (relative) importance of the different processes in each area;
  • the biggest barriers to implementing these processes;
  • the ways in which these barriers have been overcome;
  • the benefits firms have gained as a result of having the processes in place and working; and
  • the proportion of fee earners who should be – and the proportion who actually are – involved in business development, and how good they are in this area.

Responses were incorporated only if:

  1. the response represented the views of a senior individual who could portray the picture of the whole firm, or
  2. the response represented the views of a senior individual who could portray the picture for a significant division or sector of their firm.

The participating firms are based in a number of parts of the world, including the UK, the USA, Central America, Western Europe, Central and Eastern Europe, Asia and Australia. The total fee income generated by all of the firms involved in the survey amounts to approximately £17.5bn. It is acknowledged that all conclusions reflect the input data provided to The PACE Partners LLP and that the data is based on the perceptions of respondents.

Amongst the key findings, the study shows that:

  1. Only two thirds of those who should be involved in proactive business development are actually involved. Additionally, only one third of those who should be involved are perceived to be ‘good’ to ‘excellent’ in this role. This ranges from one fifth in Consulting Engineering and Law to a half in Accountancy. These statistics imply, amongst other things, that a number of the processes that help to ensure that the right level of effort is being invested in business development – by people with the right skills – are missing.
  2. Indeed, where processes have been introduced and implemented respondents describe significant benefits to their firms. The most important of these are real financial benefits, including increased fee income and profitability, better and more profitable clients and increases in market share. Other benefits include improved reputation and client relationships, increased skills in, and motivation towards, business development, greater team-working and co-operation within the firm and a stronger reputation for the Business Development and Marketing team. Executive summary (continued)
  3. In order to implement these processes respondents have had to overcome significant barriers. These barriers include the strong sense of individuality in senior fee earners, the unwillingness of many to change, the complexity of organisations organised in a number of disparate practice areas, lack of time and other resources, lack of strong management and leadership and a lack of skills in fee earners and/or in the BD team.
  4. The experience of the respondents makes it clear that the secrets of success in overcoming these barriers include strong, supportive, committed leadership by senior management, a small number of influential champions, robust leadership of the implementation of the new processes, a focus on maintaining momentum and commitment, strong leadership of and by the BD team and training. Interestingly five of those six ‘secrets of success’ involve leadership!
  5. A striking result of the survey is the consistency of views among respondents in all disciplines with regard to the importance of having, and using, the right processes across the whole business development cycle. Every one of the eight core areas is seen to be vital by all disciplines. This is perhaps understandable in the light of the benefits described above and of the very real challenge in getting enough skilled people focused on business development in today’s competitive environment.
  6. The performance of the firms included in our survey in each of the process areas – and in each of the statements that underpin those areas – is, as one would expect, variable. The total ‘scores’ achieved, out of a maximum of 96, range from 86 to 7! Overall, law firms perform significantly worse than their counterparts in the other disciplines, which may account for them experiencing the steepest decline from the percentage of fee earners who should be involved in business development through those who actually are to those who are at least ‘good’ in this part of their role.
  7. The strongest performance for respondents as a whole is in the management of clients and in the leadership of senior management. The weakest scores came in areas that focus on ensuring fee earners understand, and are good at, business development and in having the processes that enable fee earners to plan their business development efforts well and to balance their time between the demands of fee earning work and business development. Obviously weaknesses in these areas could fatally undermine the effectiveness of sound processes that may be in place in other areas.

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