Why context is crucial when creating a first-class BD team

teamWhat is the best structure for a BD and marketing team in a professional services firm? The short answer is – it depends.   There is no silver bullet here, no right or wrong answer. Because the best team structure is arrived at having thought through a number of factors that relate to the firm’s situation now and the desired future.   And these will be unique to each firm.

How marketing teams have evolved

Over the years, professional services firms have tried out different ways of organising their marketing and BD teams. I have been in professional services for 20 years, so long enough to have seen the various developments occur and then back again! The key changes have been connected to:

  • What is understood by “marketing” (which has matured over the years) and therefore what jobs marketing and BD need to do
  • The balance of marketing and BD people
  • Where they sit (within the marketing/BD team or in a business unit)
  • Who they report to (one or more people, a marketing or managing partner, practice director, head of marketing or practice team leader)
  • Their role, desired or actual, in the firm (doers, compliance, challengers, collaborators)
  • What marketing strategy the firm has, whether it’s by practice area, office/geography or sector
The factors that influence the structure

To arrive at a structure which is right for your firm, a number of questions need to be discussed and agreed upon:

  • What is the key focus for the marketing strategy – practice area, office/geography or sector, two of these or all three!
  • What are the jobs that marketing need to do?
  • What are the jobs that need to be done the BD (‘sales’)?
  • Which of those jobs are best done in a central team e.g. for efficiencies of scale?
  • Which of those jobs are best done in close contact with a business unit?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the marketing and BD function and how do you overcome the latter? (the solution might not be to site someone within a fee-earning team)
  • What marketing and BD roles to the fee-earners have? What contributions are they expected to make?
  • What is the culture and maturity of the firm with regards to marketing and BD and how does that affect what roles we need at present?

The key driver here is the firm’s strategy. If the business doesn’t have a clear idea of where they want to go, it is very difficult to resource a marketing and BD team in any other way than for them to be reactive. They can certainly initiate and drive strategic marketing-related projects (such as implementing a new CRM or key account management) which have firm-wide impact and improve the firm’s effectiveness. But it is very hard, without a business strategy or even business objectives, to know what the best use of resources – time, money, people – is and how to get the greatest return on investment.

Another consideration here is the extent to which the strategy has been ‘handed down’ rather than the head of marketing/BD having been involved in it and, crucially, can get behind. And what the relationship is like between the head of marketing/BD and the managing partner. The more supportive the managing partner is of BD, the easier it is to work collaboratively and end up with the optimum team structure for the firm.

Having answered these questions and mapped out what it is you want the marketing and BD team to do, you often end up with a series of jobs which in broad terms cover the following:

  1. marketing services or communications related roles (content development, PR, events or seminars),
  2. other marketing related roles such as database management, research, design, client care and key account management
  3. BD related roles such as bids and tenders, presentations, proposition development, pricing
Central team or not?

Arguably, the only kinds of roles which it makes sense to site within a business unit are the BD ones, since the others are better sited in a central team for all sorts of reasons including:

  • Economies of scale – easier to support the whole firm for these things from one central team
  • Less likely to have gaps in support for particular areas if these jobs are centralised
  • One manager can oversee the team and ensure consistent service, quality and branding
  • Less likely to duplicate tasks
  • There’s more return on effort if marketing related roles work across the firm
  • Marketers work most creatively if they can share ideas with peers

That said, there are advantages and disadvantages to siting a BD person within a particular business unit, office or sector

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If one of your fee-earning teams is arguing for siting someone within their team, there are some further things to discuss:

  • Who would this person report to? There are disadvantages (see above) if it’s to the head of the fee-earning team or to both them and the head of marketing. It makes more sense for them to report to the head of marketing only even if they sit within the fee-earning team and work closely with them.
  • What are the issues putting someone in the fee-earning team is seeking to alleviate? For instance, if the problem is actually that this area of the business feels unsupported by marketing or they feel the marketing team doesn’t really understand them, the solution isn’t necessarily placing someone within the team.
  • What are the implications of embedding someone within a fee-earning team? E.g. will other teams then want their own marketing support and if this isn’t possible how will marketing and BD support them?
The final decision

As you can see, it’s not necessarily a straightforward decision. And it’s as important to understand the context and back-story as it is to determine functional needs. Depending on which factors you deem as the drivers (see the above table for what they are) it is possible to consider how to overcome the downsides that you need to. For instance, if you’ve decided to site someone in a central team but you also see it as highly desirable that they work closely and collaboratively with particular fee-earners, you could agree a ‘service level’ whereby they would meet once a week, or sit in the team for one day a week.

I am not a big fan of regular changes to the marketing and BD team structure, or changes driven for political reasons, which can be unnecessarily unsettling. That said, the firm’s needs will evolve, so the marketing and BD team needs to be flexible enough to respond to this, both in what they support and how they are organised.

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