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The business development imperative

by Bernard Savage | June 12, 2024

Too busy for business development? That, says Bernard Savage, misses the point.

In the bustling realm of professional services, the notion of ‘being too busy for business development’ can be a tempting rationale. Amidst the flurry of client demands and operational complexities, it’s easy for firms to prioritise immediate tasks over long-term strategic endeavours. However, such a perspective overlooks the indispensable role that business development plays in fostering resilience, growth and sustainability within professional practices.

Client development
At the heart of sustainable growth lies the imperative to stay close to existing clients and referrers. This tenet of client development forms the bedrock of enduring professional relationships. By cultivating meaningful connections with clients, firms not only foster loyalty but also uncover avenues for organic growth and referrals.

Effective client development strategies encompass a spectrum of activities, ranging from personalised client interactions to targeted relationship-building initiatives. By proactively engaging with clients, firms demonstrate a vested interest in their success and wellbeing. This ethos of client-centricity not only enhances client satisfaction but also fosters a sense of partnership and mutual trust - a cornerstone of sustainable client relationships.

Moreover, client development extends beyond mere transactional engagements to encompass strategic dialogue and value-added services. An example of this is independent client listening research. Such feedback programmes show your clients that they are valued, and their business is not being taken for granted.

Why do so many partners stop thinking about the client the moment the transaction closes? Staying close and being helpful between deals keeps you on the radar. 
Andy Wansell, Chief Operating Officer, Harbottle & Lewis LLP

Succession planning
Beyond immediate gains, business development serves as a linchpin in succession planning - a crucial aspect often overlooked in the daily grind. By honing the skills of junior fee earners, firms lay the groundwork for seamless transitions and long-term sustainability. Furthermore, a robust business development strategy enhances a firm’s appeal to potential buyers, underscoring its value proposition and market relevance.

Effective succession planning entails a multifaceted approach, encompassing talent development, knowledge transfer and leadership cultivation. By providing junior fee earners with exposure to client-facing roles and business development initiatives, firms nurture a pipeline of future leaders equipped to navigate the complexities of a dynamic marketplace.

This investment in human capital not only ensures continuity but also fosters a culture of innovation and excellence - a hallmark of enduring organisations.

Moreover, business development plays a pivotal role in enhancing a firm’s market positioning and competitive advantage - a critical consideration in the context of succession planning. By articulating a compelling value proposition and differentiating themselves from competitors, firms attract potential buyers and investors drawn to their unique strengths and capabilities. This strategic alignment not only enhances valuation but also facilitates smooth transitions and integration.

The time lag conundrum
It’s imperative to recognise that the fruits of business development efforts do not ripen overnight. Rather, they often necessitate a sustained investment of time and resources. Multiple marketing touchpoints and client interactions are required to nurture prospects and convert leads into tangible opportunities. In an age of instant gratification, embracing the time lag between action and outcome is essential for cultivating a resilient business ecosystem.

The journey from initial engagement to conversion is characterised by myriad touchpoints and interactions, each contributing to the gradual maturation of client relationships and opportunities. From initial outreach and needs assessment to proposal development and negotiation, the business development life cycle spans a spectrum of activities, each demanding patience, perseverance and strategic acumen. Furthermore, the time lag inherent in business development underscores the importance of cultivating enduring relationships and building a robust pipeline of opportunities. By nurturing long-term partnerships and proactively engaging with clients, firms lay the groundwork for sustained growth and profitability.

Market intelligence
Beyond its immediate commercial implications, business development serves as a conduit for collecting invaluable market intelligence. By gauging market trends, competitor strategies and client preferences, firms gain a nuanced understanding of the evolving business landscape. Armed with actionable insights, they can chart informed courses of action, adapt proactively to market dynamics and capitalise on emerging opportunities.

Business development is a process. It takes time to build relationships and trust. It’s all about being authentic coupled with following up. 
Sarah Kane, Chief Executive Officer, Watson Woodhouse Group

Effective market intelligence encompasses a spectrum of activities, ranging from competitor analysis and client surveys to industry research and trend monitoring. By harnessing data-driven insights, firms can identify untapped market segments, anticipate shifting client needs and position themselves as industry leaders - a critical advantage in today’s hypercompetitive landscape.

Moreover, market intelligence enables firms to identify emerging trends and disruptive forces shaping their respective industries. By staying ahead of the curve and anticipating market shifts, firms can pivot strategically, capitalise on emerging opportunities and mitigate potential risks.

Business development is not just about immediate gains; it’s an investment in long-term, sustainable growth through client satisfaction.
Stephen McCullough, Partner & Head of Business Development & Marketing Armstrong Watson LLP

Client acquisition
Strategic client acquisition lies at the crux of effective business development. By attracting better and more profitable clients aligned with the firm’s vision and market positioning, practitioners fortify their competitive edge. This entails a discerning approach to client selection, predicated on factors such as industry alignment, growth potential and long-term value creation. In doing so, firms foster symbiotic relationships that underpin sustained growth and profitability.

Effective client acquisition strategies encompass a spectrum of activities, ranging from targeted outreach and networking to value proposition articulation and relationship-building initiatives. By understanding the unique needs and preferences of target clients, firms can tailor their offerings to address specific pain points and deliver tangible value. Moreover, strategic client acquisition enables firms to diversify their revenue streams and mitigate reliance on a handful of key clients. By cultivating a diverse portfolio of clients spanning various industries and geographies, firms insulate themselves against market volatility and position themselves for long-term sustainability and growth.

Risk mitigation
In an ever-evolving landscape fraught with risks, the importance of business development cannot be overstated in mitigating potential pitfalls. Client attrition and the departure of key rainmakers pose existential threats to firms, underscoring the imperative for proactive risk management. By diversifying their client portfolios and nurturing robust pipelines, firms fortify themselves against unforeseen contingencies, ensuring continuity and resilience in the face of adversity.

Effective risk mitigation strategies encompass a spectrum of activities, ranging from client retention initiatives and talent development to strategic partnerships and diversification efforts. By proactively identifying and addressing potential risks, firms can mitigate downside exposure, capitalise on emerging opportunities and position themselves for long-term success. 

In essence, the refrain of ‘being too busy for business development’ is not merely a matter of time constraints but a misalignment of priorities. It’s a fallacy that conflates busyness with productivity and short-term gains with long-term
sustainability. In a landscape defined by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA), the imperative for strategic foresight and proactive engagement has never been more pronounced. 

Embracing a holistic approach to business development entails a fundamental shift in mindset - one that transcends the confines of immediate tasks and embraces the imperatives of growth, resilience and strategic agility. It demands a concerted commitment to nurturing client relationships, fostering talent, harnessing market intelligence and mitigating risks. In doing so, firms not only navigate the complexities of today’s business landscape but also lay the groundwork for enduring success in the years to come. 

In conclusion, the adage ‘we don’t need business development, we are too busy’ belies a short-sighted perspective that undermines the very foundations of sustainable growth and resilience. By embracing the transformative potential of business development, firms can transcend the constraints of the present and chart a course toward a future defined by innovation, adaptability and enduring relevance.

This article originally appeared in PM Magazine. For further details visit

Bernard Savage is a director at Size 10½ Boots, a specialist business development agency that helps professional services firms improve the bottom line. 

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