In this blog, Whitecap Associate Tim Dixon-Phillip shares his views about business development in the Professional Services market in response to the current Coronavirus pandemic. Tim has extensive experience in the market having been at EY for several years and also helping Professional Services firms with their growth strategies and development.

Until lockdown, I worked alongside Professional Services leadership teams, helping them define and implement long-range growth strategies to out-sell and out-serve their competitors.  This workstream fell off a cliff overnight, for obvious reasons.

Long-term strategy planning is not what clients need at the minute because like all business leaders, they are focused on their more immediate challenges and risks – protecting their Balance Sheets, best and worst-case scenario planning, remote working, reassuring and protecting as many of their people as possible, and going the extra mile to support clients.

Shifting the focus

Some firms have understandably gone very quiet, others are asking for tactical advice regarding client comms and publishing appropriate content. I am starting to see a gradual shift in focus now that leaders have gained a bit more head space to think beyond dealing with their immediate challenges. One client recently asked me to facilitate sessions with a small ‘Rapid Response’ team who are responsible for thinking ahead and planning their future service lines (‘Offensive’ and ‘Defensive’), marketing campaigns and corresponding sales conversations. 

Culture and Character

I am reminded by something Charles Darwin is supposed to have said along the lines of “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one that is most adaptive to change.”  Thinking back, this was evident in the last two recessions.

None of us has a crystal ball, but instinct and logic suggest that there will be a ton of companies and private clients in distress and a bounce back will come at some stage. Firms with an adaptive and well embedded Business Development culture will probably stand to gain the most.  Conversely, firms who are more traditional and hoping things will return to how they were, will probably fare less well.

Does a global crisis build a firm’s character and strengthen their business development culture, or does it expose the underlying character flaws? How many firms will adapt, revert to type or regress?  I am an optimist and searching for something positive from this pandemic – I think and hope that many firms will realise that they have a unique opportunity (and arguably no choice) to adapt and make the changes they want to see.

Adapting to the new normal 

Here is my top ten list of dos and don’ts, in no particular order.  I hope this will be helpful to leadership teams in Professional Services, when the time is right for them to focus on how they will adapt.

  1. Accept that people (including your clients and their customers) are at different stages in their emotional response to this crisis, ranging from shock and denial through to anger and despair, before they reach the promised land of acceptance, experimentation and action. Listen and communicate accordingly with the appropriate tone of voice, people will remember how they felt about your words and actions for a long time.
  1. Don’t cut too deep – experience from the last two recessions shows us that a lot of firms struggled to keep up with demand when the economy recovered. In a crisis, sales and marketing folk are natural energisers and they will give your fee earners the confidence to focus and fight rather than revert to type.
  1. Regularly scrutinise the business development activities of your closest competitors – enough said.
  1. Give your sales and marketing teams a voice at the top table, they will have a different perspective to add to the mix. Delegate more responsibility to them and be specific about the information and support you want.
  1. Mobilise a multi-disciplined, ‘Plan Ahead’ team. Brief them that nothing is sacred, and that all ideas are valid. Empower them to override the conventional gate-keeping procedures if necessary:
    1. Don’t fall into the trap of focusing exclusively on short term revenue streams and think carefully about sustainable growth opportunities
    2. Implement a handful of new initiatives well. Avoid initiative overload
    3. Don’t wait for all the data – act quickly
  1. In a crisis such as this, there will inevitably be rabbits in the headlights. Create an environment of seizing the initiative and sharing ideas. Encourage your quieter people to speak up. Give teams ‘permission’ to make mistakes and learn quickly from them.
  1. Get yourselves ‘Campaign Ready’ so that when the time is right you can be quick off the blocks in promoting your Thought Leadership. In the interim, don’t worry about over-polishing your insights and ideas. Share them on video from home if necessary and share them quickly. At this moment, the market is more interested in your points of view, not how you appear.
  1. Email open rates are up by 40% globally, according to Marketing Week – think how to adapt your Business Development activities in response to this trend?
  1. This crisis will force firms to build and maintain client relationships in a more efficient and effective way than usual. Seminars, jollies and networking events won’t be the same until we have a vaccine, if ever. VC and Webinars are the future – to put this into context, Zoom average daily meeting participants have grown from 10 million in December 2019 to 300 million currently, according to their CEO.  Clients will be engaging even more with relevant, helpful content. How will you rise above the noise and find the white space?
  1. Top tier and middle market firms should seriously consider using technology platforms like Passle, which make it very easy for trusted subject matter experts to rapidly publish their insights and ideas on multiple channels.

If you’d like to discuss this blog post or share your own perspective on the issues covered, please get in touch or comment via our social media channels on LinkedIn or Twitter.

Established in 2012, Whitecap Consulting is a regional strategy consultancy headquartered in Leeds, with offices in Manchester, Milton Keynes, Birmingham, Bristol and Newcastle. We typically work with boards, executives and investors of predominantly mid-sized organisations with a turnover of c£10m-£300m, helping clients analyse, develop and implement growth strategies. Also, we work with clients across a range of sectors including Financial Services, Technology, FinTech, Outsourcing, Consumer and Retail, Property, Healthcare, Higher Education, Manufacturing and Professional Services, including Corporate Finance and PE.