Navigating Accountants’ Busy Schedules: Insights from Business Development Experts

When accountants have more work than time to do it, which is always, it takes some finesse to encourage them to participate in business development activities.

Two experts recently laid out their tips for working with busy professionals, serving as a coach and engaging younger staff.

A key to success as a business developer is to make sure you’re serving as a resource for the partners and making every step of the process easy for them, said Chris Fifis, director of business development at New York-based Grassi, during a free-wheeling roundtable discussion hosted by the Association for Accounting Marketing Wednesday.

Business Developers Can Gain Interest if Not Enthusiasm

“Accountants are extremely busy, so a good way of earning respect is making good use of their time,” Fifis said. Make sure the business development team qualifies opportunities, learns about client’s potential challenges, presents data, organizes meetings with prospects and follows up. Once the firm starts seeing the business come in, “things get fun.”

He noted that business developer can only expect buy-in from some. “Ninety percent have no interest in getting into the excitement of it,” he said, but they are motivated to improve.

Some leaders have zero interest, said co-presenter Jeff Jacobs, director of development at Mobile, Ala.-based Wilkins Miller, so focus on those who do. “You’re never going to turn a zebra into a thoroughbred.”

Fifis and Jacobs emphasized that successful business developers should be likable and interested in getting to know each partner, including what they like to do outside the office. “It’s not about you,” Jacobs said.

Ultimately, the business developer is responsible for gathering information, ensuring partners have everything they need and following up. “You have to take ownership over it,” Fifis said.

Business Development Tips for Getting Over Inertia

Business developers can take a coaching role with professionals who may let a lack of confidence hold them back. “A lot of times they do have capacity issues, and that’s really hard to overcome, but when you dig into it a little bit more, the issue is fear,” Jacobs said. Repetition helps. Partners who take younger staff to client meetings can demonstrate that such interactions aren’t scary and mysterious but doable.

Pursuing prospects can fall apart if busyness is constantly cited as an excuse. Embedding activities into a regular work schedule, such as writing one article per year, following an individual business development plan every week, or holding pipeline meetings every two weeks, can make participation more manageable.

Business Development Success Comes from the Top

Another challenge is engaging younger professionals, who may be less eager to attend networking events and the like than their older counterparts. “We as an industry really need to think about that,” Fifis said. “There’s a generational shift in the way that we socialize, especially since COVID.” He suggested asking early-career staff to reach out to people they know on LinkedIn to get an introduction.

Start with the simple things, Jacobs said. Show them proper email etiquette, how to have a conversation during a dinner meeting, and even which fork to use. “Make them part of the process. It shows them that we are trying to grow, and growth is important. I think we can overcomplicate sales and the process.”

He added that if staff aren’t interested it’s likely because the partner above them isn’t either. Success with business development, like all initiatives, relies upon strong support from leadership. “Overall, it’s a cultural thing,” he said. “If it’s not a priority to the leadership, it will never be a priority to the staff.”

Fifis said Grassi’s CEO, Lou Grassi, set the firm’s growth-oriented tone and culture at the firm . “Lou Grassi says all the time if you’re not growing, you’re dying. In today’s business environment, you have to grow, and you have to grow exponentially. It’s just not an option.”


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