Unfortunately, it is still a widely-held belief that marketing departments in professional services firms are cost centres – a group of people who put on events and make documents looks pretty. How do we shift this mindset?

First, let’s dispel the myth, perpetuated by many, that marketing and business development is the same thing. It’s not. As I have mentioned elsewhere, marketing is responsible for creating, refining and communicating the message and promoting the brand. Business development, on the other hand, is more closely connected to clients and other referral sources. A business development team develops the strategy around forming and pursuing strategic relationships with referrals sources, clients and other professional contacts to bring in new work. Typically, in law firms, these professionals, or functions, are lumped together under the legacy label of “marketing”.

So now that we understand the difference between marketing and ‘BD’, how do we transform your business development teams into revenue generating units? How does this group make the move from being reactive to proactive, contributing directly or indirectly to revenue generation? As professional services firms adapt to changing client demands, increasing competition and more selective customers, these teams need to adapt as well.

For a business development department to be viewed as either an indirect or direct source of revenue a few things need to happen.

Cultural Shift

The first is an entire cultural shift to viewing the function as more than just an on-demand resource. Senior leadership need to encourage BD teams to expand their scope and to communicate to others their willingness to include BD in a more strategic and proactive way. They also need to mandate an accountable, proactive, effective, client-focused support team. This requires more than just rhetoric. It also requires the money to train or hire the right resources and the budget for tools to provide for efficient and effective processes. Consider hiring an external consultant for help.

Client-Focused Strategy

An essential next step is to create and define a client-centric growth strategy and value proposition. [Implementing a Client-Centric Strategy] What is the firm strategy? How does the BD team help to define this? This should include one for the firm, for each department and for each client-facing individual. Use customer insight gleaned from an independent client feedback program in addition to internal and competitive data and financial analytics. Think about which sectors you are trying to grow. Think about your goals. What is the result? Involve your clients. Get their feedback. What are the opportunities in the marketplace? Industry? Geography? Share this strategy. Make sure it has been communicated to everyone and ensure marketing has participated in its creation. According to Harvard Business Review, successful companies “possess a clear sense of mission and focus that everyone in the company can understand and relate to.”1

Processes & Procedures

Now that a strategy is in place you need the processes and procedures to support it. Processes will drive consistency, efficiency, communication and activity across the organization. Support the BD team in their efforts to create these. Too much process can stifle innovation and growth. You want just enough to drive activity and efficiency.

Senior BD professionals should try to focus on client-centred revenue generating activities such as:

  • Creating and leading industry or client teams where departments work cross-functionally in the best interests of the client or group of clients.
  • Creating best practices for client interaction such as: regular team meetings or calls.
  • Providing opportunities for client outreach such as business intelligence and relationships maps.
  • Developing group benchmarks and goals and ensuring the processes are in place to properly achieve them.
  • Participating in client meetings, such as annual reviews or feedback.
  • Providing business development coaching for individuals and planning for groups.
  • Reporting regularly on relationship and revenue goals. Keep people focused.
  • Staying on top of opportunity tracking and competitive intelligence creating ideas that can be used to reach out to a client.
  • Striving to drive sales activities and to manage group, department or client account activity.
  • Collaborating with other departments such as finance and knowledge management and be involved with discussions regarding artificial intelligence and machine learning in their application to client work.

Setting up standardized processes and procedures might seem like a lot of work up front. But once they are in place they provide for increased efficiency and consistency allowing you to stay focused on the relevant activities and grow revenue.

Benchmarks & Accountability

It is essential to have benchmarks and accountability in place to determine what incremental success looks like, gauge progress and ensure success. These can include the following:

  • Meeting targets
  • Deeper relationships within the firm
  • Deeper and broader relationships across the client
  • Consistent application of above processes
  • Use of technology
  • Regular feedback from relationship partners
  • Key client dashboards
  • Client satisfaction and loyalty
  • Number of services used by clients

Partners—even the reluctant rainmakers—will need to become more involved in helping to build and execute growth strategies, and their actions (or lack thereof) will be exposed to the harsh light of tools that measure results in newer, different, and better ways.


Lastly you need trust. If the above steps have been executed it is time to trust that your BD team has the professional skill, organizational experience and commitment to grow revenue for your firm. You hired these folks because of their experience and commitment to excellence. Trust them. And, I can speak from experience that at least one of my past senior level ‘clients’ appreciated the fact that a non-lawyer was spending time focused on their strategic priorities.

About the Author

Shari Robinson is a client-focused marketing and business development consultant with global experience in sales, a big four accounting firm and law. She creates processes and procedures to support client-centric behaviours.

  1. Harvard Business Review, https://hbr.org/2016/06/the-3-things-that-keep-companies-growing