Last week, I had a good chat with a guy who was one of the first people to be appointed as a “salesperson” at a professional service firm several years ago – as part of my research for an article on business development careers in the professions.

I explained that I see the business development process as three discrete processes – marketing (from the strategic development of the firm through market, service and pricing decisions through to marketing communications), selling (winning new clients) and relationship management (developing existing clients and referrers). I often have to point out to partners that the highly regarded gold standard CIM marketing qualification does not teach people how to be salespeople or relationship managers (some call these people account managers). Having started my own career going through intensive training to work in the field sales team of a large computer company, I have always been fascinated with selling in the professions (my first book in 2000 was even on this subject).

My “salesperson” objected to the term “selling” as it has connotations of “pushing” a firm’s services out to clients – whereas he regards himself as a relationship manager who develops bespoke solutions to client problems (the consultative approach to selling). His role is to:

• Identify suitable targets in conjunction with the fee-earners
• Undertake research (where the services of the firm’s research and information team are highly valued but personal networks are vital) on the targets, their industries and the issues that they face
• Instruct the marketing team to prepare relevant materials and events
• Establish contact with the appropriate clients and contacts (he can make 30 cold calls in a day, and achieve a 70% success rate in setting up appointments)
• Develop a relationship where relationships can be developed and needs explored
• Coach and support the fee-earners to maximise all opportunities
• Manage the entire process until and beyond when the deal is struck

In his model, in order to do the job effectively you need:

• indepth knowledge, experience and even qualifications in the market you are serving (whether this is real estate, private equity or energy) so that you understand the issues affecting clients and can speak their language
• sufficient understanding of the products and services on offer to be able to match client needs appropriately and differentiate your service with a bespoke solution (although he always works with service line experts who have detailed technical knowledge)
• strong interpersonal skills – particularly good self-awareness to know and adapt your own style. He feels that either psychological training or NLP helps here with creating rapport.
• a structured approach to selling – he advocates SPIN (but agreed with me that Strategic Selling provides a broader framework for marketers/BD professionals). He is also an advocate of Franklin Covey’s “Helping clients succeed” approach
• a desire and ability to spend a huge amount of time face-to-face or on the telephone to prospects and clients

In his world, marketing has no contact with clients – and from his perspective, some marketers are simply not up to being trusted with client contact whilst many simply don’t want it. In his model, marketing is mostly concerned with producing materials and co-ordinating the processes to manage events and projects. With technology advancing to provide fantastic tools to easily prepare documents, web sites, pitches and presentations (see my previous post on Vuture and Vx) it may not be long before the marketing team doesn’t exist. But the relationship managers will reign.