Friday, October 16, 2009

Learning & Teaching Business Development – Part 3: Teaching

The prior post took an overview look at the challenges of teaching students how to become effective business developers.

In summary, Rule #1 was you can’t teach your student to do it “your way” unless your interpersonal styles are very similar. Most often, they aren’t. Rule #2 is that accountants learn business development best when they do so by taking bite size bits within a logical structure. You can either create one or use mine. Rule #3 is the lessons cannot be learned intellectually. Instead, they must first be understood and then practiced. In the hundreds of clients I’ve worked with, I have never seen even one who could ace it the first few times. It is better to make your initial (and usually more egregious) mistakes in a training environment where there is no money on the table.

Let’s get right to exploring the specific actions you can take to effectively teach your student to become a competent business developer.

Create or obtain an outline, manual or book of the method you will be using. The student should have a decent grasp of the overall structure before you begin. Break it down into chapters, phases, stages, milestones, or in some other manner to create bite-size segments that can be isolated, discussed and eventually practiced.

My suggestion is to always connect each lesson or discussion to real or constructed client situations. Every discussion with your student should tie the topic to a real world setting and context. If possible, always use examples that reflect the real world the student will be facing when they are implementing the lessons.

Once the basic “rules” for a given phase (e.g. how to prepare for a business development meeting) are covered, I believe you will achieve a better level of comprehension if you switch to a Socratic teaching method. Instead of simply nodding that they understand what you are saying, you ask them a series of questions to draw the points of the lesson back out of the student, thereby ensuring they really do understand.

For example, you might say, “Laura, we’ve taken a look at an overview of how you prepare for a business development meeting. Let’s explore it in more depth. How do you think your preparation might differ if you knew you were only meeting with one person vs. if you weren’t sure how many people might be in the meeting?” or “How would your preparation change if you were meeting with the owner versus the CFO?”

In short, have the student demonstrate to you they really do understand the lesson content.
When the student has begun to get the gist of how business development works my experience is that it is good practice to get them out in the field right away. Not on their own, but accompanying more experienced accountants to real meetings with real prospects.

This can begin by having the student do the preparation for the first meeting they will be attending. Once this is completed the teacher and student should develop a meeting plan so each attendee’s role is defined.

A proven way to structure the first training meeting is for the “lead” accountant to take a close look at the prospect’s situation and identify a given area that has a degree of potential complexity to it. Let’s use 1031 exchanges as an example. Then, when the meeting introductions are made, the student is introduced something like this, “Joan, I’ve brought Pat with me because I see you are considering making the sale of your warehouse subject to a 1031 exchange. He probably has the most current knowledge of anyone in our office about these transactions and their tax implications. His input may be valuable in our discussion.” (Obviously, Pat will bone up on 1031 exchanges before the meeting.)

NOTE: when two or more accountants attend a business development meeting things can go quite wrong in terms of coordination, presenting a united front to the prospect, etc. My blog archive is at ( Go over on the right column, scroll down, click 2008, then click April, then click “Who’s On First.” About halfway down it talks about having a meeting plan. The text that follows gives you some ideas about how to ensure your presentation will go smoothly.

This will be too long. We’ll conclude with Part 4 next week.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Learning & Teaching Business Development – Part 2: Teaching

The last post addressed the two foundational keys underpinning the student’s journey to become a truly superior business developer. The first is they have to adopt an approach that allows them to be themselves. The second is they must understand and practice the people skills that allow them to establish a strong rapport with their prospect.

When you select prospective students, there is one overriding concern: they MUST want to learn business development. My experience, teaching literally hundreds of clients how to identify, approach and convert prospects into clients has taught me The One Great Truth – learning effective business development is impossible for those individuals who are predisposed not to.

They know their manager wants them to learn; they know any thoughts of eventual partnership depend upon them learning; they know their income will never rise to the level they desire unless they learn, but they still won’t/can’t do it! This is a whole separate subject, but as a teacher who is busy with your own practice you don’t have time for students who can’t or won’t learn, whatever the reason.

Another lesson from my experience that may be helpful is that the average accountant doesn’t need any additive technical training as a precursor to learning business development skills. The reason I say this is because they’re going to be starting with “basic” prospective clients with issues that are mainstream for the firm’s practice focus. If the student needs specific upgrading of their technical skills it can be done on their time.

A final lesson is that you will get much greater mileage by focusing upon teaching the humanistic side of the equation. It is that element which is a foundational key for your student to become an ├╝ber successful business developer.

Now to specifics.

Rule #1is that unless your interpersonal style and that of the individual you are teaching are very similar, you will almost NEVER be successful teaching them how to do it “your” way.

They won’t be able to do it because they’ll be acting. Even if they are good actors, the greater probability is the prospect will sense the disconnect, and the accountant will feel uncomfortable because they aren’t in their own skin. In the long run, the odds are greatly stacked against success if you force feed an unnatural style upon your student.

Your challenge is to devise approaches where your student can be effective but do so in their own skin.

Rule #2 is creating a structure or process for your student. Accountants are very good at operating within a framework of rules and predictability. As a teacher, you will be better served by providing such a structure. It is true a highly skilled professional salesperson can “wing it” from the first moment they begin talking with a prospect, but your student can’t.

I suggest breaking down the business development process into several phases. This creates bite size segments the student can deal with. And, each segment falls within a general sequence, which is easy to comprehend and learn. What you end up with will be something like the following:

The first segment is approaching prospects. I believe this is best taught by selecting leads generated from referrals, responses to the firm’s marketing efforts, etc. which can be described as simple or uncomplicated. An accountant who is just being introduced to business development should never be encouraged to initiate contact with a so-called “cold” prospect. This is a recipe for almost immediate discouragement and frustration.
Number two is preparation. What should be done to get ready for your business development meeting with the prospect?
Number three are the protocols surrounding the first few minutes together. Who sits where, how to avoid any social gaffes, handling the paperwork you’ve brought to the meeting, etc.
Number four is what you actually ask and say to the prospect. What subjects will be the highest priority? How should they be broached? Is there a preferable sequence?
Number five is concluding the meeting. What will you say at the meeting’s end? Is there a chance to secure the engagement? What do you do is no decision is forthcoming? What if they say “no?”

There are some manual excerpts at In Section 2 of the Table of Contents there is a general sequence you can use as-is or to develop your own approach.

Rule #3 is that the skills you teach MUST BE PRACTICED.

It goes without saying that accountants are smart. Considering your student’s greater than average ability to listen, read, reason and analyze on a “book learning” level, it’s no surprise they will easily understand – on an intellectual level – what you are teaching them.

Unfortunately, while comprehension is necessary, its importance pales by comparison to the value of learning how to actually DO the skills. It is here where the disconnect between promise and performance frequently appears.

The reality you will face is that more often than not your student will demonstrate a distinct lack of enthusiasm for any type of role-playing or practice.

To explain: Any learning process almost always begins with the student performing poorly and then, with practice, they improve. But, whether we’re learning to roller skate, play the piano or business development techniques, initially we can expect skinned knees and/or bruised egos.

People don’t like psychologically exposing themselves to potentially negative events, and they don’t like being in a position where a manager, owner or partner will see them performing less than competently.

What this translates into is you will more often than not get some form of push back from your student when you attempt to incorporate practice into the training regimen. But, they have to do it to really succeed.

This post has looked at the teaching process from an overall perspective. Next time we’ll explore the nuts and bolts of how you can effectively implement your training plan.