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 über 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.

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