Monday, November 2, 2009

Learning & Teaching Business Development – Part 4: Teaching

The prior two posts took an overview look at the challenges of teaching students how to become effective business developers. This post concludes the Teaching thread.

When each meeting is concluded, the student makes a critique of how it went. They should explain to their instructor the good, bad and ugly of the meeting and what they – the student – have learned from the experience.

Remember that the student, who is almost invariably younger, possibly considerably younger, and doesn’t enjoy partner status, has neither the presence, experience nor clout of a more senior member of the firm. For this reason, expectations and goals should be adjusted downward accordingly.

When the student is ready to get their feet wet, they should be given prospects generated from the firm’s marketing and/or networking efforts that can be described as simple and straightforward. If they’ve accompanied more senior accountants on at least four or five actual business development meetings and otherwise seem to be “getting it,” I think it’s time to let them solo.

To get the experience and practice, they should over-prepare for the meeting. The meeting plan I like for the first solo effort is to go in with the idea the student will touch all phases of the method they’ve been taught. However, only three elements will be really focused upon because if they try to be perfect on the whole method it will simply be too much, too soon. That too frequently leads to discouragement. Just commit to do a few things “right” in the beginning and then expand and ramp up expectations.

The first element is the preparation. The second element is the phase that makes up the first five minutes of the meeting; the “make a good first impression” phase. The third is to decide in advance how the student will ask for the prospect’s business at the end of the meeting. Usually, it will just be one or two sentences, e.g. “I think we’ve covered everything Ted. How would you like to proceed?” If they don’t get this in mind in advance I’ve found they can get very tongue-tied when the moment arrives.

For the period extending from the “good impression” phase to when the “close,” if necessary, occurs, the newly-soloing student only has to remember to ask questions to see what the prospect thinks is important and explain briefly how they/the firm can solve these issues. Just muddle through the process initially; expand the envelope as time passes.

None of this has to be perfect for it to be effective. You'll probably be a skeptic when I say this, but if you only did what is written in this and the prior paragraph you would be a superior business developer than at least 75% of the accountants in your trading area. Probably more.

For subsequent prospects, the student is expected to master more of the lements until they have become comfortable with the entire method. My experience suggests it will take at least 20 meetings for this to occur.

Once the teacher thinks their student has become reasonably competent with the method, I suggest the student take the lead on a business development meeting and bring the teacher along as the observer. Kind of like a check ride when a co-pilot is promoted to captain. If it doesn’t go as well as hoped, then do it again.

When you are satisfied the student has sufficiently mastered the method, it is “graduation” time. They are thereafter assigned prospects with the assumption they will routinely convert them into clients.

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