Several years ago some friends formed a firm and asked for advice on generating business. “Should we hire a full-time business developer?” one asked. “No,” I answered. “We’re all busy with our clients. It’s hard to make time for anything else. In that case, doesn’t it make sense to hire a dedicated business developer?” he responded. “No,” I said.
We talked about other things for a while, like the urgency to generate revenue. As I was about to leave, one friend said again, “Hiring a business developer seems to make a lot of sense.” “So, go ahead and hire one,” I responded somewhat curtly. Taken aback, my friends asked me why I thought it was a bad idea. “Because you own this problem,” I said. “Generating revenue will determine whether you and your firm succeed or fail, and none of you wants to own the problem. But, like it or not, you own it. You can’t off load it onto someone else.” Had even one of the three been an aggressive business getter, my advice might have been different. A business developer might complement their efforts, but never replace them.
I was reminded of this exchange yesterday, when a practice head at a mid-sized firm faced with declining revenue suggested hiring a business developer. I will call him James. James has probably worked for the firm for fifteen years and knows hundreds of former clients. Others in the firm say that many of these clients worship him. Adjusting for the obvious hyperbole, I have no doubt this is true. He is brilliant and kind and extends himself for his clients, should they make the smallest request. He knows his business cold. Yet, once these people become former clients, he never calls them, nor lifts a finger to get more business. A business developer might actually pick up the receiver and dial, but how empty the calls would be compared the ones James could have.
When business falls off in a downturn, you can count on someone suggesting hiring a professional business developer. And, sometimes it makes sense to do so. More often it is simply a professional’s attempt to avoid responsibility for sales. People who do that aren’t thinking like partners.
(My next post will address when it might be a good idea to hire a business developer.)