Employees in professional services critical of business development teams

07 September 2017 Consultancy.uk 5 min. read

According to their own employees, professional services firms are failing when it comes to business development compared to other industries. Employees in professional services are very critical of their own colleagues, however, suggesting they set the bar much higher than expectations among other industries.

The professional service industry has been plagued with questions about the effectiveness of its business development operations for a long time. A 2015 survey of 530 professional services firms, conducted by Hinge Marketing, found that attracting and developing new business was the top business challenge facing professional services, with 71% saying it was a problem for them. The market for professional services has, meanwhile, become increasingly competitive, as the desire for transformational advisory services to combat digital disruption has fuelled a growth in new entrants.

Now, a survey from ViewsHub, a team-to-team ratings platform, has shown that business development teams in professional services companies, including law, engineering and architectural firms, and management consultancies, are ineffective and do not command the confidence of other employees. ViewsHub surveyed over 50,000 employees from 9 sectors, with the workplace evaluation company asking them to rate the effectiveness of their teams. Departments were then ranked according to three criteria: their ability to get things done; how technically good they are at their jobs; and how responsive they are to other teams. From this, a total average score was determined.

Quality of business development services

The result of this weighted process was that business development (BD) departments in professional services companies finished rock bottom. BD departments in professional services firms were deemed: slow to deliver results, under experienced, and unresponsive to criticism according to the ratings of fellow employees. The departments received an average effectiveness score of 3.36 out of 5, a distant result from the industry leaders of communications (4.10), automotive (4.03), and financial services (4.03) departments.

This will undoubtedly concern executives at top professional service firms, as the sector comes under increasing pressure from digital disruption and increased competition. Without improvement, such firms could be handing business to new market innovators, who leverage new technology to win over previous clients of market incumbents.

A wake-up call?

According to Ab Banerjee, CEO of ViewsHub, the results are a wake-up call for the professional services industry, which signify how they are falling flat when it comes to the effectiveness of their business development. Banerjee warned that unless the issue is tackled swiftly, it could ultimately lead to company failures.

"Many professional services firms have focused, understandably, on recruiting and training fee earners to the detriment of support staff – a category that business development staff often fall into at the largest consultancies and law firms. Our data appears to suggest that this approach is now coming home to roost. Professional services companies may well now be under-investing in business development to a dangerous level.”

Professional services versus other industries

However, while the statistics suggest that, from the perspective of fellow employees at least, BD departments will need to significantly up their game, this should not preclude other departments from examining their own practices to improve standards. In the data, professional services were rated as below average on every factor by employees. While it would be easy to simply conclude in line with the figures that they are underperforming while every other department is at least adequate, the standards of the employees in professional services departments may be different to those elsewhere in companies. Staff working in professional services are typically well educated, while committed to striving to find best practices and efficiency savings, which are some of the most basic aspects of their daily work. Implicitly this might indicate that they would also tend to be highly critical of their own services. Employees in other departments might be significantly less introspective with their judgements as a result.

When examined compartmentally, the poll still showed professional services firms’ individual departments were slightly below industry averages. However, other groups were not far behind, and certainly a long way from satisfactory. HR departments, for example, which scored the lowest rating of 2.5, were also poorly rated across the board, registering a 2.8 industry average, suggesting dire need for improvement in departments beyond the world of professional services. Closely following this were professional services sector product development departments, which scored a 2.8 – compared to a 3.0 industry average.

Still remarking on the key pattern for professional services firms, Ab Banjeree stated, “The challenge for many professional services companies is that they aren’t collecting data about how their different business units, from BD through to senior management, are performing in the eyes of both their own workforce and potential clients. To have a chance of success they need to follow the lead of big organisations in other sectors and roll out the latest feedback technology, so they can get real-time performance and effectiveness data across their company.”