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How to get younger people and emerging leaders more engaged in bringing business into the firm

Sue-Ella Prodovonich explains that professional firms need to create the right environment for marketing and sales and must support younger professionals, even if they fail at the first attempt.

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Getting younger professionals involved in business development - Sue-Ella Prodovonich provides tips
"Firms need to consider their philosophy around younger people – even if they are expensive, they need to be given the skills and direction so that they can contribute."

Sue-Ella Prodovonich

With director level experience in marketing and business development at major international law and accounting firms, as well as having studied the psychology of buying professional services, Sue-Ella Prodovonich is a genuine authority in how firms should approach getting their people to focus on bringing more business into the firm. In this article, Sue-Ella, a recent speaker at the 2017 Worldwide Conference, presents a number of ideas and tips on how to ensure the firm's younger professional fee earners are motivated to contribute to the firm's growth and future success. 

Let younger professionals make mistakes

One of Sue Ella's key points was that younger professionals are, for the most part, keen on being part of a team, but after their first experiences or mistakes, they become fearful and start playing it safe and waiting for senior professionals to give them the ideas: "Firm leaders need to let their younger people go out and see what they can do and if necessary, make a mistake. Firms need to help their younger professionals to rise to the top." 

Firms also need to consider their philosophy around younger people. Even if they are perceived as expensive to employ, Sue-Ella made the point that "they need to be given the skills and direction so that they can contribute. The firm needs to look at itself and perhaps conduct a survey to assess attitudes."

Beware of succession issues with your CLIENTS

Firms also need to be careful that they don't have a succession issue with their clients as the generations leading these organisations change: "Who do your clients want to see on your teams? Do they want to hear from the old white guys? From the “pale, stale, male” brigade?" joked Sue-Ella. 

Firms were advised to keep a close eye on the gender and demographics of their clients' leadership teams and their referral contacts and to mirror appropriately. 

Can your younger professionals be motivated?

While Sue-Ella commented that some younger fee earners have a 'trust fund mentality' in that they are not motivated and feel a sense of 'entitlement', she proposed that it can be a matter of ensuring younger people have the opportunity to develop the right skills: 

"Some will feel that they just have to wait for a partner to die or retire and then they will inherit a book of business rather than get out there networking and building new business. Motivating young people can be about skills, but it can be down to a lack of motivation."

Is the firm environment right for the younger mindset?

Sue-Ella questioned whether firms have an environment which encourages creativity and trying out new things – the environment in some firms can be too analytical which will not work with young people’s mindset: "Firm leaders also need to provide specific examples of ideas, actions or outcomes that they seek from their younger people."

Members: Download Prodovonich's presentation

Provide context

Sue-Ella suggested that firms should always be transparent and provide context: "Let younger people know what their cost of production is i.e. their cost to the firm and the return expected from them."

Firms should also articulate their competitive position to younger people so that they understand the firm's strategy for growth. According to Prodovonich, firms should for example let younger fee earners look over tenders so that they can critique them.

Also, if there are ‘hero stories’ or signature wins, firms should tell the younger staff about these so that they can talk about them out in the market as well as what the firm is working on at the current time. Training should also be given so that younger people understand the most common business challenges faced by their clients. 

Keep some classics in the library

Sue-Ella also suggested that new thinking should be mixed with the thinking of the old masters such as Meister or Dale Carnegie i.e. the things that worked years ago and still have relevance today.

The scale of young people’s networks should not be underestimated either, according to Sue-Ella, as these will expand exponentially during the late teens and early twenties. These networks can really help a firm's LinkedIn company following to grow. 

The elevator pitch is gone

Young people should also be armed with a pitch, according to Prodovonich: "While the elevator pitch is gone, firm leaders need to give younger people the confidence so that they can have a conversation in which they can explain what your firm does. Enable them to articulate what the firm is really good at and which clients you have worked with."

Rather than pitch, Prodovonich suggested that people need to learn how to develop rapport and how to have trusting conversations and relationships: "Now that there is so much information in the market, it can be a better situation for the introvert who can be a better listener and who will dial down their power so that they are more equal with the client."  

Prodovonich suggested that a firm's pitch could, for example, "be about their heritage or indeed their recent entry into the market. Or maybe one of the firm's lawyers has gone on to be a high court judge."

Use of social media and 'looking the part'

Younger people should also be allowed to be visible on social media, suggested Prodovonich: "Empower them to blog, research, write articles, present at seminars and network." 

When it comes to their profile photos on social media sites, Prodovonich emphasised that firms should always go down the professional photograher route to ensure younger people look the part. 

Provide targets

Giving younger people targets will ensure that they start their networking in the way you want them to continue it. Sue-Ella proposed that firms could benchmark business development by specifying targets such as the need to get involved in at least one external activity per week or one networking event each month. 

New networking opportunities

Young people should also be encouraged to try out new networking opportunities through apps such as Meetup or General Assembly where the training or content is determined by the group: "This is a good way for them to find people who share the same values and interests," advised Prodovonich. She also suggested that while younger people should be allowed to network in new ways, that they need to understand that professional services is a people business and that they do also need to be out there networking in the market:

"People need to understand the career pathway in the firm i.e. that they need to do certain things to make it to partner level."

Gamify business development

It was also proposed that business development should be made more fun, with a scoring system that might reward staff with e.g. 10 points for taking a client to a networking event or 15 points for visiting a client at their offices. 

Personal business plans

Easy measures such as the number of LinkedIn connections should be included in younger fee earners' personal business plans, suggested Prodovonich: "Or give them insights into which clients they need to look after, which referral sources they need to cultivate, or which prospects they need to pursue."

Establish trade mark behaviours

Finally, Prodovonich encouraged firms to establish trademark behaviours and the style of working in their firms so that it is clear - Sue-Ella used "Work hard and be nice to people" as an example of a statement that would be understood. 

Members: Download Prodovonich's presentation