Creating an evidence-based BD strategy – Common pitfalls facing professional firms when they develop strategy

At last week’s breakfast roundtable, Meridian West’s Managing Director, Alastair Beddow, discussed how to create an evidence based BD strategy with representatives from leading professional firms. The discussion included a look at seven common pitfalls firms can encounter when developing strategy:

   1. Based on ‘gut feel’ not robust evidence

It is not uncommon for leaders in professional firms to have a strong ‘gut feel’ about the future strategic direction of their firm. While this intuitive sense will typically draw on extensive knowledge and experience of the external market, this alone is usually not a sufficient guide for making important decisions about which clients the firm should target or which new services the firm should develop. Robust evidence is essential to support those decisions, gain the buy-in of colleagues and present a clear business case for change.

   2. Internal metrics – not client or market data – is the primary source of intelligence

Internal metrics are only one source of business intelligence. Financial data and other internal management information are useful starting points – particularly where you have long-term trends data – but these information sources don’t show the full picture. To achieve a comprehensive view firms need to look at building evidence from clients (client listening, sector profiling and intermediary perspectives) and from staff (employee surveys, discussion forums and steering groups) to better understand their strategic opportunities and how well-placed the firm is to capitalise on these.

   3. Personal politics dictates strategy

Tricky internal politics exists in all firms. These need to be navigated smartly to mitigate any potential impact on strategy development. This can be a challenge but it needs to be addressed so as not to undermine strategic thinking. It’s not uncommon for those who shout loudest to have their voices heard.

   4. Trying to accommodate everybody leads to watered-down strategy

In a partnership structure, trying to keep everyone happy may foster a collegiate working culture, but it can lead to poor strategic decision-making.  To create a robust strategy with a clear focus that drives the firm forward, the leadership team will have to recognise that small sections of the firm may feel hard done by in the short-term.

   5. Tough decisions are parked

It can be tempting to put off big decisions, particularly if they will lead to some in the firm feeling disgruntled. A good strategy is equally about knowing when to say ‘no’ as it is about knowing what ideas to advance. Saying ‘no’ can be hard, but with a clear evidence base you can feel more confident it is the right decision.

   6. Wider firm members don’t feel part of the shared vision

Sharing any new strategy is not enough. It’s essential that the wider firm is included within the overall vision and strategy development, and is given an opportunity to feel listened to throughout the process. When managed well, this fosters greater buy-in and support, leading to successful strategy execution.

   7. Analysis paralysis

While data plays an important role in building the evidence base for change, avoid getting so bogged down in data and analysis that you struggle to see where the strategy needs to focus. Cut through to what’s important and avoid being side-tracked by the simply ‘interesting’ or ‘nice to know’.