Molly Sargent

Develop a Firm-wide Approach to Winning Business

Key best-in-class business development practices revealed.

May 4, 2009
by Molly Sargent

Business used to walk in the door. CPAs and their partners could depend upon their firm’s sterling reputation, loyal clients and regular referrals to help them win and keep business. But given the downturn in the economy, CPAs now need to really stand out despite their strong brand. What’s worse is that your clients might even be looking around at your competition. For you, the new challenge is to find ways to attract new clients, keep and grow existing clients and do this without exhausting your already hard-working staff. The solution? A firm-wide approach to business development.

When only the top of the firm is responsible for rainmaking, the output is limited and hard won. By contrast, a firm-wide approach to business development leverages every member of the organization and maximizes the relationships that are in place. The issue is to understand — and implement — the critical elements of a truly effective firm-wide, client-centered culture in which it is everyone’s responsibility to help land contracts.

There are three categories of Best-In-Class Business Development Practices: strategy, skills and systems. And they all must be in place at every level of a CPA company to get the best business development results. The following questions will help you to assess your own readiness to get everyone engaged in bringing in business.

Begin with strategy. Ask yourself and your partners: “How well do we do the following?”

  • Identify ideal clients: What are the common traits of your best clients? From personality to profitability, what companies and what decision-makers make sense for you?
  • Plan and manage a book of business: How well do the rainmakers in your firm use their time and your collective resources to win, build and maintain clients? Knowing what businesses to go after helps make sure that precious resources aren’t wasted and that golden opportunities aren’t overlooked.
  • “Fire” non-profitable clients: While every client is valuable, some are more valuable than others, and when it comes to assigning time and resources to a client, the question remains: How worthwhile is the relationship to your firm?
  • Leverage resources: Does your company have the right people on the right projects at the right time? For instance, do you take too many people on your calls with clients?

Build skills and processes.

  • What’s your client-engagement approach? Tactically speaking, would all of your rainmakers give you the same answer to the question: What are the top five steps we need to take when working together to win a client? If the answers are different, this may indicate that you don’t have a well-understood or agreed-upon approach to client engagements. And this can get in the way of your people efficiently — and consistently — winning contracts.
  • How capable are your people? Everyone doesn’t need to be good at every aspect of engaging clients, but they do need to understand what their roles are, and how to do their part of the process. They may need some skills training to be successful.

Coordinate support systems.

  • Are they working for us? From communication to compensation, performance management to rewards and recognition, is your company’s human-resources infrastructure serving your people and your goals? Your associates and partners alike want to know clearly what you expect, and then they expect to be acknowledged and rewarded for their efforts and success.
  • How coordinated are you as a team? A team approach is imperative. Is your firm motivated, compensated and coordinated to partner with one another, from partners to associates, in order to win business?


Firm-wide attention on client satisfaction means that every member of your organization – front-office personnel, associates, back-office personnel and partners — needs to embrace a client-centered attitude and ability in their work. The reason? When everyone is involved in winning business, everyone wins.

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Molly Sargent is the Principal of Norwalk, Connecticut-based Professional Impressions Consulting. She has trained and coached thousands of financial professionals and client-facing executives in professional image, presentation skills, business etiquette and sales effectiveness. Since 1985, Molly has helped major accounting firms and Fortune 500 companies, including Aetna, American Express, AT&T, Citibank, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, Key Bank, MasterCard, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Prudential achieve breakthrough results.