Poll Results: Are New Business Development Skills a “Must Have”?

Avatar photoKristen Rampe, CPA / Nov 30, 2021

The staffing shortage continues to put pressure on CPA firms from top to bottom. Most firms already have enough clients, and serving them is often prioritized over looking for more.

For most accounting professionals, choosing between starting on another client engagement or engaging in business development is easy: the client always wins. After all, approximately zero accounting majors chose this field because they were excited about the idea of networking and selling. That’s fine for the majority of employees, but what happens at the top? Is there a place for non-business-getters to be owners in a public accounting practice?

We asked our readers if business development skills were a requirement for a person to be promoted to equity partner at their firms. We received 69 responses, and here are the results:New Biz Dev Required Graph

Are skills and achievement in the area of new business development required for someone to make equity partner at your firm?

  • 56% “Yes – some. All equity partners are expected to do a meaningful degree of new business development, though not everyone has to be a rainmaker.”
  • 32% “No – nice, but not required. Our firm has enough work right now (or we have a specific need for different skills), which allows us to have some equity partners who only do a minimum amount of, or not participate in, new business development.”
  • 12% “Yes – significant. All equity partners are expected to do significant new business development. It’s a must for our firm to continue to achieve our growth and strategic goals.”

Our book How to Bring in New Partners is written for firms fortunate enough to have staff with the right stuff to be a partner. This book addresses all of these areas and more, including: ►how do firms develop staff into partners and when are they ready  should we have non-equity partners what is the process for bringing in a new partner how do new partners get compensated what should the buy-in amount be.

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A few partners commented with their perspectives on the matter.

“We have never required new partners to bring in new business. We felt that ‘client keepers’ were very important and deserved a partnership role.

This has not been a problem so far, but we see one looming. The client-getting partners have aged, and if the two oldest retire that would leave only one real powerhouse business getter…As I look back, it probably was foolish to not require new partners to spend a portion of their time developing relationships that would create more sales opportunities as well as an ongoing ethos for new business growth.” – Tony Rose


“In our firm, some level of business development is required for advancement past a manager level. In order to create equity partner opportunities the firm has to grow, and those that want that need to contribute towards growing the firm.

In my opinion, if someone has the skills to manage client relationships they can be taught business development skills. In the market today business development doesn’t require a lot more than networking skills. Developing relationships with attorneys and investment advisors is all you really need to do. We make it a point of emphasis to connect the younger generations within our firm to the younger generations at our referral source firms.” – Greg Railsback

See our previous post’s comment section for more.

Requiring some level of business development acumen, or aptitude, seems prudent. As noted above, these skills can be taught. It may not be the topic that has your managers celebrating, but with the right presentation and coaching, the thought of talking to referral sources, prospects and closing a sale doesn’t have to be petrifying.

There’s a balancing act to perform here. While it’s imperative to have these skills to sustain your business, if the bar appears too high, you may not have any takers. Proactively identifying partner candidates at your firm, and grooming them for the role so that they see how they fit into the ownership picture, is essential.

Comment below. How are you fostering business development and other key partner-level skills in your future leaders?

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