At ConvergenceCoaching, LLC, we are practitioners and proponents of Anytime, Anywhere Work™ (ATAWW), where we allow team members to work from anywhere (remotely from an alternate location or geography) at anytime (on a schedule that fits each individual’s life). We’ve been running our business under an ATAWW model for 21+ years and along the way, teaching our accounting firm and consulting clients how to do so as well. We truly believe that more remote and blended work is where the market is headed, where some people work full-time in the office, others work a mix of from home/elsewhere/in the office, and a third group work from a location outside the firm’s geographies. This blended or hybrid model of workforce management is the future, and we’re committed to helping practitioners make the necessary changes to get there quickly.
Along the way, a common objection we hear to remote and blended work is this – won’t remote employees be limited in their career growth because they can’t develop business? Our answer is overwhelmingly that the sky is the limit for your remote team members because they CAN develop business!
Breaking down this myth starts with the recognition that we are all trapped in a 3-D paradigm, believing that certain things can only be done when we’re together in-person, where we share the same physical space. There are very few things that require us to be in-person – shaking hands, hugging, sharing the same food, and maybe counting inventory (although firms are doing that over video-conferencing tools, drones and other technology). Everything else can be re-engineered for the remote or blended paradigm. Let’s look at some places where people get stuck in the 3-D paradigm related to business development and examine the mindset shifts required to overcome those old, outmoded ways of thinking.
Myth: We can’t picture how a fully remote manager INSIDE OUR GEOGRAPHY will be able to develop business.
Business development expectations for a remote manager INSIDE YOUR GEOGRAPHY can be the same as for on-premise managers. Remote managers can develop relationships with local referral sources, meeting them for lunch or bringing them to in-person or remote meetings with clients. These remote leaders can adjust their work-from-home schedule to attend local, in-person networking meetings that are a good fit for their own personal marketing goals. Ultimately they can adjust their work location to successfully manage the business development needs of their role.
We believe that flex is a two-way street. This means that the firm is willing to be flexible with team members, and at times remote team members need to flex UP to meet work objectives. When there’s a need for it, it’s fair to ask your remote team members to change their schedule or work location. The further ahead you make the request, the more likely the team member will be able to accommodate the need. Think of changing work location for business development as flexing up, and you’ll realize it’s a fair request.
There is one caveat - we’re big proponents of one-size-fits-one management, meaning we look at each person’s strengths and weaknesses to create a career development plan that fits their specific set of gifts and talents. Those who are more relational and have the potential to be gifted in business development should be tasked with more opportunities to network, develop thought leadership, spend time with referral sources and pursue prospects. They’ll need to give up time spent in other areas – maybe technical skills development and research, client management, people development, or departmental/firm management – to create capacity to focus on business development.
If you look, you almost certainly have managers and partners who are less skilled at business development now and as a result, focus more in other areas. Your remote managers will follow a similar pattern, so be realistic with your expectations and think one-size-fits-one as you create roles and responsibilities.
Myth: What about a remote manager working OUTSIDE OUR GEOGRAPHY? Surely, they can’t be expected to develop business in our LOCAL GEOGRAPHY.
Geographically remote managers CAN help you develop business in your local area if you’re willing to break out of the 3-D paradigm. First, recognize that millennials (the oldest of whom are in their 40’s) and Gen Z are comfortable with building relationships using digital tools. Many of them aren’t interested in lunches and in-person meetings as the primary tools to build rapport. Among those targets (and even more mature individuals), there is an increasing openness to a remote approach to building a relationship and receiving service. That same openness likely exists within your current clients. What if you asked clients and incoming prospects about their remote preference, and assigned those who were open to remote service to your geographically remote managers?
Referral sources, the second largest source of new clients in public accounting behind existing client referrals, can also be nurtured over the phone and via video conference call. Finding the right referral sources is a little like dating – some relationships work, and others just don’t. Encourage your geographically remote managers to reach out on LinkedIn and “hold some dates” with local-geography referral sources, working toward the goal of cultivating 3-5 new referral relationships in your local area.
The in-person networking meeting does pose a challenge for geographically remote managers. For instance, it wouldn’t make sense to fly in a remote manager for the monthly Chamber of Commerce event or Lions Club meeting. There are, however, ways to network remotely. Social media marketing is an excellent way to connect and build relationships that can be nurtured over phone and video. Geographically remote team members can develop and share on-point thought leadership that draws targets to their expertise. Work with your geographically-remote managers to identify their “personal marketing mix” – the assortment of activities they can commit to that will result in creating relationships and ultimately prospects choosing your firm. That mix is unique for each leader, remote or on-premise.
Lastly, bring geographically remote managers in at intervals to connect in person with your team, clients, and prospects (perhaps for 3 days every 4 months). Teach them to use that time wisely, setting aside their normal “heads down” work to strategically maximize their in-person contact with internal and external networking and collaboration while they are in your office.
Firms with a regional or national practice will find remote business development easier to picture, because they are more likely to be employing these techniques already across office. These rainmakers recognize that relationships can be built, strengthened, and maintained without having to always be 3-D with their targets and referral sources.
And, when we build practices that aren’t geographically bound (niche practices operating regionally or even nationally), we become less concerned with where our people live. This creates the exciting possibility of having a team around the country that is building and expanding new business in their individual geographies and throughout the country. Client and team member growth is no longer limited to the possibilities inside our current geographies.
Myth: Cross-selling is such a big area of opportunity for growth for our firm, but it requires lots of internal coordination and trust amongst the various internal parties. How will we build trust amongst our own team if we aren’t together in person?
You’ll build trust internally when you do so purposefully and with intentionality! Relationships don’t depend upon being together in person, they depend on the amount of time spent getting to know each other and collaborating - something we all had to put into action during the pandemic. We build relationships by staying connected, being authentic with each other, asking questions and connecting with and remembering what we learn, and ultimately delivering what we promise. None of those activities requires being in person.
There’s no doubt that it is NICE to be in person with each other! Use opportunities to be together wisely. Rainmakers should have a regular practice to connect with internal leaders, peers and subordinates remotely and when they come into the office for an event, they should calendar and connect 3-D with as many people as they can.
Myth: We think remote managers will be on a different career trajectory because they can’t develop business remotely.
Now that we’ve broken down the objections to developing business when working remotely, the career trajectory argument breaks down right along with it. If business development is a requirement to becoming a partner in your firm, help your remote managers devise a personal marketing plan that stretches them and builds their personal brand as well as your firm’s in the marketplace. Assist them in identifying the right referral sources, remote networking opportunities, and target clients to approach and cultivate relationships with. Encourage their efforts, capturing what works so that others can benefit from their exploration of remote selling. Share strategies with all rainmakers since remote selling saves time and travel dollars. You may find that your long-time, traditional sellers learn to incorporate more remote selling techniques into their regular sales processes.
Business development can be an expectation for your remote managers, and they have the same opportunities to elevate and grow to leadership positions in your firm as those that work in the office. With the right focus, use of simple technologies you have in your firm today, and changes in approach, team members can develop business no matter where they work.
What changes in mindset and approach do you need to make to help your remote team members contribute to firm growth? We hope you’ll get started today.