The Three Mindset Barriers to Business Development

In my work coaching professionals around business development, I’ve found that there are usually three reasons people turn to a coach:

1. Skills

When you make partner, your job fundamentally changes: you’re expected to bring in business, not just work on it. But most firms do a poor job preparing associates or managers to become partners, and as such, they enter the role without a clear idea about how to develop business. There’s a skill gap, and learning basic techniques, or more often, learning to put in place techniques that they already understand, is helpful.

2. Accountability

At most firms, partners still have to manage and work on client matters, and it’s easy for business development activities to fall by the wayside when faced with more immediate client needs. Having a regular meeting with a coach provides an added bit of accountability to help someone keep their business development activities moving forward.

3. Mindset

Even when someone knows what to do and has made the time to do it, their own thoughts can get in the way. Unlike normal work that has processes and deadlines to act as a forcing function, business development is much less structured. Further, it’s often a new and different type of activity that comes with associated risks, both real and imagined, to a professional’s sense of self. Faced with something new, different, and scary, many professionals will make excuses or just choose to focus on something else.

Interestingly, when we have initial conversations, most professionals self-identify with either skills or accountability as their primary barriers, but we invariably uncover that there are mindset barriers getting in the way as well. In my work, I’ve found three types of mindset barriers that hold professionals back:

The Three Mindset Barriers

1. Time Management

There really is a finite amount of time in any professional’s day, and business development is one more activity to balance alongside client demands, professional or firm commitments, and their personal lives. Finding the time for business development involves making real, difficult choices about what to focus on, finding opportunities to delegate or defer less critical work, and learning to say no.

2. Resilience

Most professionals were academically successful, and because we were academically successful, people told us we were smart. Unfortunately, many of us now associate success or failure as a reflection of our innate abilities, and so we try to avoid failure at all costs. But business development is naturally probabilistic and prone to failure. Some prospective clients aren’t interested, some aren’t ready, and others will flat out say no. Professionals, who have been trained by years of success to avoid failure need to learn to shift their mindset and become resilient enough to bounce back quickly from failure and learn from it.

3. Confidence

Having too much or too little confidence can hurt a professional in developing business. Imposter syndrome – when high-achieving individuals fail to internalize their achievements and instead feel like they’ll be discovered as a fraud – makes you doubt your own abilities, and in turn makes it hard for you to convince others to believe in them. Further, professional experience has taught a senior practitioner all the things that can go wrong in a project, and this can lead them to undersell the benefits. At the same time, other professionals suffer from over-confidence to the point of arrogance, lacking the humility and empathy to listen to a client’s needs and build trust, or they oversell their capabilities and win a single project at the expense of a long term relationship. When it comes to business development, confidence is really about calibration – using experience to rectify areas of low confidence and humility to temper over-confidence.