Business development

How do consultants get work? Where do projects come from? Who is in charge of making sure we don’t run out of work? These are all questions I didn’t know the answer to before I joined and it took me a while to really understand the answers even after a year in the business.

This post will focus on ‘bid work’ – how consultancies win new work – rather than all aspects of business development.


You do what?Help senior colleagues win new work

First, a brief description of what business development is. Investopedia summarises it nicely here as: “The ideas, initiatives and activities aimed towards making a business better.”

In most businesses, there are departments and teams dedicated to business development (BD). In Consulting, we still have these teams, but the majority of BD work is actually carried out by the consultants on the ground, delivering projects. BD includes a range of activities in order to ‘make the business better’:

  • Winning new work with clients (‘bid work’)
  • Designing new methodologies and frameworks to solve client issues
  • Growing or creating new teams
  • Developing internal training courses

Aside from the first bullet, these activities are also referred to as ‘Practice Development’ or PD.

As mentioned, in this post I’ll focus on bid work and discuss PD at a later date.

The ‘normal’ cycle that occurs around wining new work: The client releases a request for proposal (RFP) outlining the problem they need help solving, we respond to the RFP with a bespoke and glossy brochure that outlines why the client should choose us, the client then hosts each consultancy to pitch this information to them and finally decide which firm to go with; ‘the winner’. Often, there will be several Big 4 firms, and the occasional smaller firm, bidding for the work.

There are other ways that work can originate and most of this comes down to the networks of the senior members of the firm. Check out my post on Networking [coming soon] for more on this.

As would be expected, most business development is driven by the more senior staff in the company, but graduates often offer an extra pair of hands, especially if we’d otherwise be on the bench. It can be grueling work – having to iterate versions of a presentation until they are beyond perfection, or changing the design and structure of a slide deck continuously – but it can be extremely interesting to see how decisions are made to give us the best chance of winning new work.

Here are some of the more interesting things graduates get to learn about during bid work:

  • How to communicate clearly and effectively with a client
  • How to ‘sell’ to different types of people/clients
  • How we price our projects
  • How to innovate and stand-out from the crowd
  • How the minds of more senior colleagues work

And here are some of the less sexy activities involved:

  • Making a framework slide deck and collecting all the contents from different members of the bid team
  • Re-wording slides hundreds of times until everyone is happy
  • Sending slides to the graphics team and describing, slide-by-slide what needs to be done
  • Working to tight deadlines

Bid work is unique in that it is not our core business (delivering projects) but is vital to sustaining the company. We aren’t charging fees to anyone when working on a bid so often it has to be done in conjunction with project work and can make for a very busy schedule. It’s interesting to be involved in a few different bids and try to understand why we won or lost each one. As you progress through the business, bid work becomes increasingly important so learning about it as a graduate offers a peek into the future.

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