Rise of the specialist?
Perhaps, like me, you’ve noticed a gradual,
yet transformational, shift in the structure of
business development (BD) teams in
Previously, many top firms set up dedicated
marketing or BD teams comprised of
generalists, with responsibility dependent
upon seniority. A team would have a
number of BD managers, perhaps looking
after specific service lines, who would be
the BD lead for initiatives, from PR to web
content to bids. Below, more junior team
members were tasked with assisting on
This model provided some benefits (for
instance, the managers became experts in
particular service lines) but also many
pitfalls. It is a simple fact that the skills to
deliver a stunning PR campaign are very
different to those required to coordinate a
series of seminars across a number of cities.
Each facet of BD requires different skill sets.
A ‘Jack (or Jill) of all trades’ is all-too-often
the master of none.
I believe this model is changing, with senior
management in many firms now implementing
structures both seniority and skill
based. Specialisms are now used as a focus
for delivering a more effective service.
However, there are many heads of BD, who
‘grew up’ in the permissive days of ‘generalism’.
They often have a good understanding
across all areas of BD rather than a
single, specific strength. They themselves may
not be able to deliver all aspects of BD, but
they know enough to look for the skills
within their teams to deliver what is
Today, I see many of the more progressive
managers in BD teams being specialists, with
a strong knowledge of a specific function, be
that social media, client targeting, CRM or
bid management, as just some examples. So
where will the future heads of BD come
from? With a narrow focus, how will a
senior marcomms manager gain an understanding
of the varied skill sets required to
deliver well-rounded BD for tomorrow’s
professional services firms?
It is imperative senior management develop
the stars in their teams, both to develop
their specialisms – after all, they must
continue to deliver today – and (looking to
the future) to gain exposure to wider BD
functions in order to be able to lead their
But the emphasis must also be on the individual.
By all means focus on your specialism
(it is why you are in your position today)
but appreciate you do not operate in a silo.
Get to know your colleagues, find out what
it takes to succeed in their job, discover
what skills are required to do the role.
To progress in your own career, you must
understand the whole BD picture, not just
your individual function.The whole must be
much more than simply the sum of its parts.
PM Forum North West and Bid Manager, Kennedys Law LLP