How valuable is your pitch or business development team? Show them.
A global pandemic. The Great Resignation. Return to office. Work life balance. Recent research estimates that 40% of new hires quit in the first year. Retaining pitch and business development professionals is not easy in the best of times. Factor in the current climate and teams become harder to motivate, compensate, and retain.
It takes at least eight months for professionals to become productive and fully comfortable in a new service or industry, and to perform at peak. Replacing team members costs time and money, so retaining them should be prioritized. But how do we do that when there is stiff competition for resources?
I have managed business development teams, specifically pitch and proposal teams, and know the competition for these resources is particularly fierce. In professional services, where I’ve spent the last 18 years, turnover is high and the learning curve is long. But there are ways to keep your teams happy and motivated.
In a review of numerous recent articles (Forbes, Indeed, Robert Half, PwC, EY, to link a few), coupled with my own experience, I have come up with five keys to retain talent. Some of these things cost money, some cost time, but in the long run, it is cheaper to retain good talent than to hire new.
Invest in your employees: technology, training, time
Beyond just salary and benefits, investing in your team lets them know you want them to be successful and you are giving them the tools to do so. Training and technology are key in every industry and help your team work faster and smarter. Pitch teams have options for effective automation software and resources such as APMP have great training content. These tools not only help your team, but their higher production benefits your whole company.
And by investing time with them (one on one, listening and engaging), you find out more about what motivates them, frustrates them, and what you can be doing to help them succeed. Set your phone down, close your email, and engage with them authentically.
Be their biggest cheerleader: literally cheer them on
By sharing their successes or offering words of support on a tough assignment, you are letting them know that you have confidence in them. Most people thrive with positive reinforcement, so celebrate individual and team wins. And when they are struggling? Remain positive, give them space for making mistakes and an outlet for frustration, and assure them that you have their back.
Don’t ask them to do anything you have not done or would not do
Pitch teams in particular work long days and nights, weekends, and holidays to get documents out the door, maneuvering around everyone else’s schedule. When you have the opportunity, ask for a deadline to be moved out from a holiday or encourage supporting teams to finish up before a weekend. We can’t always control the schedule, but we can be sure to give a short break between tough projects.
Give them space to succeed: flexibility
Now that the pandemic has taught us that our teams can successful and productive working from home, allow your team to work where and when it is most productive for them. Perhaps a balance of WFH and in-office is best (I know it is for me) so that early morning and late-night meetings can be balanced with taking care of family and home, but you still have the opportunity for face-to-face relationship development. Trust your team to know what is best for them.
Reward them: salary and more
Of course, making sure everyone is paid fairly is critical, but there are other gestures you can make that will be meaningful to your team. In pitching, we often say ‘show, don’t tell’ in our work, and the same goes for our team. Some examples:
- Hold one-on-one meetings offsite occasionally, such as during a manicure or over a coffee (at your expense)
- Drop off donuts, lunch, or fruit in your team’s workspace for no particular reason
- Send a note on a random Friday afternoon to end an hour early, or maybe spirit the team off a pub
- When a team member earns a promotion, celebrate with the team but also give them a small, personal gift and/or note
- When visiting team members not co-located in my city, I always take a gift from my city to share; I learned this practice from my colleagues in the Philippines and it was so welcoming and heartfelt.
- Suggest or approve professional memberships and conferences for them to attend; encourage socialization with colleagues in the industry
I’ve done these things out of my own pocket on many occasions, and its worth it to me (although having a business slush fund for such things is even better). A happy, loyal team produces better work, fosters a positive atmosphere, and works together toward success.
Good pitch writers and business development professionals are valuable. Make sure they know it, and not only will you get a more productive team, but the cost of turnover won’t impact your success.
About the Author
Nora Navin is currently an independent consultant in professional services and technology business development. She spent the first half her 30-year career at tech companies and the latter in professional services, in various business development roles including leading high performing pitch and proposal teams. Connect with her on LinkedIn.