In a piece first published in PSMG’s Centrum magazine, Rebecca Ellis, Director at Totum, discusses the latest trends in recruitment in professional services, and how BD & marketing functions are supporting their firms into the future.
With Covid-19 office life suddenly stopped and our cities fell silent. At the start of lockdown, the choices were relatively simple – ie, there were very few. Now we face the many complexities of trying to open up again. But beneath the quiet surface, business services functions in professional services firms have been busy doing what they do best: supporting their firms through these times of uncertainty to what we hope will be better times ahead.
At Totum, we always spend a lot time talking to firms and individuals across the market. Since late March, we have held numerous virtual networking meetings across business services functions in professional services firms, including with BD and marketing managers and leaders at Director and CMO level. This has enabled us to get a view of the market, how teams have coped through lockdown and how they are now planning for the future.
In terms of hiring, firms are understandably cautious, which has resulted in reduced recruitment activity. But we are still helping to place business critical roles both in the UK and internationally. We also expect that firms that have been hanging fire on placements will resume activity as conditions hopefully improve. In keeping with previous periods of uncertainty, we anticipate temporary, interim and contract roles will accelerate as firms scale requirements up and down through changing market conditions.
Working through change
Beyond recruitment, firms are talking about when offices can become operational again (most firms are looking at some level of return from September). But no-one knows if or when they will be at full capacity once more. Firms have been running regular employee surveys, which suggest that many want to work from home for the foreseeable future. By the time Covid-19 ceases to be a threat, concepts of normal working practices may well have shifted for good.
In the meantime, however, BD and marketing leaders have been tasked with becoming effective remote managers. This has been particularly important to support people who have found homeworking hard – for example, junior members of staff who do not have ideal ‘home office’ conditions, nor the embedded working relationships that more senior members of staff enjoy. No matter what an individual’s circumstances, leaders have had to fast learn new skills in sustained remote communication and engagement.
A first step for BD and marketing leaders was ensuring team members have had the additional equipment they need to work from home. But so too has been conducting regular ‘check-in’ conversations with teams that prioritise health and wellbeing.
Alongside this, BD & marketing leaders have been working hard to keep teams motivated. Virtual meetings that started as Friday drinks or quizzes at the beginning of lockdown have now shifted to more work-related meetings focused on career development or knowledge sharing. Some teams have been able to set up virtual workshops around issues such as what clients will need post-Covid. Teams are also trying to support their firms to shift to more virtual pitching/selling activities with coaching and workshops to enable this.
With the help of BD and marketing professionals, partners are learning how to improve their virtual collaboration with each other, as well as interact effectively with clients to improve their relationships. This is an area that BD and marketing functions have long worked on with partners, but the results are perhaps more evident now without the many distractions of busy office life.
In other areas, the pandemic has accelerated conversations and the implementation of plans. Many of these were happening within firms already, but now they are moving at pace. The most immediate example is in how the BD and marketing function has taken responsibility for advancing digital channels of communication, and platforms for virtual events and meetings. Events professionals have had to quickly become experts in virtual delivery. Whilst firms continue to look at new products and suppliers, and learn what can be achieved, it is quite incredible the difference this has made to how events and seminars will be run longer term.
The ability to bring people together globally and in a time efficient way has meant greater participation and attendance for many. Some events can be recorded and enjoyed across time zones and at a client’s convenience. As a result of this, we expect to see more requirement generally across roles for digital skills and experience, but also specialist teams growing.
Conversations that were initially centred on the immediate crisis have become focused on planning for the future, working out what will be the new norm but most importantly the opportunities that are open to teams and firms. Many BD leaders have fed back to us that they have enjoyed increased exposure to partners since lockdown began, and they have particularly appreciated their ability to share knowledge and help bring together different parts of the business.
They are seeing this time as an opportunity: to demonstrate the merits of a sector-driven approach, highlight the importance of internal communication, expedite change in areas such as investment in technology and improved client engagement, and be more human in a firm’s positioning. Positive changes like this will outlive Covid.
What has struck us over the last few months is the huge willingness among firms to share ideas and knowledge – their collective determination to make things work no matter what the challenges. No-one is pretending this is easy, everyone right now is being forced to think differently. But BD & marketing teams are yet again proving their huge value: ensuring that whatever the changes ahead, firms can adapt and grow.
To early September, we have been steadily getting busier with an increasing number of placements in BD and marketing functions. If you would like to find out more about these opportunities, or for more general information on the market or our work, please contact Rebecca at [email protected].