A quality business development manager (BDM) remains one of the most effective ways for a provider to build and grow a relationship with an adviser. Three decades ago, BDMs were known as ‘inspectors' - a relic from a bygone age when an agency required ‘regular inspection' from the insurer who granted it. Now the language reflects the reality - providers offer a service to advisers and their clients and use BDMs to develop and run the account.
The traditional face-to-face BDM model is now complemented, and in some cases replaced, by tele-based BDMs. So the numbers of face-to-face or ‘field' BDMs has fallen, along with regional and branch presence. Several providers restrict their BDM support to key or national accounts, using tele BDMs to service the wider adviser market.
We should note also that advisers do not deal with many BDMs - according to our latest research on the subject, 60% of advisers deal with five or fewer BDMs in a year. Given this includes BDMs from all manner of providers - life company, investment firm, platform and so on - this shows gaining an adviser's attention is no easy task. It also shows some advisers are not ‘allocated' a BDM.
None of which is to question the use of tele BDMs in the slightest - although advisers do tend to treat such resource as transactional aides. The traditional relationship model is much harder to develop over the phone and evidence from the BWD Quality BDM Census suggests advisers see tele BDMs as very much about providing case support and technical expertise rather than sales development ideas or support.
Back in the days of the inspectors, the role required a lot of calls and some inspectors were characterised as ‘proposal collectors'. Gradually that has been eradicated and now providers are careful as to how the BDM resource is allocated.
So contact with advisers is highly targeted and the idea is that contact with an adviser is about the development of business, with processing being much more automated. As such, it is appropriate the more expensive resource is reserved for the genuine development roles.
Of course, it is not all about that. From an adviser's perspective, the priority issue can often be a live case and advisers dealing with BDMs set great store by their ability to help with individual cases - either on a technical issue or on some aspect of communications or servicing.
Some providers might tend to try to micro-manage this but the reality is the BDM is a relationship manager and that means flexibility is required as advisers require different things from time to time. The BDM who is only prepared, say, to run development workshops will seem a one-dimensional character and will fail to understand the adviser's real needs.
So what makes a good BDM?
Looking at the BDM Quality Census for this year, we can combine the quantitative findings with the qualitative assessments - and together these give a balanced picture of the ideal BDM. First there are some baseline requirements. A BDM must be reliable - this clearly gives the adviser confidence and, as with all core behaviours, one or two lapses can easily mark the end of a relationship.
Second, a BDM must be technically competent. Most advisers are generalists so it makes sense they should see value in a BDM whose grasp of technicalities is excellent in the area the BDM is promoting. Such expertise is most valued in the context of support on individual cases.
Third, the BDM must be accessible. There are few things more frustrating for an adviser than difficulty in getting hold of a BDM because, by definition, the matter only comes up when the adviser needs the BDM to assist. Finally, advisers place value on the BDM's experience and this includes the adviser's previous experience of a BDM at other providers.
There are also more refined skills that emerge as requirements when you look at the characteristics advisers value most. Many of these characteristics come under the heading of ‘empathy', which brings us to the pivotal question: whose business is the BDM there to develop - their employer's or the adviser's?
There should be commonality of interest, of course, so this becomes a matter of tone. The BDM who acts as product rep will not find favour with many advisers. There is no such thing as a good provider or a good product - just a product or solution that matches the needs of the adviser's clients.
So while an adviser, when faced with a choice between technical expertise and ability to provide sales ideas, will tend to favour the technical skills, when you ask advisers to describe what they are looking for in a BDM their answers will tend to emphasise the softer skills - "understands my business", doesn't pitch product to me", "makes a real effort to understand what I'm trying to do with my clients".
So the added value attribute is the ability to empathise, then add the skills to apply that empathy and, if all this is well grounded in the table stakes - expertise, reliability and experience - then you have indeed found a new model BDM.