EPISODE 392: KPMG Biz Dev Expert Shannon Jameson Says These Strategies Helped Her Succeed in the Virtual World

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the Women in Sales Webinar sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales on July 12, 2021. It featured KPMG Business Development Leader Shannon Jameson.]

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Find Shannon on LinkedIn here.

SHANNON’S TIP FOR EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Look at the people that you know that may not play in the same space but are well respected and participate in an economic development authority or a citizen’s board of some sort, or a relevant not-for-profit board. Get in touch with them and connect and just make it a conversation about what you’re seeing and how you’re reacting to the changes over the past year. I was really amazed and so appreciative that I had that support system and was able to provide that for others.”


Gina Stracuzzi: I love conversations around business development outside of sales, really talking about the business development strategies, because that’s where the crux of my career has been spent. To me, there’s such separation sometimes and you’ve got to have both, you really have to have strong business development to have strong sales.  I’m really looking forward to our conversation.

Before we get into it knee-deep, why don’t you tell us a little bit about your background and how you got to your role in KPMG and why you love business development so much? And then we’ll take it from there.

Shannon Jameson: Sure, thanks. To your point, it took me a little while to learn the difference between sales and business development. Some of that I think comes full-circle to where we are today. I started my business development career in inside sales, I wasn’t particularly good at it. I was very disconnected to the people part.

Over a certain amount of time, I found myself at the Northern Virginia Technology Council as Director of Membership and that’s a very people-focused position. It’s making sure that the members get value out of their membership and that’s why smaller members need maybe a mid-sized board member. Just working that connectivity and understanding people’s business and understanding their problems, trying to be a solution more than trying to bring a product or service to them.

In my mind, there’s a way to establish all these relationships and they don’t have to be productive. Over time, I discovered that services was where I was more comfortable than selling a particular technology. I was at Dixon Hughes for quite a while, I was focused in the metro DC market mostly in government contractors for tax and audit work and enjoyed it.

There you’re asking to connect with people, you’re asking to meet with people but it takes a long time to move an audit. The expectations of those firms is that they need you to stay engaged with the customer, find out what their pain points are, get the relevant meetings. Then after about six years at Dixon Hughes, KPMG reached out.

I now work for their deal advisory and strategy group in the mid-Atlantic and it’s much more interesting in terms of the services that deal advisory and strategy brings to the market versus just tax and audit sales. I’ve been enjoying it, KPMG’s a great firm. That’s in a nutshell how I got here.

Gina Stracuzzi: That’s the first time I’ve heard that in a title, deal advisory. To me, that’s a large part of what business development is. You’re building those relationships, you’re nurturing them and then you help craft the solution, as you say, to what they need. It’s not just a salesperson saying, “This is what you should have, this is what I think you need.” It comes out of a place of actual knowledge.

Shannon Jameson: Right, so rather than having a person like me sell the whole firm, which KPMG does a lot, it’s difficult to understand all the services we bring as well as all the industries that we meet in the market. Deal advisory strategy is a subset of our advisory practice group, we handle all things transaction-related for M&A so all kinds of diligence, commercial, financial, IT, HR. Any aspect of buying and selling a company.

Then we integrate and we separate business units and we consult around cost takeout or performance improvement. I believe there’s been a lot of IPO readiness around the SPACs and I feel like I’m constantly learning as new things bubble up in the market. Because it’s focused around the deal market, which has been quite intense lately, it’s very fast-paced which suits me.

Some days you wake up and think, “I can’t learn another thing” but then you get into it and it’s interesting. ESG is a hot topic right now and we’re having a lot of conversations around that. They keep us on our toes but they’re smart people and they’re a pleasure to bring to the clients.

Gina Stracuzzi: Let’s talk a little bit about how you think business development might have changed or will still change as we progress back into a more face-to-face environment.

Shannon Jameson: I have been on a personal note really looking forward to having the marketplace open again. As I mentioned earlier, I started my career in inside sales and I feel like I’ve been back in inside sales for a year. We have been seeing clients out at restaurants and no office-to-office interaction, the big events have been taken away.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what this means and we have sophisticated buyers who have very demanding workloads. It remains to be seen, but I think some of them are going to continue to operate in this remote environment in terms of interacting in the marketplace. Say, a big awards dinner, something like that. Unless they’re nominated, it may not be relevant for them to go.

I think prior to the pandemic, people went as a way to build a brand and to make sure that they were known in the marketplace for what their company sells. They want another CFO job or COO job, they stay top-of-mind. I think for many of those buyers, the landscape may have changed forever. As a BD person, we really have to adapt to that and try to stay top-of-mind and relevant without driving people crazy with email and random phone calls and things like that.

Gina Stracuzzi: Your approach as you get back into this, are you feeling like you’re going to do things differently than you did prior? How do you think that will really impact eventually sales? What’s the trickle-down on all this?

Shannon Jameson: I feel like we’re testing the waters. Since last summer, I’ve been meeting with clients at lunches or dinners in small groups, no more than five people at any given meeting. As things start to reopen, one of the local chambers has an in-person event coming. I’ll be curious to see what that looks like in terms of actual buyers to people like me who attend those things on a regular basis.

I do think that a lot of our buyers are probably moved away and we just don’t know it, which will be interesting. I’m a territory representative, if you don’t know where the buyers are anymore… I think it really remains to be seen how this is going to shake out.

For me to adapt when the pandemic hit, there was a moment that our jobs have gone away, that we won’t be needed anymore because we’re so market-facing and we carry our brands. People are used to seeing us at the conferences and the events and hosting dinners and the things we do ourselves.

When all that goes away and you’re just left with a telephone and your email, it took me a while to get on my feet and to have creative ideas about how to really be effective and what to sell. Because the deals were done, no one was buying or selling anything for a while. The core of what I do was no longer really happening.

Gina Stracuzzi: I’m sure you’re not alone. What has struck me thinking about what you just said, that clients have moved away. A lot of people have moved because they’re like, if we’re going to be virtual, we might as well go some place we’ve always wanted to go or buy that lake house we always wanted or whatever the case is.

I think there’s going to be maybe even a little bit of pushback on this idea that we have to be in person, because now people have rearranged their lives in such a way that showing up for a networking event won’t even be as easy as it used to be. Because it’s not like you’re on your way home from the office and you’ll just pop in and say hi and then go the rest of the way home.

Now you have to make a real purposeful trip that could take hours or you might have to get on a plane. I’ve been wondering this through the whole pandemic and you can maybe speak to this as a large organization.

I wonder if organizations aren’t going to be saying, “We’re not paying for all of these expensive trips to get to a meeting and only be there for the meeting and maybe one networking opportunity.” Because there’s not the return on investment, we now know we can do this through video. Do you think that’ll be true moving forward?

Shannon Jameson: Not speaking directly for KPMG because I don’t know what the thinking is around that, they’ve not changed our structure as business developers to date. But there’s a couple things that I have been seeing that I think make for some restructuring in how some business developers operate.

In terms of the presence around executives, I think that matters. Being able to take someone to lunch or really connecting with a client. I do think the business travel will come back, but the deal pace right now is so frenetic and it has been for months. My thinking originally was, oh, this is pent up demand because people weren’t doing any deals when the pandemic and everything went so quiet. But that doesn’t really answer for it.

A private equity person I know told me that for him, he’s gotten so efficient. He had a meeting in Singapore, a meeting in New York, a meeting in South Carolina. He used to have to get on a place to do all those, and that was one day. He says, “What used to take me a week is now a couple hours” and it’s really driving people’s productivity.

Concurrently, I’m seeing on LinkedIn and other places the director level on hire, sales roles, business development roles are 100% remote and they’re not for products. That’s in the case of non-solution selling, but when you’re bringing broad services or complex solutions to a client, that’s typically done in a regional market, it’s how it’s looked at.

I’m seeing that change and I think for business developers, if you took my territory away and said, just go sell whatever you can, two things are going to happen. One is you’re going to find industries that make sense for you, industries you understand. For me, I spent a lot of time in government contracting, aerospace defense, that sort of industry here. I’ve been in it for a long time so I understand the language, I understand the buyers.

If you took my territory away, I would be looking at that across the country and trying to bring what I know to those customers. The other thing I think would naturally occur is that you would become much more expert in solutions and particular service lines. Whereas right now we cast a very wide net, talk about a lot of things to a lot of different buyers.

But if you take our territories where we’re not interacting with those buyers, then you’re going to say, maybe I’ll focus on CHROs who have ESG initiatives and I’m just going to start reaching out to all of them that I can find for companies over X size. Which is not the way we behave right now.

I do think it’s going to change how we manage our business and what our employers want us to do differently, and they may not be thinking about it like that. They may just be thinking, “We don’t know how to reopen, we just need people to bring us into the market, we don’t care where you are, we’re making it 100% remote.” But I do think it will drive those other areas around particular types of industries and buyers and services that you become comfortable with.

Gina Stracuzzi: I think you’re right, a lot of it is still in that, let’s see how it goes and we’re not really sure. I know a lot of companies have given up office space too, people have moved away but companies have given up office space.

I’ve heard like 5 different accounts of them making it a communal workspace versus offices and that kind of stuff. It’s almost like they don’t really expect people to come back in but we’re going to have a store front, so to speak. If you want to come in, there’s a desk right here with a chair and help yourself, but nobody’s being required to come in.

The lines are clearly blurred, especially with things like sales enablement and business development. We’re going to be the ones that start ginning things back up and leading the way, really, for what these relationships require, what the clients need and want, because they’re struggling themselves. I can see that business development can be leading the way on that and sales taking their cues from what you all gather.

It’s interesting when you initially talked about your territory and that’s how you work, but in the virtual environment everything seems, again, a little blurred. I’ve had more than one conversation with, yeah, it’s not really my territory but since we’re in this virtual environment and they knew somebody and then they introduced me… Now there’s a little bit of a tug-of-war because of these boundaries that are lapsing. Again, I wouldn’t be surprised to see companies changing the territory idea a little bit.

Shannon Jameson: I’ve wrestled with this up until probably into the pandemic where everything’s changed. Like you said, are territories relevant anymore? Within a firm like mine, you have your territory which is your major and then you have the industries in your territory which is your minor. Someone may have a lot of biotech or just pick an industry lane.

In my mind, it’s harder to cross-sell very technical solutions into buyers that you don’t talk to that often, because they have a different language set. Everybody, I think in business, they have similar problems but they don’t speak about them in the same way as maybe the industry that you grew up around and really understand. It’ll be interesting to see what big service providers do moving forward.

If they stay with the tried and true, we expect you on the ground and meeting people and we’re going to stick with what we know, versus we don’t really expect you to be on the ground all that much, just go get them. I don’t know how the sales teams work that out, honestly. Like you said, you don’t want to step on people’s toes.

I’m very careful about referred business out of my market to make sure no one’s in that account and talking to someone if it looks like they’re talking to them too, how I got there and approaching it as a team. Because that’s the sensitive spot in sales forever, is your territory and other people selling into that. That’s always a thing.

Gina Stracuzzi: The next six months will be interesting as people figure out how they’re going to approach things. In your world, what would you like to see happen? Is there a piece of the pandemic roll out that you would like to see stay in place and color the way you go at business development in the future? Is there something that you’re hoping stays the same?

Shannon Jameson: I don’t miss my commute [laughs]. That was a lot of time on the toll road and the back-and-forth. I felt like there was a lot of just driving around metro DC and down to Richmond. There’s just a lot of travel time. I think we’re definitely more efficient without all that.

You alluded to this earlier about the workspace, we’ve moved to an open-work concept which for me is distracting. A lot of conversations and I found that I probably wasn’t as productive as I should have been, just because of the nature of hearing so much. It’s very hard for me to lock it out and I’m sure I distracted others as well because I obviously talk a lot [laughs].

For me, there’s going to be a balance of going in and working from home. I will probably structure my in-office time around meeting clients. I work at a Tysons Square office so meeting clients for lunches, things like that, where it makes sense for me to work there in the morning. I think in terms of the return to work, I’m not exactly sure where we’re going to land in the fall.

But it’s going to be interesting because our teams, large consultancies and accounting firms send a lot of people to client sites for audits and tax work and advisory work. If the clients don’t reopen, we have to put our people somewhere. Now, some of them will be fine working remote and some of them, I know if I lived in a one-bedroom apartment in New York, I would be desperate for the office to open.

How this is going to change and evolve is going to be fascinating. I have had some conversations with some of my commercial real estate friends just to see what they’re thinking. Flex space seems to be the term of the period here.

Gina Stracuzzi: That’s really, I think, the strategy of a lot of companies that have pared-down is that idea that if we have it as an open flex space, only a third of our employees are ever going to be in the space at one time. If we don’t make them come to work, they won’t because a lot of people like you and myself, you don’t want the commute. You realize that it’s nice to just walk the dogs and just sit down and do some work and take lunch when you want to, pick up the kids and sit back down. It makes life easier and that’s the thing I think people are going to try to hang onto is the ease that this situation has allowed for. People have come to appreciate that they really weren’t spending much time with their families. “Bye”, “Hi”, sit down, eat something.

Shannon Jameson: 15 hours later you’re back.

Gina Stracuzzi: That was the extent of the family time. I think there’s going to be even high-level support for the idea of staying virtual. I love that you brought up the commercial real estate piece because that has got to be an industry that is slowly pivoting but really must. Because there was already a lot of empty space on the market to begin with and now it’s probably overwhelming.

Shannon Jameson: That empty office space is a bubble for them right now. I think depending on how it impacts firms like ours, if we can’t send those employees to the client sites and people are ready to get out of their home office three days a week or whatever it is, we might need more space. I don’t know. I think younger people probably want their work life back.

I was always fascinated by the millennials in that they work in groups, they work in packs and they go to coffee together and they have lunch together, they take breaks together and they huddle, we have team rooms for them to work in. They’re side-by-side, elbow-to-elbow which is never the way I’ve worked, and they seem happy about that when they’re on the job site. I’ve watched them and was amazed by it.

I recall when my kids were in high school, most of their projects were team projects which I always dreaded. I think I used to get one a year and I hated it, but everything they do is together. I would imagine they want to go back to work.

Gina Stracuzzi: That could be. Whatever happens, companies and industries will survive, they just have to adapt like anything else. If there isn’t a surge in commercial real estate need, I’m sure the commercial real estate industry will figure something else out. They’ll get creative just because that’s how things work. A lot of it will be the business development strategy they come up with to figure out the bridge between that and to what’s needed next.

Let’s talk about the one big lesson that you’ve learned through the pandemic from a business standpoint, and then one piece of advice that you would leave the audience with.

Shannon Jameson: One thing that I learned early on, it was so quiet and we were told to take enough stuff for 15 days. By day 40, the clients were so quiet and the inbound email that everybody’s getting from the law firms and the accounting firms and the COVID advisory and all of this. I kept thinking, how are we going to be relevant and not drive people crazy? Which was a scary time for me, frankly.

My kids are grown, my youngest child has the dog, even. To just be surrounded by all this quiet in my house was unnerving, so I started connecting with people that I knew in the marketplace. For instance, one person has a family-owned commercial real estate company, not in the same space as what KPMG sells but just a really solid good person who probably was feeling the same way.

We started having a weekly video call and I started doing this with some other where we talk about our contacts. “I see you’re connected to so-and-so, do you know them well?” “Yeah, I know them pretty well, they’re my neighbor down the street. What did you want to talk to them about?” You start to develop, “Our infrastructure team has really relevant skill sets for that role that your neighbor’s in, maybe you can float a couple bullets and see if they’d be interested in talking with us.”

It worked on all sides and I was able to make introductions, and they were able to make introductions because like I had said, the deals went away. So, what other services do we have in the market that would be relevant at this time?

I think looking at the people that you know that may not play in the same space but are well respected and participate like an economic development authority or a citizen’s board of some sort, or a relevant not-for-profit board. Get in touch with them and connect and just make it a conversation about what you’re seeing and how you’re reacting. I was really amazed and so appreciative that I had that support system and was able to provide that for others.

The other thing I did that I would tell everybody to go do is I had multiple clients complain about gaining weight in COVID, so instead of meeting them to eat, we meet and walk and it’s fun. You develop more of a friendship and you get to burn some calories, and they appreciate it too. I’ve been doing that for about a year, I guess.

Gina Stracuzzi: You told me you lost weight during the pandemic, too. You must be the only person [laughs].

Shannon Jameson: It was not eating out three meals a day and walking a lot.

Gina Stracuzzi: Those are good pieces of advice to take away, because there’s absolutely no reason to not keep connecting with people that you wouldn’t have otherwise connected with, had the pandemic not happened. You wouldn’t have taken the time to go through your connections or really sit and compare them with other people and figure out how you could help each other. Now we know that we can really add support to other people in other organizations. Hopefully, we’ll keep that up because it’s really opened the world up in a lot of ways.

Shannon Jameson: It made me happy every time I was able to have one of those calls and it made me feel just a little lighter and that I wasn’t alone. I would think most business developers are fairly extroverted, and it’s hard to be cut off from your market.

Gina Stracuzzi: This has been a wonderful conversation, Shannon. I look forward to continuing it and hopefully seeing you at an in-person IES meeting in the not-too-distant future. We’re going to start doing those again so I look forward to meeting you in person.

Shannon Jameson: I look forward to it too. Thank you so much, this has been a pleasure.

Gina Stracuzzi: Thank you, Shannon. All right, everyone. Thanks for joining us, we will see you next week. Take care.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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