By Dr Eugene Brink
Consult any career index nowadays and you will notice that business development managers are in high demand.
And this makes solid business sense: Companies are in dire need of people to set their businesses and economy to rights in the long wake of the carnage caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. What is less certain, is what business development entails exactly and what business development managers do.
These are, admittedly, vague terms and could encapsulate a number of things. In fact, it does encompass a whole host of tasks and it has at the same time everything to do with conventional business, but also so much more.
What it is (and is not)
“Business development is the creation of long-term value for an organisation from customers, markets, and relationships,” says business development expert Scott Pollack. “There is elegance in simplicity, but perhaps this definition leaves you wanting more. At its heart, business development is all about figuring out how the interactions of those forces combine together to create opportunities for growth.”
He says while businesses are about making money, business development is not about opportunistic short-termism. “Business development is not about get-rich-quick schemes and I-win-you-lose tactics that create value that’s gone tomorrow as easily as it came today. It’s about creating opportunities for that value to persist over the long-term, to keep the floodgates open so that value can flow indefinitely.”
Customers are the lifeblood of businesses and again long-term relationship-building and bespoke products and services take precedence over merely selling existing products. “Not everyone is a natural customer for your business. Maybe your product doesn’t have the features I’m looking for. Maybe your product is perfect, but I don’t even know your company sells it. Or maybe you’re not reaching me because you’re not knocking on my door,” says Pollack.
“Identifying opportunities to reach new customers by entering into new markets is one important gateway to unlocking long-term value. “Just as the planets and stars rely on gravity to keep them in orbit, any successful business development effort relies on an underlying foundation of strong relationships. Building, managing, and leveraging relationships that are based on trust, respect, and a mutual appreciation of each other’s value is fundamental to enabling the flow of value for the long-term.”
But isn’t it just about sales? Not quite. A recent article on Indeed.com provides clarity on this distinction. Business developers’ job could be described as more strategic because despite the sales team working to expand the company, business developers don’t work with direct customers, but with other potential partners and businesses. A competent business developer can foster long-term partnerships that result in additional referrals and closed deals.
What skills do business development managers need?
Sales skills should not be underestimated as they are in fact quite crucial in being adept at business development. Basic sales skills are what enables a business development manager to cold-call key people, setting up in-person meetings and distinguishing between the right and wrong type of customers with whom to nurture long-term relationships and who can be tapped for sales leads.
Secondly and obviously, they must be able to communicate and collaborate effectively. Business development expert Yazan Abu Al Rous says: “A good business developer must have strong communication skills. They are required in order to communicate, present, assert and speak to all the different stakeholders involved. He must also be able to cold-call prospects with confidence in order to gain new clients.
“Business development is not a one man show. It involves collaboration with multiple parties from inside and outside the company. Any good business developer should be able to build relationships, influence, manage conflicts and navigate through office politics in order to get things done. This includes being tactful and diplomatic at all times. Achieving your set goals require that you are able to learn when to compromise and when to take a stand. In order to persuade your prospects to do what needs to be done, you will need to win their hearts, minds, and trust.”
Moreover, business development managers must be knowledgeable and project-orientated. “Good business developers are in some way also project managers. They have to be able to set goals, plan and manage projects, manage the risks involved, calculate budgets, cost, time and manage teams working on ongoing projects,” Rous says. “A business developer will need to have strong research and strategic analysis skills. These are necessary in order to benchmark the competition and keep the company ahead of it.”
Indeed, 16 March 2021, “How to build business development skills”, https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/business-development-skills.
Scott Pollack, 21 March 2021, “What, exactly, is business development?”, https://www.forbes.com/sites/scottpollack/2012/03/21/what-exactly-is-business-development/?sh=400a6f557fdb.
Yazan Abu Al Rous, 31 December 2014, “7 Skills excellent business development managers must have”, https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/7-skills-excellent-business-development-managers-must-ie-bdm-mba/.