We know business development (BD) is not sales, but what’s the difference? There are many, but the key is the endgame. In sales, the endgame is to have a customer purchase an existing product or service. In BD, it’s to develop and implement new business lines, products, partnerships, etc. There is a conventional comparison out there that helps paint the picture:
- Marketing brings customers to the front door.
- Sales bring customers to the register.
- Business development builds new stores.
Knowing this, it’s clear why BD is so crucial for a growing business. While sales and marketing are imperative for driving revenue for today’s business, BD is creating the business of tomorrow. All three functions are critical to the success of a business, but BD is often overlooked. Why is this?
One reason is it requires a combination of skills and traits that is difficult to find. The best business developers have the creativity of an artist, the curiosity and experimental eagerness of a scientist, and the deal-making savvy of a CEO. It’s not that these people don’t exist; it’s that many businesses don’t know which attributes to look for in an exceptional business developer.
Here are three of the most essential:
“While sales and marketing are imperative for driving revenue for today’s business, BD is creating the business of tomorrow”
Consistently Generating AND Executing on Unique Insights.
As Gary Vaynerchuk would say, “Ideas are s**t.” Not everyone would phrase it that way, but we can at least agree with the message. Ideas are easy but ineffective on their own. A star business developer doesn’t just generate ideas; they produce insightful ideas. Insights imply a real understanding of a subject, situation or scenario, and not all ideas are insightful. Being insightful requires a mix of creativity and awareness, which is what you want in a business developer.
But it isn’t enough to generate insightful ideas. An ideal BD candidate must be willing and able to bring those insights to life. For example, let’s say a business developer for a small financial planning firm is tasked with sourcing new partnerships that will help bring in new revenue. The BD knows that the industry is headed for automation, so they conclude that a product partnership with a software development company to develop an automated, client-facing planning software would be the best way forward. That’s great, but that idea alone is not going to bring in any revenue. The business developer needs to put it in motion by sourcing potential partners, exploring synergies, creating a business case, getting the perspectives of all stakeholders, negotiating the right deal, implementing the relationship, and everything in between. Execution is everything.
Thrives in Vague, Obscure, and Uncertain Situations.
For many people, structured, rule-based, and routine environments are where they make magic happen. They enjoy clear, well-defined goals and tasks, and are sure about what they need to do to achieve their objectives. That is not the case for business development people.
Successful business developers often must work with many uncertainties and experiment with an assortment of ideas and approaches to doing things. The best BDs are naturally curious and experimental people who enjoy exploring new and existing avenues to hunt potential opportunities. They are often working on multiple projects across multiple timelines, and each of these projects can change on a dime. BD deals, especially in the early stages, are notorious for being fluid and taking unpredictable twists and turns. While this is less than ideal for most, BD people thrive on it. They love the variety and can see the big picture even when the path forward is unclear. Business developers overcome the fear of the unknown, which allows them to excel even in the most ambiguous situations.
Check out Carl Ed Baker’s TED talk below on how to replace fear with curiosity.
Always Thinking Win-Win.
Elite business developers are masters of negotiation and deal-making, but they are never looking to “win” a deal. BD is all about forming long-lasting partnerships, and the only way to do that is through win-win deals. If you take advantage of your strategic partners, it will come back to haunt you and your business. You want a business developer who loves finding synergies between each side and is obsessed with value creation for all stakeholders. The best business developers always find a way to balance out negotiations by thinking outside the box. They discover what the other side wants and figures out a way to meet this need using all resources at their disposal. This article on Entrepreneur provides an excellent example about how two businesses bridged the gap in negotiations by “broadening the scope.” These companies were able to craft a deal by understanding the other side’s needs while using their available resources to get a win-win result – even though the solution was not obvious at first glimpse. For someone to be a successful business developer, the default thinking should always be win-win.
“You want a business developer who loves finding synergies between each side and is obsessed with value creation for all stakeholders.”
If you are looking to bring on-board a star business developer to grow your business, you now have an idea of what to look for. The ideal mix of these skills and traits may not be easy to find, but not impossible. We covered three essential attributes, but the list is far from extensive.
What do you think are some other crucial qualities of a successful business developer? Comment below with your thoughts.
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