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What is business development and the skills necessary to excel at it

what is business development? image of Nicol Nelson CEO of Startup

Depending on who you ask, you’re likely to get a different definition of business development. Some see it as a leadership position; others view it as part of sales or even marketing.

The truth is, business development contains important elements defining each of these profound roles. As a result, business developers often feel like they wear many hats and constantly have their hands in different projects. For example, they may be simultaneously working with other departments on creating a business website (and running it from the Wix mobile app), trying to secure new partnerships, increasing brand awareness and making and assessing business goals. Despite their multifaceted job, business developers are guided by a single objective: to create value for their company.

While it may sound conceptual, there are tangible ways developers work to achieve that goal. For this reason, I’ll be providing you with a breakdown of what business development exactly means, go over how it differs from other similar roles in a company, and show you the skills you’ll need to succeed in biz dev.

What is business development?

Business development is the process of making a business better and bigger through initiatives and new ideas, creation of value for your organization or business. This includes increasing profitability and focusing on growth opportunities by building connections with strategic partners and making calculated business decisions.

While there’s no such thing as a Herculean job candidate, one might be led to think so just looking at job descriptions for business developers. They need to be “creative, analytical, organized, possess strong communication skills, and much more.” That’s because a business developer has to be dynamic and use any one of their abilities—whether that’s brainstorming new ideas, keeping up with small business trends, creating business plans or making fruitful partnerships—to help their company grow stronger and better over a period of time.

In order to understand how business developers can achieve this feat, here’s first a breakdown of what is a brand development manager, then we'll address the main responsibilities associated with the role.

What is a business development manager?

A business development manager is a professional who develops business strategies and plans to increase business efficiency, drive business growth and maximize profits. Business development managers typically collaborate with various stakeholders within a company in order to identify business opportunities, develop an effective competitive strategy, as well as implement business management practices that enhance company efficiency. Additionally, business development managers often research customer needs and preferences to develop targeted marketing campaigns.

A business development manager should possess a strong set of business and interpersonal skills in order to be successful. They must have strong networking abilities, excellent communication skills, a deep understanding of the products or services being offered, as well as business knowledge and advanced problem solving skills. They must also be able to effectively collaborate with multiple departments and teams to build relationships, identify opportunities and develop strategies for growth. They should also be creative and have strong negotiation skills in order to close deals. In order to be successful, business development managers must possess a high level of self-motivation and the ability to work independently. A strong customer-centric focus is also valuable for the role.

Most importantly, a business development manager must have the ability to think strategically in order to create long-term business plans that will lead their company towards success. Developing a business development strategy and then ensuring its implementation is a huge part of the role.

Business development responsibilities

Find business growth opportunities

A business needs to be able to grow steadily to be able to compete successfully against others. Business development will focus on pinpointing specific growth opportunities.

For instance, a biz dev team might look at how a company can expand into different markets and conduct research into developing new products or services. These changes, in turn, can help them access more clients down the line. Business developers may also be involved in finding smart ways to market a small business, or working with marketing experts on campaigns that’ll drive the desired hypergrowth. This may also include hiring more employees, whether you work together in person or manage remote employees.

Increase company profitability

When talking about a company increasing its value, we’re usually talking about profits. While there are many things in a customer’s eye that might make a company valuable, for a business the value is intrinsically tied to the profits it’s bringing in.

That’s why biz dev teams will often focus on concentrating sales efforts. This can include expanding to new audiences and looking for ways to find more clients while keeping costs low, which are all good ways to hedge against how inflation can affect small businesses. While this isn’t the same as sales itself, which we’ll get into soon, it's similar to the formation of strategies that help increase sales.

Build long-lasting relationships with customers and partners

In the field of business development, the focus should also shift to creating bonds with both customers and strategic business partners. Above all is, business development is done with people not

When talking about relationships with customers, business developers look for ways to bridge the gap between what customers want or need and what the business is actually offering them.

They will look for ways to make a product or service more appealing to clients based on feedback or market research, and then liaise with other departments, like marketing, product development or sales, to make it happen.

Likewise, relationships can also be external. For example, during the growth stage, a small business might need to foster strong partnerships with other companies in order to get started. Alternatively a larger company can help a newer one with guidance, capital, or even infrastructure if that’s not yet in place.

Sales vs. business development: What’s the difference?

As we saw earlier, biz dev usually has a hand in sales. But while the goals and responsibilities of both departments are aligned, they aren’t quite identical. In the simplest terms, sales is tactical, whereas business development is primarily about developing a strategy.

A biz dev also takes a more holistic approach to the sales funnel by analyzing what’s working and what can be improved in the long term. By contrast, a sales team will likely concentrate on short-term success and swiftly closing deals.

Business development vs marketing

Biz dev and marketing work closely together. While marketing is focused more on attracting new customers and leads, business development is also about building new relationships with clients and maintaining these new bonds to leverage them when needed.

You can think of marketing, sales, and business development as a cycle of lead generation and treatment. Each one handles a different aspect of the buyer’s journey:

  • Awareness: This is when a buyer recognizes they have a problem and knows they need a solution, but they’re not sure what it is yet. In order to get a better understanding of what that could be, they research the consumer market.

  • Consideration: At this stage, a buyer has a better understanding of their problem and is committed to finding a solution. They might be considering a few different approaches or answers, but haven’t settled on one.

  • Decision: The buyer knows the solution they need, based on their research, and might be looking at multiple options from various companies or vendors, before ultimately settling on one option.

Once you understand how the buyer’s journey works, you’ll also have a better grasp of the roles of each department during different stages. In our case, business development is responsible for reaching customers in the awareness stage as well as in the consideration stage. They will look closely at the buyer’s problem and try to figure out how their own products can act as a solution.

Marketing also works in the awareness and consideration stages, with some changes. Marketers will try to present their brand directly to the buyer during the buyer’s research phase. Finally, the sales team is responsible for guiding the buyer through the decision stage and getting them to choose their product or service, thus closing the deal.

7 skills you need in business development

Since business development is made up of so many different tasks, it’s important that those who want to work in biz dev come prepared with the necessary skills to succeed. Here are some that you’ll need to develop in order to excel as a business developer:

01. Strong leadership and management skills

Since your goal is to help the company grow and be more profitable, you’ll need to create new ways to accomplish that. The position requires you to find and think outside of the box to improve business processes, increase sales, and make the company more valuable. Other departments will look to you for guidance and to set expectations, so you’ll need to possess entrepreneurial and leadership skills to design your own projects and manage them accordingly.

02. Goal setting

The ultimate goal is growth, but in order to get there, you’ll need to set a whole collection of smaller goals along the way. When you work in biz dev, it’s rare that others will set goals for you. Upper management might tell you what they want or need, but ultimately, it’s up to you to organize your work. It’s also key to have a good grasp on how to create SMART goals, which will set expectations for other departments, namely sales and marketing.

03. Curiosity

You might not have expected this one, but being curious can open the door to so much more when you work in business development. A good business developer is inquisitive about everything, from how to improve the sales funnel to why some partnerships are stronger than others.

With curiosity comes a drive for research, which can help you understand your brand’s shortcomings and fix them so that it may grow. Curiosity also breeds creativity since you’ll be constantly looking for new solutions to ongoing challenges.

04. Acute attention to detail

Whether it’s a metric or a piece of business writing from a client or a potential partner, business developers require a lot of focus to pay attention to all the details, and there are a lot of them. When you’re working on a few different projects with various teams, it’s easy to let things fall through the cracks, but a good business developer will pay attention to small details to try and understand how they affect the big picture. This mean being involved in anything from decisions about the text on advertising campaigns, to a decision on the best business website design.

05. Boot-strapping

As a business developer, you’ll have to roll up your sleeves when it comes to breaking new ground. You’ll quickly find out that in order to grow a business, you’ll need to identify and bootstrap new paths to travel on.

Being a self-starter will get you far in business development and help you achieve bigger goals by nurturing your entrepreneurial drive. This sense of ownership can inspire you to take on more initiative, as well as study new concepts and do anything you can to bring more value to the business.

06. Team player

By now it seems like a cliche to see “team player” as a requirement on a job posting, but working in a team is an essential skill in business development. We’ve already seen how biz dev works hand-in-hand with other departments, so interpersonal skills and the ability to work collaboratively are necessary.

More than that, though, is having the understanding that in biz dev, there’s nearly nothing that comes across your desk that you can pass off or ignore. “That’s not my job” just doesn’t work when you’re working towards such large company goals and you need to have your finger on the pulse of what’s going on in the entire business.

07. Self-motivation

If it wasn’t clear by now, business developers need to have a ton of motivation. Truckloads of motivation, in fact. It may seem like there’s too much work in business development to handle, but a successful business developer will know how to prioritize tasks while also self-motivating themselves to complete work and even seek out work.

It’s true, the workload can be a lot, but when you’re able to get your own projects off the ground and see the success of your team and your business as a result of your own hard work, then all the work is worth it and can motivate you to aim even higher.

chart listing 7 skills needed for business development

Business development tools you’ll absolutely need

Aside from your colleagues and assistance from other departments, there are a few tools that are especially helpful for the day-to-day tasks of business development. These tools will help you manage your workload, stay on top of tasks, or organize projects with ease:

  • Marketing automation tools: Marketing automation lets you run specific tasks automatically without your intervention. For example, you can automate emails, pop-ups, invoices, and a number of other things to save time. This is especially helpful if you’re in the phase of collecting information about your audience and you want to engage with them but you don’t have the resources to do it on the spot.

  • CRM tools: Since relationships are so important in business development, you’ll want to invest in a good CRM (customer relationship management) tool. This will allow you to keep track of both clients and potential partners. You can collect all their contact details in one place, track communications across multiple channels, run reports and gain analytical insights, view their spot in a sales funnel, and more.

image of ascend dashboard - business development crm tool

  • Task management tools: Aside from tracking your customers, you also need help keeping on top of all your tasks. Use a workflow planner or task management tool to stay on top of all your tasks, organize them, and communicate with your team to see where everyone’s at. You might want to consider tools like Trello, Asana, or Slack.

  • Networking tools: Before you add new partners or clients to your CRM, you need to first make an initial connection. Don’t underestimate the power of social media in order to network. Twitter and LinkedIn are great places to make professional connections with others in your industry.

Business development strategy examples

Looking for inspiration for your own business development strategies? We've put together some famous examples of companies who did business development in way that powered their success. Each company went a different way and it's a good lesson in the importance of developing a strategy that works for your company, while learning from what other's have done well.

  • Amazon are a good example of a company who took their business development into different areas. Not only did they go after global markets, to expand their reach they also expanded their product categories - remember when they just sold books? No, neither can we. Recently they have also expanded into the streaming service space and are a prime example of how business development plans can and should change and evolve all the time to make the most of new markets and sale opportunities.

  • Facebook took a slight different approach to developing their business, and have gone the route of acquiring other businesses to expand their product offerings - Whataspp and Instagram are just two of their purchases that saw them expand their product portfolio and customer reach.

  • Netflix started off as a company that streamed other's content and have since evolved into a creator of their own original content, a business decision that has allowed them to grow exponentially in terms of users and revenue.

The key takeaway? Business development is a strategy that can and should evolve with your business and customers. It should also help your business scale and expand.

Business development and ethics

Business development and ethics can go hand-in-hand. Business owners should ensure that their business practices and business software are ethical in order to create a positive business environment and build customer trust. Additionally, business development managers should consider developing an ethical code of conduct for their business which sets out the standards and expectations for how the business is run. This should then apply to all employees, regardless of their role. It should also govern how a product is manufactured and a service delivered.

Patagonia is just one example of a company that has put ethics and sustainable practices at the core of its business development strategy. They offer a return and repair policy for all of their clothes sold, and insist on legal and humane working conditions wherever their clothes are made.

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