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A Guide to Business Development: Balancing Skill, Boldness & Luck

By Dan Woods (2310 words)
Posted in Sales & Business Development on July 22, 2012

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It is the most ambiguous of business disciplines…something many want to do, but few are able to define or do well.  This is due to the nature of business development being something beyond the scope of a company’s every day business activity, as well as the inconsistent placement of the activity in different organizations.  Sometimes it is part of sales, sometimes marketing, an outside consultant can lead the effort or a department of it’s own is often created.  We define BD as a balancing act of skill, boldness, and luck.  So what does that mean and how can you do it well?


To be successful in business development you need to…

…have a deep understanding of all business functions, but not be bound by their social norms. 

…be able to leverage all organizational capabilities and have them stand behind you in support.

…recognize organizational weaknesses to avoid, and strengths to build upon.

…operate outside the normal boundaries of typical functions such as sales, marketing, operations, etc.   

…learn the BD dance.  This does not suggest telling people what they want to hear, rather, it is the graceful use of guidance, suggestion and targeted communication that brings all elements (your internal company, external partners, contractors and market players) from point A to point Z at the same time.


Business Development allows an organization to not only grow but also improve business activity by modifying something it already does well.  Here are the basics of Business Development:  


Build a Deep Understanding of Trained Skills


Sales, Marketing, Project Management, Leadership & Finance are all areas where processes, tools and techniques can be learned, and where training is available. By creating a deep understanding of these areas, you will develop a well-rounded approach to BD.  Here are some tips that you can incorporate into your efforts.


Marketing – Define your company, goals, market challenges and opportunities.


Conduct extensive market & product intelligence before creating a positioning strategy for your company.
Do not only collect & regurgitate existing data. Make a contact list of industry professionals and develop real relationships with them.  If needed, hire a consulting group to conduct industry and technical research specific to your requests.  Understand all industry best practices and regulatory/public policy drivers.  Don’t generate a generic theoretical P&L.  Do the research necessary to develop a business model and P&L that you can justify to your organization.


Marketing Tips:

  • Define your market and make sure you target the right segment within the market that relates to core competencies/product/capabilities.

  • Always identify who the end user is and know everything about them..even if you are not selling directly to them.

  • Conduct target company and industry research so you can tailor your message to them and get them to open up to you.

  • Have a complete understanding of who you are as an organization, all relevant competitors in the market and potential customers…be able to articulate it and train others on it.

  • Create a very professional company overview presentation that can be given to each potential business partner.  Of course the intro and finish should be customized for each meeting.


Sales – Become a Conceptual seller.


Sell a story that executives will want to invest in.
Become an expert salesman before you present your ideas to management.  Brush up on your presentation skills, sales skills and financial acumen in order to get the buy-in needed for your company to make the investment you are asking for.  Be prepared to tell a story of where the company is today, where the market is and where it is heading, where opportunity exists, what unique position you see as opportunity, what the new business model looks like, what investment and resources are needed and what the payback short and long term will be.  Leave no question unanswered and use your own experiences as you became an industry expert to prove you have confidence in what you are presenting is a great idea.


Establish, develop and document an extensive contact network.
You should become the go-to person and industry expert in your organization where it pertains to the business area you are trying to develop.  By establishing a formal extensive network in the industry you are focusing on, you will not only be your company’s expert, you will become an industry expert, gaining you credibility and ultimately setting you up for success when pitching your new business plan to executives.


Keep an open mind ensuring your ability to decipher and use information to develop a unique business strategy.
Remember that you don’t have anything to sell at this point; your role is to investigate.  This is a great position to have when talking to people in the market.  You are interested in creating something new, wanting the input of others.  You will be surprised when you take this approach, at how many people open their door to you.  Make sure you approach them to learn, and remain focused on listening.  Creative interpretation of data, people, companies and markets will help you become a better problem solver and negotiator.  Both are crucial to your company’s successful implementation of your business plan.


Sales Tips:

  • ALWAYS deliver what you commit to, and if your not sure you can..DON’T offer it!

  • Get out there in front of people – go into your industry to get yourself, and your concept, heard.  The more buzz you create, the better the chances people will buy into your value proposition.

  • Get your foot in the door through associations, they are a great place to develop your network.

  • Have something compelling to offer, build relationships.  You should assign a single point of contact/accountability for each company to align all moving parts.

  • BD is not about selling a product or service, it is about presenting concepts and creating unique solutions in collaboration with your potential partner.

  • Develop a meaningful business introduction and put it into presentation format.  Your initial meeting is usually a cross presentation including company overview, strategic goals and potential opportunity concepts.

  • Make sure there is a real demand that currently exists… Ask yourself: Are you solving a problem that justifies your solution?  Can you define and communicate the value proposition?

  • Understand your industry and all the relationships that exist in it.  Know where your company fits into the industry today and the position you are trying to achieve in a specific time frame.

  • Build ideas through partnerships. It is about taking something that you already do and leveraging it into something bigger.


Project Management


Establish and manage a resource mix of internal and external allies in the areas of technical, financial and market expertise.
Vet your ideas and information throughout the business development process so that you have real feedback before the presentation to your management.  You should form allies in management before you get there so people are not surprised and they want to help you sell the ideas as much as you do.  Outside consultants are also a great way to vet your concepts and act as your support when answering management questions.


Project Management Tips: 

  • Utilize milestones, tracking, analysis, performance metrics, and collaboration tools required to move all people/organizations involved. 

  • Communicate consistently and constructively with performance metrics and accountability.

  • Manage all organizations externally and internally.

  • Manage a detailed action plan with prioritized opportunities and feedback.


Leadership & Finance


Understand financing options, ROI strategy and P&L expectations.  Business development does not stop at the sales & marketing opportunity. 

You are creating a full circle business model that, in many respects, may be considered a new company within your organization, a joint venture with another entity, or even a full acquisition.  In any event, the more detailed and reality based your financial model is, the better the chance your ideas will be approved.


Leadership & Finance Tips:

  • Think strategically…  you are not selling..you are identifying strategic opportunities to build alliances with and combining resources to promote even more business than before.

  • Make sure your ideas are in line with the direction the company wants to go in.

  • Assign a potential value to each deal before you contact the company.  You should be building a funnel of opportunities and you need to be able to evaluate each one so you can prioritize your time.

  • Create a situation where everyone wins. 

  • Involve senior management in every step of your activity.  You want buy-in when you are ready for it, so keep an ongoing dialog with your senior management so they are aware of all potential opportunities before they need to get involved.


Master Soft Skills


Soft skills are about personality, influence, creativity and long-term relationship building. 


Tips to Master Soft Skills include:

  • Be ready to help…  don’t be afraid to give free advice, make introductions, provide resources if possible…this shows that you are more engaged than just trying to sell an idea…you have their interests in mind when you do it, and you build relationships that way.

  • Spend time weaving in and out of organizations, leveraging relationships to bring everything and everyone together…become a conductor

  • Personality is important. Stay positive even when the feedback isn't.  Keep yourself focused on finding solutions and building relationships for the long-term.

  • Be charismatic, respectful, quick to follow up, outgoing and enthusiastic.

  • Create a list of stakeholders for each opportunity.  This should include details about them that you want to remember, as well as their personality types.  Identify both decision makers and influencers in this process.  By determining what motivates each individual, you can define the best approach to gain buy-in. 

  • Focus on listening and being aware: Ask questions first, then tell people about what you do.  By having good listening skills you can mold your message in a context that translates to each individual.


Be Bold & Hope For Luck


The reality of BD is that most of your efforts lead to knowledge gained, not success.  That is why you should always pursue multiple opportunities at once.  By using what you learn, being creative, and consistently pushing your message, you will see success over time. 


Tips to keep luck on your side:

  • Most opportunities fail so do not give up.

  • Continuously build your funnel or opportunity pipeline…make sure opportunities are strategic.

  • Don’t be afraid to say no and communicate that message early. You will be respected for it.

  • Be Humble

  • Focus your efforts if the opportunity warrants your time.  As you build your opportunity funnel don’t spread yourself too thin if you identify a big fish early.  Focus relentlessly on the fig fish until you have managed to fully vet it (either successfully or unsuccessfully).  Avoid focusing on too many opportunities at the same time if a great opportunity is glaring you in the face.

  • Follow up with clients on a consistent basis.  Once a week, once a month; it does not always have to be a call. It can be a lunch, a meeting, or an email.  Feel each individual out to determine which means of communication is more comfortable for him or her.

  • Bring team members along to meetings.  Expose others on your team to what you are working on by bringing them along. 

  • Follow up within 24 hours on each communication.

  • Debrief every loss and every win with a documented lessons learned meeting.


So at the end of the day, Business Development is the act of building new sources of revenue through non-traditional communication, fulfillment and tweaking of other company processes.  You need to understand your business to maneuver through it and create the synergy necessary to support the needs of the new activity.  Try and try again until something sticks is a BD philosophy that requires tenacity and acceptance of some failure in order to find success.  Not everyone is cut out for business development, but organizations that cultivate and support these efforts evolve into long-term sustainable companies.



{#/pub/images/danphoto.jpg}Written by Dan Woods, VP & COO ManagingAmericans.com
A graduate of West Point Military Academy, Dan has a strong background in business development, operations, project management and change management.  After serving five years in the Army Corps of Engineers, including worldwide assignments, he left the military and entered into the private sector.  With 10+ years in the Renewable Energy sector working for both startups and turnarounds for American, European and Asian conglomerates, he held positions as Director of Business Development and General Manager, as well as led multimillion-dollar projects as Project Director. Dan holds a B.S. in Economics, a Masters in Business Administration, and is certified as a Project Management Professional (PMP).


Do you have a question for Dan?  Please visit our Business Development Community, he will be happy to help: Ask an Expert


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Comments (14)

Gregg Marzano posted on: July 23, 2012

Best read on the subject of business development that I have seen!

Tina Dietz posted on: July 23, 2012

This is probably the best article I've seen so far that encapsulates what "business development" means. It's an area that requires such diverse skills, and I love how Lisa splits the article into different areas so it's more digestible. That being said, you could spend a month or a year just delving into each area! When you specialize in business development, as I do, one of the first parts of guiding a business is to have them step back and take a "30,000 foot view" of their business. There's often a lot of resistance to this because our gut reaction as humans is to play with all the shiny toys and try to "fix" something. "I need a website!" or "I need more marketing!" are common refrains. While that may be true, what's truly usually missing is a strategic plan that guides the business DAILY to the actions and specific targets that are going to make the biggest impact.

How many of you have a strategic plan? Not a business plan, mind you, but a strategic plan that guides your business actions?

Blake Carbone posted on: July 24, 2012

I agree Tina, this is a great article on business development. Too many organizations don't have a "strategic plan" and as a result, the little details are often ignored. In the long-run this can be extremely destructive. During this economic downturn, I couldn't think of a more perfect time for businesses to take that "30,000 foot view."

Daniel Vanniasingham posted on: August 14, 2012

Excellent article!

DANIEL QUIAMBAO posted on: September 20, 2012

There are a lot of people who choose to be businessmen because they think that this kind of profession can bring them big amount of money. But There are so many businessmen who are frustrated because what they do cannot bring them the desired profits. Well, basically, dealing with business is not as simple as it sounds. It is so true that there are a lot of things that need to be considered. Does it mean that one need to study in business major before they start their own business? Well, actually, it is a good idea. However, they do not need to do that because whenever one are dealing with their own business, actually, they are also studying. The secret behind the success is their patience. That’s where they learn how to read, write and do math, and those skills are definitely important. One need to learn how to organize the time, how to be a self-starter, how to motivate oneself and reach new heights.

Israr ulhaq posted on: January 8, 2013

This is great stuff,thank you!!!

José Luís Sousa posted on: January 15, 2013

Very nice and useful article... a must read for BD's.

Christine Hilbert posted on: January 15, 2013

What an excellent article. Clearly defines all the skills needed to be successful in new business development!

hakan wandeback posted on: January 15, 2013

Great and interesting article!

Peter J. Kienle posted on: January 15, 2013

Been doing BD for 30 years and this article tells exactly what it boils down to....all new BD or sales professionals should read it...I put a copy in my files....

Richard Graham-Evans posted on: January 15, 2013

Thanks - a well thought article that tries to define an elusive business concept. 'Business Development' tends to be used as a more customer friendly label for
Sales. I view it as primarily consolidating established business sectors whilst building
opportunities for revenue streams / product development in new sectors.

Weiman Wong posted on: January 15, 2013

Very good guide - will pass it on to my fellow co-workers!

Tom Diffily posted on: January 15, 2013

Simplified and comprehensive. Nice guide for beginners and veterans alike!

Orjiakor posted on: June 16, 2013

This is a great article for business beginers

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