Through my consulting work, I have realised that there’s some confusion out there about what business development actually is. Is it sales? Is it marketing? Is it building relationships? The answer is yes, yes, yes. It’s all of these things and more.
Investopedia defines business development as ‘the ideas, initiatives, and activities that help make a business better’. This includes increasing revenues, growth through expansion, increasing profitability through partnerships, and making strategic decisions.
The key thing to note about business development is that it’s about driving ongoing improvement across all aspects of the operation; from sales to marketing, manufacturing to human resources, accounting and finance, right through to product development and supplier management.
So what are five things everyone needs to know about business development?
- Business development is not the same as sales – sales is focused on increasing revenue whereas business development is more complex and wide-ranging. It can include everything from lobbying and advocacy, right through to innovation and collaboration. While generating capital is essential to a business’ success, business development isn’t solely about the bottom line – it’s about ensuring that every level of the business is performing at or above industry benchmarks. Fran DiNuzzo says in this article, “Business development isn’t about get-rich-quick schemes that create value today and are gone tomorrow. Viewing business development as a path to long-term value creation is the only approach that will consistently grow an organisation over time.”
- It’s about understanding the competition – A key part of business development is understanding what competitors are doing – and how your business can do it better or differently. This involves research, networking and gathering intelligence from everyone you meet. What do people love about your competitors? What frustrates them? Are there any gaps that need filling in the market? What can you offer that will meet this need? A key aspect of business development is understanding the competitor landscape and finding your niche within it.
- Relationships are the key – It doesn’t matter what kind of business you’re in, you’re always in the business of people. Keith Krach, former US Secretary of State, says in his recent article: ‘It is important to pursue new client relationships while continuing to engage loyal customers, and these efforts will no doubt look different depending on the type and scope of your company. For business-to-business (B2B) or professional service firms, connecting with clients on LinkedIn or sending personal notes to mark celebrations or accomplishments can put a personal spin on customer engagement. For larger companies that serve a wider consumer base, social media can be an excellent customer engagement tool that allows companies to reach broad or targeted audiences while providing opportunities for direct interaction.’ It’s also important to nurture relationships with other people within your business’ ecosystem, whether it’s local government representatives, community groups who could use your support or businesses working in complementary fields who might be able to refer (or to whom you could refer) work. Creating good vibes around the business is critical to how the business will be perceived, and who will want to work with you.
- It’s about online as well as offline – Business development doesn’t just happen in the real world; it’s happening all the time online in email, your website and on your social media channels. Digital assets like podcasts and webinars have become a popular way to attract new audiences and position yourself as an expert or thought leader in your industry. Think about the way your business interacts and transacts online. Can you do it better? Is there a way to stand out or make more of an impact?
- Teamwork is important – No one can be everywhere so it’s important that everyone on the team understands the business development strategy and goals, and has all the training and resources they need to communicate with prospective customers, partners and stakeholders whenever necessary. Fran DiNuzzo says it best when he says, “Business development isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. To do it successfully, a company must give everything it has, mile after mile, to achieve sustainable quality—and development—along the way.”