How Much Sales Is Involved With Business Development?

If you ask a group of people what they think business development is, you would most likely get a few different answers. There is even a chance that your own view of business development and sales may be used interchangeably.

Business development involves more of a strategic approach such as strategy, marketing, customer management, and partnerships; these activities encompass about 75%-80% of the approach, and sales about 20%-25%.

When I get asked the question, does business development have something to do with sales? Yes, it does. Is it related to business growth? Most definitely it does. Does it have anything to do with business strategy? There is a good chance it does.

Business development is a culmination of these different activities but most importantly, it’s all about shifting to the point of view of the client. This will provide you with that new perspective and will have you balance your efforts across these key activities that you and your client will both need and address. Whenever you conduct your business development efforts make sure to take the perspective from the client’s point of view and try to develop a deeper understanding of what their problem is. Realize that the client only cares about one thing and that’s their own group or company’s survival and the problem that they are facing. The client is only interested in you if they identify a need/problem or pain point that you can solve and provide a solution for it. It’s the kind of value that you can provide them that will enable them to consider your firm for the project.

If your firm’s approach is strictly from a sales perspective, generally, the economy of scale is to grow as large as you can. The strategy is to sell your product or service with a clear price and value directly to an identifiable individual client.

From a Business development perspective, the economy of scale is much smaller because the approach to your service is more strategic with the intent to create a partnership. It entails cultivating a relationship with the client and provide a service that could be more cyclical by working through existing partner infrastructures.

In my 14+ years of professional experience in management consulting, business development has been stretched to encompass a wider variety of activities with the intent to stay smaller in size. In its most traditional definition it is all about developing partnerships, which often includes some sales. Whereas, strictly sales are more transaction oriented where scalability is the differentiator.

How To Get More Clients: Hire A Business Development Expert

If your business has been struggling to get more clients in the last few months or year then consider hiring a business development expert that can find the right joint venture marketing partners that can deliver hot leads to your sales team. Many businesses can find themselves in a rut where it’s really difficult to acquire new customers. A joint venture marketing partnership can be the right strategy to get moving forward again. A business development pro will understand the process of putting together a solid business deal that can grow your company. If you feel that building a network of business partners can help grow your business in ways that are unachievable by yourself then find the right consultant or individual that you can bring in-house and do the deals that will get your company more clients.

Hire the Right Person

Hiring a business development person is different than finding a sales person for your team. While a business development expert can always play the role as sales person the opposite is not always true. A person that specifically focuses on business development will understand how to communicate potential business deals to perspective businesses in the right manner. They will understand that it is critical that a strong relationship is forged between the individuals doing the business deal and the company employees that will be involved in implementing the partnership.

Hiring a consultant or consulting firm to act as a business development team for you company is a great route for many small businesses. Many business that do not have the internal man power and capabilities to identify, engage, and do the business deals necessary for growth can benefit from a consultant or consulting firm that has access to the business decision makers or the experience necessary to reach out to companies and develop the relationships required to put together a great business deal.

While a consultants hourly rate may be higher than you’re comfortable with a deal can be put together much faster by a professional than someone trying for the first time to structure a business partnership. Consultants often will require an hourly rate or fixed salary as well as some kind of bonus structure for placing deals together which may be a single payout for each business deal that is signed or a revenue share that is paid out over a period of time based on the amount of business that is ultimately generated from the relationships. Most consultants will not work for pure commission deals unless they believe that a deal can be put together extremely fast and will generate immediate revenue. Most will want a cash payment coupled with a bonus structure. Companies that want to execute business deals with larger fortune 500 type companies should always highly consider hiring an expert that has preexisting relationships with the company that you want to do a deal with. It’s common to hire a consultant for one specific business partnership.

Managing a Business Development Team

Managing a business development team member is similar to a sales team member in many respects. It is important that as a business owner you control and own the data that is developed by the team member by making them use the corporate customer relationship management system and uploading any data and reports on potential business partners to the corporate document server. Failing to do this a common problem with companies and their sales teams and even more so with business development professionals as the relationships they have and bringing to the table are often held tightly and not given up easily.

If you are hiring an outside consultant there may be specific clauses in the agreement about who owns what data. This is something to be aware of as it can be very frustrating to be a month or two in developing a new business partner and have a person leave and take the contact information and data with them leaving you in a tough place to continue. It’s critical to recognize that a business development team member is going to need to spend time out of the office meeting with companies, going to business events and other functions that may be fruitful in finding and meeting the right business partners, however if you are paying for someone to be at an event then make sure the business cards that are collected get scanned and retained by the company.

If you have decided that in order to get more clients your business needs to develop strategic business partners than consider outsourcing the work to a consultant or hiring a business development expert in order to speed up the process. Avoid taking team members off their existing duties or forcing yourself to forge the relationships by yourself and add more duties to your already exhausting schedule.

The Taxonomy of Business Development

What is business development? This is a frequently asked question with as many answers as there are people calling themselves business development professionals. What unifies the discipline of business development is not so much the activities that comprise it, as these are immensely diverse ranging across a myriad of subfields. It is rather the goal or the objective: In one way or another, business development is about implementing business growth opportunities.

Business development involves all tasks and processes concerning both the analytical preparation, monitoring and support of growth opportunities. Of course, growth can be achieved in many ways. There are a plethora of activities, conceptualizations, methodologies, tools, frameworks, models, subfields, and buzzwords employed across industries and geographies when implementing growth opportunities for firms. Thus, it is often difficult to make out what is what with respect to business development.

This paper will discuss and distinguish key concepts of contemporary business development for a more comprehensive and translucent picture of this important yet ambiguous field. A particular interest will be taken into how business development activities differ across company sizes and growth stages, from early-stage startups to fully-grown companies, and the various institutions that can support companies on their paths to growth. Lastly, the value of business development services is discussed from the perspective of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs).

1. The people of business development

“I do biz dev”, you hear people say frequently. But yes, business development is indeed something that one can do, and the actors of business development are called Business Developers. Business developers can be internal employees hired to identify and expand a company´s business, and their strength lies in their deep insight into the organization they work for. On the other hand, there are external professional service providers, such as management consultants, who leverage their experience from helping other companies develop, identify, and execute growth opportunities. Whether internal or external, individuals of this professional breed are usually generalists by nature with the skills and know-how to collaborate and integrate knowledge and feedback from a company´s functional units such as sales, marketing, R&D, operations, and finance, and in turn synthetize that information into actionable roadmaps, also called business plans. The business plan can be thought of as a formal statement of a set of organizational goals, including the motivations and criteria for why they are attainable, and a plan for reaching the goals. The tools and methods utilized by business developers are countless, yet the objective remains to answer one fundamental question: “How do we make money?”

While business developers work to address how firms can sell more of their products or services and make more money both today and tomorrow, business development activities are typically skewed towards forthcoming business opportunities and strategy. Many sales representatives claim to be business development professionals, but this does not fully capture what business development is. One of the principal activities a business developer does is identify new opportunities. To do so, the business developer must have insight into a range of business related fields, and have access to key information that can allow new parallels to be drawn. First of all, he/she must hold a fundamental understanding of the company in question, stay abreast of industry trends, and monitor the competition. Secondly, but perhaps more importantly, the business developer must be able to take a holistic perspective, use his/her intuition when analyzing results, and show proof of creativity and ingenuity when synthetizing information in order to conclude which next steps the business should take.

Working in business development is an excellent way to develop skills in strategy, negotiations, and managing partner and client relationships. Moreover, the job of a business developer is highly cross functional, as it requires collaboration with various internal and partner-company teams such as sales, engineering, and marketing to ensure that a deal is consummated. Last but not least, if done well, business development can have an incredible impact on the success of a business.

2. The institutions of business development

A common problem facing many firms, regardless of where they are in the company lifecycle, is that they get stuck in the trenches of daily operations, at the cost of conducting business development activities. When strategy and competitive advantage are no longer on top of the agenda, focus is lost and to the detriment of sustainable growth. The balance between running day-to-day operations and continuously developing the business further to hone the competitive advantage a firm holds is indeed difficult to manage. For that reason, there are a multitude of professional service providers in the field of business development. From the birth of ideas to early startups, to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) who seek second stage growth, and all they way to strategy implementation for corporate giants, many institutions exist to support firms in their business development efforts.

There are both niche specialists targeting specific business needs and generalists taking a 360° view of the firm and its strategy and objectives. They come in the form of governmental institutions providing funding and support to entrepreneurs, and private institutions in the form of business angels and venture capitalists, business incubators and seed accelerators, second stage business accelerators, boutique consultancy firms, and large management consulting houses. One way or another, these institutions interact with companies on their growth journey and provide all kinds of resources to support them, including funding and physical work spaces (offices), professional support, advice and mentoring, tools and frameworks, strategy development and operations efficiency, and access to important networks in the business ecosystem.

In the table below a classification of business development institutions are plotted out, based on the various stages in the company life cycle. While there of course exist much overlap between of these fields, it gives an idea of who, how, when and for whom various actors interact with firms on their path to growth.

Business Incubator

The idea of the business incubator is to provide support for the successful development of companies by means of an array of support resources and services, offering a nurturing environment where entrepreneurs can bring their ideas to life. Incubator services often include one or several of the following:

  • Shared office space
  • Marketing assistance
  • Accounting/financial management
  • Access to bank loans, loan funds and guarantee programs
  • Help with presentation skills
  • Business networks and links to strategic partners
  • Access to angel investors, venture capital and debt financing
  • Comprehensive business training programs
  • Advisory boards and mentors
  • Management team identification
  • Technology commercialization assistance
  • Help with regulatory compliance
  • Intellectual property management

The idea is to allow entrepreneurs and start-up teams to focus on their core value proposition and leverage key resources that a growing start-up needs. Incubators often employ a selective screening process assessing the feasibility and workability of the business plan of incubatee prospects before letting hem join the program. While many incubator programs are industry agnostic, 39% of incubators in the United States work only with the high-tech sector. A company spends varying amounts of time in an incubation program depending the type of business and the entrepreneur’s level of business expertise. For example, life science and other firms with R&D cycles require more time in an incubation program service companies. On average, incubator clients spend 33 months in a program.1 Oftentimes, graduation requirements are set by development benchmarks rather than time, such as revenues or number of employees. The successful graduation from a business incubation program typically increases the likelihood that a startup company will stay in business for the long term.

Seed Accelerators / Startup Accelerator Programs

The Seed Accelerator derives much of its characteristics from the business incubator; their services often include pre-seed investments (usually in exchange for equity) and the focus is on business model innovation. In contrast to an incubator, the seed accelerator views the startup period as short, and startups are often supported in cohort batches or ‘classes’ during a seed acceleration program. But accelerators are not considered “protected” nurturing environments, like the business incubator. They bring together entrepreneurs, mentors, and advisors and leave it to the entrepreneurs to figure out how to best take advantage of the opportunity that emerges. Being selected by a seed accelerator often brings notoriety to a firm, and it is a way to quickly create momentum in a startup, as long as the participants have the experience and drive necessary. Often, participants in seed accelerator programs are experienced startup professionals who are accustomed to the process.The assets provided by the seed accelerator come in the form of mentoring, funding and a strong network effect, but there are few or no internal resources, such as back office support functions, internal marketing or legal advisory experts or legal. It is a sink or swim environment.

Second Stage Business Accelerator

Second stage business accelerator services are very different from those of both incubators and seed accelerators. A second stage business accelerator can be thought of a management consulting firm targeting established SMEs looking to boost performance and ensure a continuous and sustainable growth path. Whether young or old, many companies sooner or later plateau in terms of revenue, and the growth bottlenecks vary greatly between organizations. One classic hold-up is the entrepreneur / founder who insists on having a finger in the pie across all decision and actions taken by the company – a sign that the company since long has outgrown the governance structure still in place.

A second stage business acceleration program typically lasts between 3-6 months and it is aimed to assess and improve the entire “business machinery” that a growing organization needs to have in place to succeed. Strategic focus, institutional strengthening, human resource training and financial strategy, are some of the dimensions that a second stage business accelerator may offer. The business accelerator’s emphasis is on accelerated and sustainable growth, and to eliminate organizational, operational, and strategic bottlenecks that prevent the client firm from growing. In essence, a second stage accelerator bears a strong resemblance to traditional management consulting firms, but adjusted to fulfill the needs of SME’s.

Boutique Consulting Firms

Boutique consulting firms offer organizations highly specialized advice that addresses specific problems or aspects of a business. The overall objective is to improve efficiency and increase profits, and the term “boutique” has more to do with the firm’s focus than with its actual size. One firm may consist of a single advisor, while another may have 200+ consultants employed. More specifically, “boutique” most often refers to the niches in which it offers its services. Examples of niches in which boutique consulting firms operate include human resources and staffing, IT, healthcare, business process outsourcing, and accounting. These firms tend to work with private sector companies but also with governmental institutions and nonprofits.

Overall, boutique consulting firms focus on a limited scope of industries, and resolve business issues quicker than large management consulting firms that require more time for a specific project. The solutions that boutique consultants offer also have more immediate impact.

Large Management Consulting Firms

Large management consulting firms offer a more diverse set of services compared to boutique consulting firms and are often international in scope. They target publicly held or large private companies, international conglomerates, international nonprofits, and governmental bodies. Large management consulting firms are able to draw from massive reservoirs of overlapping knowledge and expertise in contrast to the more narrowly focused boutique consulting firms, and can offer a single client support on IT, strategy, operational, human capital, and financial issues. Moreover, they create industry “best practices” by working across a wide range of industries and firms (though it is debatable to what extent such practices are transferable from one organization to another). Yet, management consulting has long been a booming market with numerous players, both large and small, offering their advice to firms.

3. The value of business development services for SMEs

It might be hard to decide if and when to use various business development services. What is the actual value that these services provide? Is it worth the investment in time and money? Given the growth stage in which your company finds itself it can indeed be worthwhile considering employing business development services in one way or another.

Early Stage

If your company is an early startup, the decision for joining an incubator or seed accelerator comes down to your personal confidence in your business model, the strength of your team, your capacity to execute, and not the least your fundraising skills. If you have a credible story, a business that is nicely progressing on its own and access to both finance and the right talent, you are probably just as well off on your own. In fact, entering any of these programs might just become a distraction. These environments can act to divert your attention by lots of related meetings and events with mentors and investors, getting in the way of focusing on your projects. Moreover they can be confusing, having ten mentors provide their own piece of advice; filtering advice can be a daunting task. But if you need help refining your business model or if you are a first-time CEO seeking guidance from proven peers and entrepreneurs, these types of services can be perfect. The likelihood of raising capital is vastly improved through the tight screening process many of these programs employ and the access to a strong investor network that these programs provide access to.

Second Stage

Similarly, if you run a small or medium sized company the determining factor for seeking external help lies more in the assessment of particular needs and issues facing the business and the overall growth ambition of decision makers / the owner. As is often the case, companies reach a certain size and then plateau for months or years, not sure how boost growth and reach the next level. Other companies achieve growth, but then face challenges to manage it as they run into the hurdles of balancing daily operations with business development. Be it a young company recently graduated from an incubator, or an established firm who seek to renew itself, the transformation of an organization into a solid business organization that can make way for sustained growth, involves many challenges:

1. Ensure relevance in the market place

2. Implement a sound governance structure

3. Identify, operate and deliver according to a core competitive advantage,

4. Build the right institutional capabilities and business processes

5. Continuous innovation

These are some of the most common challenges facing small and medium sized companies who seek to the reach to the next level. At this stage in the company life cycle business risk is beginning to decrease and the opportunity for true value creation presents its self, yet the path to that second level can be a long and tricky walk. Using the help from a second stage business accelerator can be one way to overcome these challenges; to (re)establish the entire “business machinery” required to allow growth to take place.

Later Stage

Firms of all sizes will sometimes find that they lack a particular skill or area of expertise, and seek the advice of a specialist. In such instances boutique consultancy firms come in handy to for example support a particular project or give advice on matters related to a specific topic such as law, finance or HR. Larger corporations often make use of larger management consultancy firms to identify existing organizational problems and development of plans for improvement. Management consultants often bring proprietary methodologies or frameworks to guide the identification of problems, and to serve as the basis for recommendations for more effective or efficient ways of performing work tasks. While most large organizations have their own business development staff in-house, external advice is thought to bring a more objective perspective to the table. Moreover, no company can house all expertise internally, thus the advice from external business professionals may at times come in handy.

Concluding Remarks

Just as when buying any service, when contracting for professional business development services it is important to have clear deliverables. A common mistake made by many business developers is to guarantee X% increase in sales or revenue. But we all know that growing a business involves a lot of risk, for which one cannot control. The deliverables should instead be based on activity: actions, engagement, meetings, introductions, opportunities, networks, events etc. Make sure to always discuss details of the engagement process and the scope of the services to be delivered. It is equally important that the paying party commits to the engagement and set out deliverables it needs to comply with. One should bear in mind that outsourced business developers put their relationships on the line to help grow your business and their future is dependent on the success of every client interaction. For that reason it is important for you as a contractor to do your part: come prepared, deliver on your end and be service-minded towards any business developer. Moreover, make sure to match your expectations with the price you pay. If not, the results of the service you are buying will most likely be disappointing.

As we can see, business development comes in many forms and is practiced by a broad set of actors. From the birth of firms through incubators and seed accelerators, to boosting growth for small and medium firms by means of second stage business accelerators, to advising corporate giants through management consulting firms, business development constitute an important element any phase of the company life cycle. Undeniably, business development is a crucial component of a firm’s success – the opportunities forged today will define what the company is doing on tomorrow.

[1, 2] 2006 State of the Business Incubation Industry – National Business Incubation Association (NBIA)

5 Business Development Don’ts

5 Business Development Don’ts

In my over 25 years experience in business development for Financial institutions, IT enterprises, Law Firms and Medical Practices there is an unfortunate, common repetitive pattern/tendency that costs unnecessary money and reduces efficiencies considerably.

This tendency can simply be defined as “unproductive” business development practices. While it can be stated simply it is NOT a straightforward problem in the least. Not appropriately, consistently and diligently creating and implementing a business development plan can and does cause significant financial and productive leakages to a business entity. For a small or growing company, business or practice, such a business development oversight can and often is very detrimental in many ways.

I have identified 5 of the most common unproductive business development practices. I hope that, if you can identify any or all of these within your business entity, you recognize the red flag and take heed.

The 5 Major Business Development Don’ts are the Following:

1) Don’t Randomly Advertise. Sounds weird, but it is NOT. One of the most common mistakes and seemingly harmless ones is to advertise a company, product or service without a clear target.

Unless you are a large entity, advertising expenditures should be seriously confined for specific targeted campaigns. Brand recognition advertising for smaller and or new practices is NOT an optimum use of resources.

2) Don’t Just “Get” Business- Instead Get the Right Business.

A common mistake in small to medium size companies is to “accept” any client even if the fit is not perfect, i.e. a client project that is not cost effective or a “difficult problematic client” or a client whose request is out of the range of expertise.

This can be a seemingly difficult situation, especially, if there are cash flow issues within a company. However, ultimately, saying no to these clients is the most cost effective solution.

3) Don’t Leave Your Business Growth to “Chance”

Many small businesses and medical practices get “caught up” in servicing clients when ample clientele is at hand, thus, ignoring future business needs. For small to medium size businesses this is one of the major causes of cash- flow problems. There should always be a consistent everyday effort to bring in new clients. This ensures a constant source of new clients as they progress through the customer life cycle.

4) Don’t Ignore Your Previous Clients

One of the biggest sources of potential revenue for any business, medical practice or law firm is satisfied past clients. There are three ways that these clients can generate new revenue for a business: firstly, by cross-selling other products or services that are complementary to what they bought last time; secondly, by up-selling services or products that enhance their growth or customer satisfaction; thirdly, referrals. Satisfied customers are one of the greatest sources of new business. However, in order for this to be successful you must cultivate a “relationship” with your clients via warm calling, holiday cards, emails, gift certificates etc and you must ASK! Previous Clients are the quickest most effective way to gain new clients… do not ignore this financial resource at your fingertip!

5) Don’t Confuse Business Development/Sales/Marketing

Sales and Marketing are quite distinct from Business Development. Simply put Sales represents the completion of a client prospecting stage, Marketing is the means to communicate value and awareness of a product or service, while Business Development represents the holistic/big picture for business growth. More specifically, business development concerns the tasks, processes and preparation for business/opportunity growth. Business Development is in essence the means to obtain the plan and targeting for growth. Having this plan/bigger picture helps to refine the client/service/product penetration and thus expedites and streamlines the sales and marketing efforts.

Ironically, most sophisticated and large companies have well funded business development departments, however, it is the start-ups, small and medium size enterprises that actually need a business development team or process the most.

It is my sincere expectation and desire that should you identify any of these “red flags” in your business it will start a thinking process and adjustment of your entity’s activities and strategies.