Effective business development is about more than pure sales: it’s about relationships. With this in mind, ill be running through what you should be looking for when you're considering working with an agency.
What is Business Development?
Lets start with the history.
I first heard of the term ‘business development’ (BD) back in 2009 when I was starting my first role as a consultant for Oslo based tech information company, Cyberwatcher.
In this role I was tasked with opening up their UK branch from the staff and client base of a smaller British competitor they had purchased. My Norwegian CEO saw this as a ‘business development’ role and while I understood what was needed, the term itself was new to me (and newish to the UK).
It wasn’t long after this that the UK picked up on the term with real, possibly misplaced enthusiasm.
We’d found an alternative job title that gave a bit of gravitas and modernity to the sometimes negative image associated with salespeople. That said, business development is more than just pure, old-school, door-knocking sales. It's about guts, thick skin and confidence, yes, but also about smarts, tactical nous and strategic movements, too.
So, with this loose description in mind, it’s important you look out for the following telltale signs of best practice when you hire and train your own team of BDMs, or hire and external agency’s business development team to work for you.
After all, agencies intend their BD team to be the first point of contact with prospective clients, typically making them an accurate depiction of what you can expect from the agency as a whole.
5 Skills Needed for Business Development
The success of an agency in terms of both growth and stability depends upon its business development team. BM managers and executives are responsible for business growth, meaning that they need to be commercially aware, creative, analytical and relationship-focused. If you are looking at outsourcing your marketing, then there are numerous skills that you should be assessing when getting in touch with the business development team at the agency you’re looking to work with.
Here’s what you should be looking out for.
1. Relationship Building
The ability to generate genuine professional relationships is central to quality business development. In fact, it should be one of the first things on your radar when engaging with any sales professional.
In any given business, the BD team relies on an in-depth knowledge of their company’s products, services and offerings. This is important as it allows them to propose the most suitable mix of services for your clients, based on their unique challenges and ambitions.
The flipside to this of course is a lack of knowledge regarding your services. This naturally leads to a ‘one-size fits all’ approach to proposing solutions and is usually made obvious through a mixture unconfident waffle and clearly rehearsed script.
That's the recipe for disaster when it comes to building genuine relationships and rapport with your potential customers, and a sure sign of a bad Business Developer.
So, if you're looking to hire a good BD, look out for eloquence, brevity and - most of all - look at the level of detail with which they ask questions a listen to answers. If they listen more than they speak, that's a good sign of a great Business Developer.
Building from the previous point, you should also be on the lookout for a Business Development Executive that is personable and approachable. It's just as important that they can sell as it is that you want to work with them.
After all, even if they come on board and are your best Business Developer, if they disrupt everyone else, then they're not worth your time.
In practical terms, this means the person should make you feel at ease. When engaging with an executive or BD team, you should keep an eye out for any signs of the aggressive, hard sell, which isn't a fit for most businesses these days.
3. Innovative and Competitive
It’s a fast moving world out there and being ahead of the pack is vital. It’s therefore essential that business development professionals keep up-to-date with the latest industry developments, trends and insights.
A lot of BDMs in the world will sadly rely on old knowledge and their ability to 'blag it' - if you want you business to be the best, that's just not good enough.
Knowledge of what is new and at the forefront of the industry is what effective business development professionals use in order to propose the most effective, timely and relevant solutions for your business.
Furthermore, in any industry, you should expect your BD team to have an incisive, detailed knowledge of your competitors’ state of play, too. This not only shows they care about their job, but also better positions them to make an offer to prospects that is going to stand out and be genuinely beneficial.
4. Negotiation and Adaptability
As the name suggests, anyone in business development needs the skills of an all-round business person that can think on their feet. The role requires professionals that have an eye for pulling together packages that will best benefit clients and maximise business opportunities.
As a result, search for signs that your BDM has a significant interest in learning about your business and isn't just in it because it's a job.
You should also look for signs that the executive is viewing your potential business as a career. If you're in Biz Dev and you're reading this, do you love the company you're working for? If not, find one you do - everyone need business developers!
For employers, are your business developers passionate about your business? Do they care about growing it? Or just about the pay packet at the end of the month?
What's more, can they negotiate? Not many people have the skill naturally, so try some roleplay or exercises with them to help them to improve.
5. And Finally - Can They Close?
Business development professionals really do need sales skills and the ability to close a deal. It’s as simple as that.
It’s worth bearing in mind that they will likely be involved in the sales process from its start to finish. While for a final ‘big’ pitch the MD may lead the charge, the BD team will have laid the groundwork for that.
Look out for people who have got the backbone to ask big questions when the time is right. On average, it takes 8 follow ups before a deal gets anywhere near closed: does your BD team have the stamina and the gusto to keep going?
Finally, they should be able to react to anything you throw their way: much needed crisis-management, a change of industry or even newly introduced legislation (like GDPR).
In such instances, a truly effective salesperson will be able to think quickly and suggest solutions based on the new information.