Are you looking for a rewarding and challenging career; one that will
provide both a personal and professional sense of accomplishment? How
would you like to be the rainmaker at your organization and be the
individual who helps create profitable, new opportunities for the company?
Such promises of success and fulfillment have enticed many executives to
enter the world of business development in recent years. It's a job
function that combines many executive skills and knowledge that can make
an individual a strong contributor to his company's future growth in its
marketplace. It also continues to yield strong career growth opportunities
for individuals currently working in this arena and those who aspire to
join the ranks.
ExecuNet's recently released Executive Job Market Intelligence Report
identifies business development as a top growth function in 2008, as well
as in 2007 and 2006. One reason is obvious: business development has an
enormous impact on a company's bottom line. Its future success can depend
on the strength of its business development efforts. "Business development
will always be important to organizations because it is the fundamental
foundation of all revenue growth," says William Lennon, president and CEO
of Austin, Texas-based GroupBDO, a business development outsourcing firm.
Career counselor Katy Piotrowski, M.Ed. and founder of Colorado-based
Career Solutions Group, concurs that the impact business development has
on companies and individuals performing such tasks is enormous. "The
profession of business development offers win-win outcomes for both the
company and the specialist," she says. "Looking at the history of job
functions within a typical organization, until the last decade, there has
been no role tasked with addressing the important priorities of business
development. As word has spread among successful business leaders about
the value of this function, every growth-minded organization wants this
essential talent on its team."
Diverse Challenges Mean Diverse Skills Required
Certainly, executives driven by the opportunity to achieve such bottom
line results for their companies are typically drawn to business
development opportunities. "Many business development positions seek
qualifications that are highly attractive to achievement- driven
professionals: identifying and analyzing opportunities; positioning
organizations, products and services for improvement; working company-wide
to accomplish objectives," adds Piotrowski. "High performers love these
challenges. As a result, business development positions are appealing to
many experienced professionals, and attract the best of the best."
ExecuNet member Mark Bussard, a senior business development executive in
the high tech industry, notes that there is a minimum set of skills
required of business development professionals: sales experience;
marketing experience; product development experience; business management
experience; strategic planning ability; market and competitive analysis
skills; and predicting the future and vision (seeing the big picture).
Lennon says that any prior experience that includes being on the phone 40
to 70 times a day is valuable as well. "Customer service, credit and
collections are some areas of business where these individuals would have
a good chance to succeed because they are used to the call volume
necessary to be successful in business development," Lennon adds.
From all of those calls and contacts with customers and prospective
partners, business development professionals must be able to yield viable
alliance opportunities for their organizations and set a plan in place to
make them happen. "Responsibilities include preparing a strategic business
growth plan, not just a business plan based from current or known market
trends and data, but really digging and finding opportunity, then building
a profitable business plan around those new opportunities," says Bussard.
"[Other duties include] executing that plan, with regular market updates
and adjusting the plan as you drive forward to maximize its results."
What makes this different from a sales role is that you need to be an
influencer, not a seller. "You have to be able to influence people," says
ExecuNet member John Brewer, vice president of corporate and business
development for SiGe Semiconductor, a radio frequency solutions provider.
"When you're in a marketing or sales role, you are making decisions. My
role is completely influential."
Still, you need basic skills that are typically associated with sales and
marketing careers. Because building relationships are such an important
aspect of business development, executives in this area must be strong
networkers. "The business development executive needs to network all the
time," says Richard Dean, principal of Lorton, Va.-based Market Intel
Consulting, which helps its small business clients improve their business
development functions. "It's a give-and-take scenario. If you give some in
your relationship circle, it will grow, and you will receive twice as
much. Attend events and activities, have your 'pitch' well-prepared, be
sincere and confident, smile, and others will come to you."
While preparation is important, business development professionals should
also be comfortable taking chances. "[Being a risk-taker is] absolutely
essential," says Frank Slugaski of Connecticut-based Hire Aspirations.
"This role is not for the faint of heart. You have to be prepared for the
next step well before the prior steps have been completed."
Accepting the Challenge
What typically attracts executives to a business development role? Bussard
says reasons such as an increase in compensation or visibility could drive
that desire, as well as the plan to use such a role as a stepping stone to
a C-level position. Some just want a true challenge.
"Of the multitude of executive specialties in our job market today,
business development is one of the most open arenas for career
transition," says Piotrowski. "This is because hiring managers are most
interested in a track record of achievement rather than a work history
comprised of former business development experiences." Included in that
list of achievements should be some C-level or other high-level work
experience, adds Slugaski. "Companies want to hire a perceived leader and
decision-maker who's been there before," he says.
Brewer actually transitioned from VP of marketing at SiGe to the company's
VP of corporate and business development last fall, less than two years
after joining the company in his marketing role. Brewer says the company
didn't have a business development leader; and after he complained about a
lack of customer development, the company's CEO put him in charge of that
Brewer says he has been able to draw from his experience as a CEO of
start-up companies, in which he spent 20 years raising venture capital,
and is enjoying his new role.
A Friend of the Future
While leadership skills are important, you must really have a strong grasp
on future trends and understand how to create opportunities for your
organization. You need to be able to create deals that set your company up
for continued future success.
You need to be a visionary, notes Bussard. "It's hard to describe what
makes a good visionary; but an ability to predict accurately where a
market is headed, or to see an untapped opportunity, and build a business
case around it is essential," he says. Sales experience isn't typically
helpful in honing an ability to create long-term plans, according to
Brewer. "Sales is a very different path for business development," he
says. "Sales is about short-term execution and planning."
Being comfortable creating strategies is key in the business development
world. "Business development is about defining the strategy. It's about
defining the execution of the strategy," adds Brewer. "For me, growing a
business is about business development."
But a sign that a career in business development isn't for you is
frustration with the processes. "One can be easily frustrated due to
pressures to deliver more captures," says Dean. "There are limited dollars
in any industry; and if your particular company doesn't have the
reputation or the ability to leverage available opportunities, the
business development professional will become frustrated and the boss
becomes frustrated. The circle will continue until the business
development person finds the right fit for him or her."
"When you get frustrated with your management, you might as well go," says
Brewer. "More often than not, people leave business development roles
because they're frustrated because they can't be influencers."
Making the Transition
If you're interested in transitioning to a career in business development,
you need to be able to illustrate your past successes to recruiters and
hiring managers, as well as demonstrate that you're able to create solid
plans for the future. "Position yourself as a leader and mentor to others
and show your involvement in helping others achieve their goals," says
Slugaski. Brewer suggests presenting an outline of a three-year business
plan, connecting it to a company's goals during that time frame.
Brewer adds that it's also important to demonstrate your ability to
communicate. "Communication is very graphic and visual [in business
development]," continues Brewer. "You have 15 to 20 minutes to convince
[an audience]. If you can't do that in a memorable way, you're not going
to influence them."
Find ways to show how your prior experience has provided you a solid
background to take on business development duties. "[Business development
candidates] need the ability to leverage their prior experience and
abilities into a business development role, using their competitive
advantages (facts about their distinctive competence that demonstrate
value to their audience, in this case, hiring managers in the business
development space)," notes Canter. "If you can't close a deal with a
hiring manager, how can you hope to close deals with other companies?"
If you think that a career in business development makes sense for you,
start thinking like a business development executive now, advises
Piotrowski. "Look at every aspect of your work from a broader perspective,
asking, 'How could we make an impact with this product or service on a
larger scale? With which people and organizations should we align to
expand our reach?' As you identify opportunities, propose that you
investigate and implement your ideas," says Piotrowski. "Keep a record of
your successes to serve as evidence for when you make the move."
Where should you move? The opportunities for business development
executives are vast, since they are available in a wide range of
industries. Among some possibilities, notes Slugaski, are companies with
strong "green" initiatives, those that have increased their product lines
or organizations that have merged and are seeking ways in which to build
synergies with their new assets.
If you can find a great fit between your capabilities and the needs of an
organization, a business development role can be extremely rewarding on
many levels. The experience gained in a business development function can
help position you for your next stop on the career ladder. "It's a great
career move, since once you've done this job, you can tackle just about
anything in business," says Bussard.
"A lot of responsibility comes with this role, so the success of many
people, and the company, will rely on your ability to perform," continues
Bussard. "That means pressure, 'so if you don't like the heat, stay out of
the kitchen.'" At the same time, don't take your power within the company
too seriously. "Check your ego at the front door," advises Brewer.
"Influencing is about winning them over, not telling them what to do."
If you're successful in your business development role, your company and
you individually will benefit financially. Most business development
positions include a base salary plus incentives, which can include equity,
bonuses or percentages of captured business, adds Dean.
When making the case for your transition to business development, assess
if you have all of the skills necessary. If you lack experience in certain
areas, try to gain some experience in those aspects to ensure you are
fulfilled by the entire process, suggests Bussard. "One of the things
about business development for me is that I enjoy all of the aspects," he
says. "That's not true for some people; and you need to be committed to
all of the requirements of the job, not just a few which you enjoy. To be
successful, you need to be passionate about every part of business
Yet, perhaps most of the passion is reserved for closing a deal. Lennon
says that what interested him most about business development was "the
challenges and the thrill of the kill. Actually, someone who I respected
very much had recognized my abilities before I had."