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," saysWilliam Lennon, president and CEO
of Austin, Texas-based GroupBDO, a business development outsourcing firm.
Career counselor Katy Piotrowski, M.Ed. and founder of Coloradobased 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
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
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 Connecticutbased 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."
Since successful business development professionals need to be risk-takers and
possess solid networking skills, there is a perception that introverts aren't
the best people to take on these roles. Experts agree that isn't necessarily the
case. "Too often, people assume that salespeople or business development people
must be extroverts," says Dr. Rachelle J. Canter, president of San
Francisco-based RJC Associates and author of Make the Right Career Move. "The
truth is that all different kinds of styles can be effective in this role. An
introvert can be an effective business development professional. For example,
introverts may tend to be better listeners than extroverts, who excel as
talkers. Feeling heard is an essential component to doing a good deal."
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 function.
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
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
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
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 development."
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."