Should Business Development Be Part of Your Career Plan


section: Article of The Week

By Marji McClure

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 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 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.
The Rewards
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."