While business development has come to mean different things to different companies, the core principles behind creating long-term value are universally applicable. Whether you’re a salesperson, relationship manager, marketing executive or an engineer, if you work in biz dev, you understand the importance of top-line growth. Getting there, however, can be more challenging.
With that in mind, I recently surveyed extremely successful executives at both large public companies and privately-held businesses to uncover practical, impactful tips for business development professionals.
Build Relationships Early In Your Career
“Looking back, I would have focused on developing relationships and expanding my personal networks, both within the organization and outside of it, much earlier in my career,” Beth Brooke-Marciniak, global vice chair of public policy at Ernst & Young, told me, “Women in business can often find themselves excluded from so many natural networks, so it’s important to make a conscious effort to build these relationships early, in addition to doing your job well.”
Take advantage of opportunities to network within your organization and proactively pursue avenues to meet people outside of your company. Attend events connected to your industry, interests, or alma mater, and do not hesitate to introduce yourself. People like working with those they like, and if the right people along the way take a liking to you, your career and business can benefit greatly. Not everyone you meet will be helpful to you, but the more people you know, the better positioned you will be.
Embrace The “Aha” Moment
Rhonda Vetere, CTO, global infrastructure services at Estée Lauder Companies, spoke about the “aha” moments and the importance of embracing them. After the economic crisis, Vetere was forced to relocate to the U.K., a hard hit personally but a blessing in disguise professionally. “… It pushed me to make me stronger and advanced my career being one of the youngest female managing directors to survive Wall Street,” said Vetere. “These opportunities come knocking, and when you think it is the worst time, it is the best time because it pushes you to new heights. Don’t ignore your gut — do it!”
For example, I once met with a real estate investor turned philanthropist who asked me for a limited amount of help in support of the Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement. As a result, he asked me to mentor select pro-Israel students at UCLA. In a moment of clarity, I saw a much bigger opportunity and embraced it, proposing that we utilize then-nascent virtual reality technology to showcase the virtues of Israel to college students all over the country. We created Virtually Israel, which became so popular that it was ultimately adopted by the Israeli Ministry of Tourism.
Challenge Assumptions And The Status Quo
Major events in the last decade — the collapse of leading American and global financial institutions, the election of the first African-American president and then the first president with no experience in public service — illustrate the folly of assuming that things will stay the way they have always been.
Those who are most successful can see beyond the status quo and challenge the assumptions that often lead to static thinking.
“Don’t be afraid to hire or promote outside of exacting parameters and linear experience,” Kerry Bianchi, president and CEO of Collective, told me. Bianchi credits the trajectory of her success to a manager earlier in her career who broke with the norms of hiring experienced outsiders to promote a young but talented insider.
I believe strongly in the importance of challenging the status quo. Doing so has enabled us to build multiple businesses in multiple industries, as we have carved out market share by providing unique value to customers. Central to success in business development is the ability to think outside the box and capture opportunities others have yet to identify or claim.
Examine Hiring Holistically
Increasing headcount does not necessarily lead to an increase in productivity or growth.
“Your people are your most valuable asset but adding more people doesn’t necessarily mean increased productivity and output,” Derek Ting, co-founder and CEO of TextNow, told me. “Rather, it’s more effective to make sure you have the right people, with the right skills, focused on the right problems and opportunities. It’s also important to make sure your people are aligned with your business philosophy and culture.”
My company has been most productive when everyone on our team works in unison, not when we have the largest headcount. When assessing whether and how to scale your business development team, closely examine each new potential hire to understand his or her fit holistically rather than approaching the process the way one tries to rack up points on a scorecard.
Manage Your Time By Prioritizing
Jessica Dalka, creator and CEO of Chicago Planner Magazine, stressed the importance of treating time as a valuable commodity. “It’s important to simplify your services/products for two reasons: so your customers are clear about what they will receive from you, and so you can actually build in time to properly manage your business and be sure to include time for you to recharge when possible,” she said.
Most entrepreneurs and business development professionals regularly lament the unfortunate truth that there is never enough time in a given day. We have too much to do and not enough time. However, entrepreneurship teaches you a skill vital to success in business development: prioritization.
The only way we can accomplish our most important goals is by focusing on them, spending our time and energy on the projects that will best allow us to achieve our objectives while pushing aside items that are tangential. When scheduling a meeting or a call, or picking a target or lead to pursue, always consider the opportunity cost.