Article | 10 min read

What is business development? Strategy, plan, and skills

Understand business development so you know what your BD department does and how to best use their skills.

By Donny Kelwig, Contributing Writer

Published March 9, 2022
Last updated April 15, 2022

Anyone who works in business development knows that it can be a tough job to explain. If someone asks you what you do for a living and you say, “Business development,” you’re usually met with a quizzical look.

So if you don’t have a thorough grasp on what business development is, don’t worry—you’re not alone. The best way to understand business development is to break it into clear pieces. That’s what we’re here to do.

Keep reading to explore business development in all its facets:

Business development definition

According to Forbes, business development (BD) is “the creation of long-term value for an organization from customers, markets, and relationships.” That’s a simplified definition, and it still faces the hurdle of trying to encompass the massive range of responsibilities that go into BD. Every effort involved in business development is an activity that helps make a business better. But, one could argue, that describes every action of every member of a business.

So, what makes business development different?

The easiest way to understand BD is to look at it as the umbrella that works to improve all other departments. BD isn’t sales, but it helps improve sales; it’s not marketing, but it improves marketing.

When you look at BD through this lens, you can fully appreciate just how complicated it is. In order to improve something, you have to understand it. Therefore, BD has to understand every aspect of a business in order to make an impact.

Common business development activities

Given the wide scope of responsibilities, it’s impossible to list all the activities that go into BD. That said, there are 10 key tasks your BD team will likely focus on:

1. Research

business development

The primary skill of a business developer is the ability to understand everything about their business so they can give accurate advice and create realistic plans. This research can encompass:

  • Market/industry trends
  • Company history
  • Competitors
  • Leads/prospects/customers

Not only does someone in BD need to have a handle on this information, but they also need to ensure that it is thorough and constantly updated.

2. Stakeholder mapping

Once you know your place in the market, it’s the business developer’s job to maintain it through stakeholder mapping and relationships. Your BD team needs to generate a list of important individuals and companies that can bring you closer to your target audience and then work to build relationships with those people.

3. Identifying growth opportunities

business development

The BD department exists to expand your company. One of the key ways to do that is through identifying and taking advantage of growth opportunities. By looking at emerging market trends, your business developers can propose opportunities for growth and expanded market reach.

4. Brainstorming

This seems like a given, but we don’t simply mean sitting around thinking of ideas. When we say brainstorming, we mean a structured idea-generation process. That means business developers working together to analyze growth opportunities and develop strategies for how to make the most of them while staying true to the company.

5. Experimenting

business development

Not every idea is going to work—that’s the way BD goes. So, an important part of BD is establishing small-scale plans that can be tried out in the field before being implemented across the entire company. Sometimes this experimentation is small (for example, A/B testing in marketing), but it can also be as ambitious as a small-scale product launch.

6. Lead generation and qualification

Lead generation and qualification aren’t just for the sales development team. Sales development does a lot to generate and qualify leads, but they primarily focus on customers. Business development works with inbound and outbound leads to develop potential B2B relationships and partnerships.

7. Prospecting

business development

Prospecting goes hand in hand with lead generation. Business developers are responsible for tracking down the contact information for stakeholders and reaching out to them. An easier way to do this in conjunction with the sales team is to use specific sales prospecting tools to find prospects and leads.

8. Cross-departmental project management

Most BD plans stretch across multiple departments. As a result, business developers must be able to manage those departments so they work together to achieve results. BD requires a deft hand in precise communication, documentation, and conflict resolution.

9. Partnership management

business development

Keeping business partnerships healthy is a never-ending process. Business development works tirelessly to evolve strategic partnerships while negotiating, building trust, and working together to achieve mutually beneficial goals.

10. Data analysis

Of course, nothing moves forward in any business without data-backed plans. Business development must be able to analyze all incoming data throughout the marketing and sales funnel as well as throughout product development. A great BD team can use this data to adjust its plans based on which measures are working and which measures need to be rethought.

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How to create a business development strategy

All the previous BD activities revolve around implementing a business development strategy. But how do you create that strategy?

There are two key parts to every BD strategy:

1. The plan

2. The implementation process

Let’s start with a look at the plan.

Create a plan

A strong BD plan consists of five key factors:

1. Elevator pitch

You need a concise 30-second pitch for any plan, including a BD plan. Want to go the extra mile? Craft several pitches and see which ones are most effective. You’ll be able to pitch while conducting market research at the same time.

2. SMART goals

The SMART system is a great device for business development goals. SMART goals are those that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. By using the SMART system, you’ll keep your goals aligned with other departments and ensure they are achievable with your current resources.

3. SWOT analysis

SWOT analysis stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. It is an effective tool for business development because it helps you pinpoint your problem areas. The best way to use SWOT is to pick a specific aspect of your business to analyze. For example, if you’re looking to launch a new product, you can look at what your company does well, what it does poorly, where it might be missing opportunities, and what other companies might be doing better.

4. KPIs

In order to evaluate your plan’s success, you need to identify measurable data points through which you can document positive (or negative) outcomes. This is frequently done through key performance indicators (KPIs). Depending on what you’re looking at, these KPIs can range from revenue changes to leads and conversion rates. The important thing is that you choose specific KPIs to complement your plan.

5. Budget

Possibly the most important aspect of your plan is your budget. Your company needs to be able to afford your plan before approving it and starting implementation. Keep your proposed budget realistic, but don’t be afraid to push. After all, if your plan works, you should be able to make that money back.

Implement a process

If you have a solid plan, implementation ideally becomes a mere matter of assigning and supervising. The steps for implementation are going to vary based on the parameters of your plan, but here are a few best practices to keep in mind when you’re launching:

  • Hold regular cross-departmental status meetings to keep everyone on the same page.
  • Simplify and centralize communication and data access with appropriate software, including lead generation software and SFA (sales force automation).
  • Remember that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Business development is about long-term growth, so look at trends rather than sweating over the roller-coaster of monthly numbers.
  • Make sure your business development plan aligns with individual department plans. Sales managers are also responsible for crafting goals for their team, and those goals are just as important as yours. Clear communication and SFA software can ensure your goals aren’t working against each other.

Business development representatives

Now that we’ve looked at BD strategy and activities, let’s look at who’s actually on the ground getting that work done. Employees who work for your BD department are called business development representatives, or BDRs.

BDRs work with nearly all your departments as they search for and implement new strategies, targets, prospects, employees, and tactics for your company. Because BDRs work with an enormous number of people and have a varied skill set, they need to come to the table with specific experience and qualities.

Sought-after business development skills

If you’re looking to create a strong, independent BD team, you need to know exactly who you’re looking for. A top business developer has a strong understanding of:

  • Current industry growth predictions
  • Competitor growth and development plans
  • Customer profiles and buyer personas
  • New market opportunities
  • How to qualify leads
  • Cost sink areas and opportunities for cost savings
  • Sales tools and marketing software, including sales dashboards and contact management platforms
  • New product and expansion opportunities relevant to the business
  • The long-term goals for the company
  • Basic marketing knowledge
  • Rudimentary sales knowledge
  • Basic production and inventory knowledge

A great business developer has their hands in a lot of different activities on a given day. They need to be quick, creative thinkers who are able to multitask and deal with a variety of personalities. It’s why business developers never know how to describe their job—they quite honestly do a bit of everything.

What is new business development?

New business development means an existing company is developing a plan to introduce a new product or service under a new business model in a relatively unknown market. It’s aligned with business development because it seeks to expand and generate more revenue for the company, but it’s given its own title because it can be a radical and risky approach.

Most business development occurs within existing company parameters: target audience, buyer personas, sales styles, etc. New business development takes the company outside its comfort zone and tries a completely new tactic. That doesn’t necessarily mean one specific new tactic, just a tactic that the company hasn’t previously tried.

For example, a restaurant that exclusively serves sit-down guests employs new business development when it starts offering delivery or partners with a food delivery service like Grubhub. In the same vein, a company that exclusively offers delivery and takeout employs new business development when it begins offering sit-down service.

A larger number of companies used new business development tactics when the pandemic hit in 2020. That was in reaction to the sudden need to serve leads and customers from home and not close up shop. However, you don’t need a catastrophic event to encourage change. Sometimes a risky shakeup is just what you need to move your company to the next level.

Use a CRM to align your business development plans

Business development is all about aligning communication between departments so that you can achieve new business goals. The best way to align your company along a unified vision is through a CRM.

With a simple and easy CRM like Zendesk Sell, communication between your business development team and all other departments becomes effortless. Plans can move and adjust in real-time in response to everything from marketing clicks to leads and sales tracking. Plus, if you’re new to the CRM world, we’re happy to walk you through it with our CRM software explainer.

Your BD team already has a thousand things to juggle every day, so why make their lives harder? Request a demo of Zendesk Sell today to keep your business development team—and your business—ahead of the competition.

Improve your sales process

A good sales process is the foundation of any successful sales organization. Learn how to improve your sales process and close more deals.

Improve your sales process

A good sales process is the foundation of any successful sales organization. Learn how to improve your sales process and close more deals.

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