As crucial as business development is, it is one of the most ambiguous and divisive concepts in the business world. If you ask ten business development VPs (or similar level execs) about it, you can get just as many different answers. Their responses will peg business development to different elements ranging from “sales” to “partnerships” to “hustling”! And they may all be right in their own way. This begs the question, what exactly is business development?
According to business development writer Scott Pollack, business development is about creating long-term value for an entity through customers, markets, and relationships. This is a pretty decent summation of business development given the varied theories and takes on the topic.
It is important to understand the elements within this definition. First comes the “long-term value.” At its core “value” can be money, crucial for any business. But it can also mean things like prestige or loyalty, also important for growing your company. But the highest caliber of business development is not about creating value that disappears just as quickly as it appears. It’s about persistence and creating opportunities that create value over the long-term. Value that stays with the company. There is no shortage of ways to make some fast cash for a company. But that’s not what people in charge of business development at great companies do. Long term value is the key to continually growing your organization.
Next come the “customers and markets.” The customers are relatively obvious. They’re the ones who buy your products/services. Without customers, you won’t have a business to develop in the first place. What business development experts need to understand is that not everyone is a natural customer. Perhaps your product lacks the features some customers are seeking. Or some customers don’t know what your company is selling. The ability to tap into the customers, their needs and their thoughts is the hallmark of every exceptional business development executive.
The “markets” are where customers “live.” There are different ways to understand markets: by geography, by demographics, by lifestyles and so on. To create enduring value from markets, you need to identify opportunities for entering new markets. Check out our market assessment series for an in-depth look at the subject. Entering the right markets at the right time, with the right preparation, is a sure-shot way to unlocking long-term value. It’s business development at its best.
Then there are relationships. Effective business development is built on relationships. Instead of dealing with customers in a transactional way, accomplished business development specialists forge lasting relationships. Founding Partner at Trilogy Effect Inc., Wendy Appel, talks about the differences between a transaction and relationships and partnerships. You need to create, nurture and leverage relationships with stakeholders in a mutually beneficial way. Don’t make the mistake of treating business development, sales, marketing, etc. as a zero-sum game. Your relationships should extend to employees, partners, press etc., helping the company grow while also benefiting all stakeholders.
Of course, the details of all of the above will differ from company to company. So long as you are creating long-term value across key elements such as customers, markets and relationships, you are getting business development right.
Fatima Mansoor is a writer at Aepiphanni, a small business operations and strategy consultancy that exists to help small business owners CREATE | DESIGN | BUILD extraordinary businesses. She specializes in business & entrepreneurship, digital marketing, and health & fitness. Her focus is on creating compelling web content for small and medium businesses form diverse industries. She mostly writes for entrepreneurs and marketing agencies across the US, Australia and UK.
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