Business Development Article

How to: Business Development – Part 1

Business development: the business unit within an organization that works to create long term growth and profitability through three main activities. These activities include, but are not limited to, creating meaningful partnerships, establishing business in new markets and increasing the value of a current customer base. (Volusion)

Development professionals – at any level – are direct extensions of business owners and leaders. They are the entrepreneurs that will build the business. The strength of their relationships will define the company’s competitive edge. Their strategies will earn market share. Business development can and will define a new venture’s long term success.

It doesn’t take much experience to be familiar with those facts. In my first five months in my current role, I transitioned into adopting and managing 200+ existing relationships; not long after, we transitioned out my direct supervisor who managed the rest of our top donors; and within a few weeks, we transitioned in his replacement. The legwork that went into picking up where the former development staff left off had to be effective and seamless if we had any hope of reaching our goals. We had to hustle.

We went straight to work identifying and building rapport with key partners, evaluating the momentum of the various growth initiatives and determining next steps, and establishing the workflow/process that would expand our capacity to grow the community. Without careful attention to the many moving parts, the division we managed would certainly lose the gravitas and customer loyalty (aka revenue) that had been developed over time. Development had to continue in order for business to continue. And the next fiscal year, revenue grew by 45%.

I have spent the better part of a decade developing a unique insight into how business development is today’s competitive advantage. Whether forming coalitions of stakeholders, planting flags throughout a market to generate awareness, or growing the customer base to record levels, I’ve enjoyed growing one venture to the next. Combine that with countless hours of recent research, and I hope by now that I have inspired you to read on.

I’ll be writing a series of articles. Each one will be dedicated to breaking down the above definition of “Biz Dev.” What’s not included in the definition, and where we will start, is process…

Part 1: Process

Seth Godin writes convincingly about the importance of process as the foundation for growth from business development:

Process first, ideas second. If you’re going to be bringing new partners and new ideas into your organization, you need a process to do it. Professionals don’t, “know it when I see it.” Instead, professionals think about the abilities of their company and strategies necessary to bring ideas in, refine them and launch them. Great business development people…have an agenda and a project manager’s understanding of what it means to get things done.

Process starts with simplification and ends with scalability.

Under the umbrella of process are functions like straightforward client onboarding steps, an organized database that makes answering questions and converting sales easy, and relationship management and client feedback systems that keep everyone accountable and innovating. In other words, SOP’s!

Jeanette LeBlanc convincingly writes about how streamlined operations are essential for scaling the business:

True scalability allows for expansion and revenue growth while minimizing increases in operational costs.

Startups and corporations alike need a foundation of process for their growth aspirations. When building a process there are several aspects to consider in order to ensure that the system matures over time and grows with the business. A great tool to understand the effectiveness of a business development process is the capability maturity model.

Seen here:

Key takeaway: process is not a static idea. Process is dynamic, flexible, and allows for scalability.

The fundamentals for setting up a mature business development process in any business are (sources 123):

  • Document your process to make it consistent and repeatable – train all stakeholders to give them the understanding and skills to follow the process. When processes are straightforward and can be duplicated across the business, growth potential increases exponentially. Create SOP’s, onboard employees, paste your values everywhere, and consistently fine tune the system.
  • Support business development professionals with tools, automation technology, and professional support – a startup that is labor intensive and staff intensive is not scalable. The faster that development professionals can work, and the easier their process, the more they can spend time attending to providing value to repeat customers and to finding new ones.
  • Define phases of the business development process broadly – include loosely defined selling phases like positioning, pursuit, capture, proposal planning and preparation, and final negotiations. A rigid structure can be limiting, so it’s important to be prepared when leads go into their buying cycle with reactive and proactive steps for business development professionals.
  • Efficiently adapt your process to individual opportunities – use flexible support tools that “support knowledge management and collaboration. Process management tools direct the user, save time, and improve effectiveness.” This is where well-managed databases come in.
  • Align the process timeline with your prospects’ buying cycles – approaching your target market at the right time is a strategic imperative.
  • Designate a process owner to collect metrics, to foster continuous improvement, to maintain tools, and to maintain support infrastructure – a scalable process has effective tools for measurement, so the entire system can be assessed and managed at each level.

Take the unique example of my experience managing a global volunteer program. The system, built to support 1,000-plus volunteers in 120 locales, was organized with a regional and local level. The regional leaders supported the overall operations of a handful of local groups within their area; the goal being, as always, to grow.

We expected these regional leaders to be Jacks/Jills of all trades in order to effectively advise each of the assigned local leaders. From the boards comprised of 7-10 leadership positions, any number of issues would be directed to the regional volunteers overwhelming their free time and causing burnout. On top of that, solutions weren’t readily available for those who didn’t have experience with an area of operations. Processes were ad hoc and inefficient.

Needless to say, growth was slow. 

I first sought to solve the issue of burnout by researching, creating and delivering a presentation called, “How to Make Volunteering Easier in a Busier World.” I mapped out a host of important lessons about simplifying work. Included were strategies for creating a vision and a mission, ideas for implementing new systems of operation, and easy to adopt tactics for maximizing production through time management and planning. But advice and training wasn’t enough.

In fact, that’s step 7 or 8 of establishing an effective business development process. Whereas the volunteers might have been smarter, they were still working in the same, overwhelming system. At the core of the problem was a lack of flexibility and scalability.

Shipley Associates Proposal Guide‘s definition of process:

Process is defined as a systematic series of actions of steps directed toward a specific end. Effective business development processes consist of systematic actions that result in new business. Organizations exhibiting business development best practices systematically repeat the same steps across the entire organization.

Hence, the necessity for a large strategic plan to overhaul the program and transition the channels of communication, resource allocation and operational support into direct, systematic pipelines.

We decided to re-position the regional leaders so that rather than holistically supporting a handful of groups, they attended to every group in the region but only supported a specialized part of the operations. Furthermore, we empowered them with a portfolio of new resources that they could easily employ increasing their value to local leaders. In other words, a regional leader who once attended to five presidents, secretaries, event managers and the rest of the positions could now focus their time and energy on supporting every treasurer – and with a toolkit in their back pocket. We call this alignment.

Communications were suddenly streamlined, recruitment tactics were duplicated around the world, and everyone had more time to get the important things done.

The results: the 120 communities grew. Why?

Looking back at the maturity model above, you could say that we reached somewhere between levels 3 and 4. While restructuring and implementing new systems helped spur growth, we also had to adopt an agile mentality. Flexibility via measurable improvement and innovation are the next steps for truly optimizing development.

And while this anecdote is somewhat unique, the lessons are the same. Replicable procedures allowed for simultaneous expansion in every locale. Directly channeling communications and resources allowed for efficiency. Simplified roles and operations allowed for easy training and onboarding for succession planning. We also employed feedback channels so that we could find areas for improvement and established regular reporting so that we could measure progress.

In conclusion, understanding the importance of process is the key foundation for business development. When processes are in place, more time can be spent on the important things like building stronger relationships with partners, expansion, and negotiating bigger deals.

Part 2 – Building relationships (coming soon)

Part 3 – Expanding into new markets (coming soon-ish)

Part 4 – Negotiating deals (coming later)


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