Are you a natural connector? A career in business development could be for you — and because this is a fast-growing career, there are lots of business development jobs waiting to be had.
If your business offers a service, from accounting to web design, your most important business task is bringing in clients. But how do you find those clients? That’s where the fast-growing field of business development comes in.
A business development professional is someone whose primary responsibility is generating business for their organization. This category of professional used to be lumped in with sales and marketing pros, but now business development pros are focusing on recruiting new clients while marketing gurus are focusing on branding and internal and external communications.
Glassdoor.com named business development as one of their top 25 jobs in America for 2015. The study projected 11,616 job openings this year — that’s a lot of business development jobs! — with an average base salary of nearly $95,000.
If you’re comfortable connecting with new people and fostering relationships, this could be a field for you to explore. (Click here to tweet this article on business development.)
What is business development?
In 2012, Forbes published an article attempting to define business development, since it was not a term on the tip of everyone’s tongue.
Christine Spray, founder and president of the National Business Development Association, explained her take on the exact definition of the field. “When selling products, that is typically referred to as sales,” Spray said. “Products are bought because of price, quantity, quality, and how quickly you can get it. Business development is typically referred to when selling services, whether legal, accounting, financial reporting, IT, or marketing. People buy these services because of relationships and trust.”
What it takes to succeed in business development
It takes a unique set of qualities and skills to go out every day and bring in new clients. Since business is often reliant upon trustworthy relationships, it’s important that a prospective client is working with a business development professional that they trust, and a key part of business development is cultivating that sense of trust. “It’s about building relationships,” Spray said. “A lot of people call advertise things on a billboard, but a relationship with a person is what will help make the decision to buy.”
Interpersonal skills are incredibly important, as is being able to connect with people. “You have to be really good at building friendships,” Spray said. “It’s about making friends and helping people.”
Part of helping people involves developing your network and being able to connect people within your network, whether someone is seeking a real estate attorney or an IT provider. It’s important to be able to be the “go to” person making these connections. Building these networks requires frequent contact with a wide variety of professionals, though there is a fine art to networking and building these relationships.
“A lot of people just think business development is networking and eating all day with coffee, lunches, and networking events,” Spray said. “But people who just do that don’t last very long. You really have to know what questions to ask and how to help other people reach their goals, regardless of whether they buy from you or not.”
She also emphasizes the importance of following up, preferably the same day — even if it’s seven or eight in the evening. It’s also important to stay on top of changes in the field. To do so, Spray subscribes to a variety of newsletters and e-newsletters, regularly reads books on networking and communication, and continually focuses on growing her network.
Tenacity is another important trait in the business development professional. “It takes somebody who doesn’t mind being told ‘no’ 10 times a day before they get a ‘yes’ or a ‘maybe’,” Spray said. “They have to recognize that they need perseverance and that it’s a numbers game. But they can plant that seed — they may not need your service today, but tomorrow or a year from now, they might.”
How to prepare for a business development career
Learning how to communicate with people and savvy networking skills, are important stepping stones to a successful career in the industry. “The biggest thing anyone starting out in a business development role really needs to learn is the correct way to network,” Spray said. She emphasizes the importance of not running around and passing out business cards left and right, but rather cultivating relationships and learning what you can do for each person.
This constant networking often requires someone who is a people person. “Usually, people that are more outgoing are more successful at it,” Spray said. She recommends leveraging marketing, communications, and interpersonal skills. At the beginning of her career, she joined Toastmasters to learn about and practice public speaking.
Another training ground for potential business development professionals is somewhat unexpected. Spray recommends working at a call center to practice cold calling and learning to develop a thick skin. “Cold call experiences, where you hear a lot of ‘no’s’, build a lot of confidence as it teaches you perseverance, and that a “no” now doesn’t mean “no” forever,” Spray said.
Looking ahead: career of the future
Business development is growing rapidly. Most of the 60 clients Spray sees each month now have dedicated business development professionals on staff, whereas they didn’t have any a decade ago. “The biggest thing that has changed is that people recognize bringing in new business is harder than they think it is because there is so much competition,” Spray said. “Clients are not hanging out, they’re busy running businesses.”
Bringing in clients is also a good field for people seeking a solid career, even in uncertain financial times. “Business development is a profit center, and you’ll always have a job if you’re good at it.”
Kristen Pope is a freelance writer and editor in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.