How To Build Business Development Skills

Business development professionals work to develop a company by evaluating their performance and looking for areas to improve. Improvement may come in the form of building and maintaining relationships with allies and partners, or it may involve identifying opportunities for growth in other channels. Working in business development offers growth potential and the option to have a fulfilling career.

In this article, we will discuss what business development professionals do and what skills are necessary to be successful in this role.

What is business development?

Business development is the identification of long-term methods to increase value through the development of relationships, markets and customers. The core responsibility of a business developer is growing a business. Depending on the industry, the day-to-day tasks and strategies to achieve this goal will vary, but the overall mission remains the same.

While many business development roles require a degree, it depends on the company and position. In most cases, you'll need experience in sales, marketing or business management. Certain skills are also vital to your success in this field, including those in sales, communication, negotiation, marketing, data analysis and project management. By building these skills, you can increase your chances of success in the field of business development.

Business development vs. sales

When trying to define business development, people may not know how to differentiate between their roles and the roles of salespeople. However, understanding business development involves looking at how the company can grow effectively. Although the sales team works to expand the company as well, business developers work with other potential partners and businesses, rather than direct customers.

If a company is seeking to expand and grow in other ways, business development opportunities may be the best solution. A skilled business developer can form and nurture long-term partnerships that lead to additional leads and closed deals. As a result, the business may be able to grow without the need for a massive increase in sales staff.

Business development focuses on the long-term success of a business and finding the best ways to achieve that success. By identifying and creating business development opportunities, companies can form relationships with partners that will help them through referrals for a longer period of time. For some companies, business development is the means that create long-term value.

Business development terms

If you search for business development opportunities, you may find a few common terms across the listings. Here are two key phrases you should know when working with business developers or working toward getting a role in this field:

Sales pipeline

This term refers to potential revenue opportunities and where they fall in the process of purchasing from or forming a partnership with a company. The pipeline visually represents the progress of the deals, beginning with prospecting and ending with closing the deal. By adding to the sales pipeline, a business development professional can support the sales team and increase potential sales.

Target audience

This term refers to the ideal customer or partner for the company. Identifying target companies, customers or clients is a key aspect of working in business development to prevent wasting time and resources. To determine the target audience, you'll need to be able to perform research and look into potential partnerships and sales channels.

Business development skills

If you are looking to pursue a role in business development, there are several common skills you may find in job descriptions. Setting personal goals to improve these skills can help you be a more competitive candidate.

Here are a few of the skills you should emphasize on your resume and during business development interviews:

1. Sales skills

While business development and sales roles serve different purposes, they share a few similar tasks and responsibilities. For this reason, basic sales skills can help you be successful in this role.

To target opportunities for growth, a business development professional must be able to identify members of the company's target audience and effectively find and follow up on opportunities. Additionally, business developers need the skills to build relationships with potential partners or prospects.

This might involve tasks such as cold-calling or setting up in-person meetings to discuss potential opportunities and sell the idea of a partnership that benefits all involved parties. Every business must acquire customers to grow, but every potential customer is not the right fit. The ability to evaluate whether a potential customer is qualified or a partner has access to members of the target audience is a necessity in business development.

Additional sales skills include:

  • Prospecting

  • Updating the sales funnel or customer management platform

  • Qualifying leads

  • Nurturing relationships with clients

Business developers often work closely with sales team members to push qualified leads through the sales funnel and get prospects to the next level. After the handoff, the sales team members will demonstrate the product, negotiate and ultimately close the deal.

Although business development professionals are involved in the sales process, they rarely close deals or convert prospects into customers. Those responsibilities ultimately fall on the sales team. However, the ability to streamline the sales process can improve the success of a business, which is why business development professionals and sales team members work closely together in this capacity.

2. Communication skills

Without strong communication skills, it will be difficult to achieve success in the world of business development. Business developers must be able to write and speak confidently and clearly, as well as listen to the responses and concerns of potential clients. The responsibilities of a business development executive include calling prospects, maintaining long-term relationships and sharing valuable information with those involved in the business.

Along with those communication skills, a business developer should be able to negotiate. While they might not be the one closing the deal, they are responsible for generating leads and keeping them interested as they move through the sales funnel.

To succeed in negotiations, you need to be able to think creatively, understand the needs of others and prioritize. Above all else, your communication style should be genuine and tactful. You can also improve your communication skills by practicing presentations and pitches to feel more confident.

3. Marketing skills

In many companies, the business development department often aligns more closely with the marketing department than the sales department. Although a business developer must have some sales skills, they must also understand the basic principles of marketing and apply them in their role. Ultimately, the goal of both marketing and business development professionals is to grow the business, although the methods for doing so may differ.

Smaller companies may not have the resources to employ a full marketing team, so some of the tasks often associated with marketing could fall on the business developers. These tasks include finding ways to promote the brand, expand the market, acquire new users and generate awareness. Additionally, many business development executives are looking for opportunities to form partnerships, not sell to a direct end customer. Therefore, the ability to promote the brand effectively is pertinent.

4. Business intelligence skills

Business intelligence is gaining insights and a deep understanding of a market. In business development, building these skills involves researching the needs of the business and its competitors to gain a broader view of the target market.

Collecting and analyzing data also falls under business intelligence. Some of the most common types of data that benefit a business developer include the size of the potential market, any changes impacting it and the types of campaigns that generate positive responses from certain market segments. To build this skill, an individual can start by performing research, collecting data and learning more about target markets.

5. ROI and data analysis skills

A business development executive must be able to track returns on investments (ROI) and have the data to support it when presenting to managers and executives. The metrics business developers track will vary depending on the sales cycle, needs of the company and industry. Some standard measurements include revenue, the number of deals produced through partnerships and other channels, as well as the sales pipeline and the influence of the business development team on that pipeline.

Having the skills to clearly present company progress, as well as the organizational skills to track what you are doing to boost the growth of the company, can greatly benefit your ability to succeed in this career path.

6. Project management skills

Developing a business is a large and complex project—managing it closely is imperative to the overall success of a business developer. Some of the skills needed to be a great project manager carry over to the business development industry. These skills include leadership, team management, the ability to monitor and manage risk and personal organization.

The ability to lead a team is important when managing a project because you're likely not handling every task alone. Managing your team involves supporting teamwork, resolving conflicts and evaluating performance. Those same skills apply to your own performance as a business developer.

Business development exists to develop a business in a more strategic way than it experienced initial growth. Each business or industry will have its own specific needs for development but having access to the right professionals can build that growth potential. If you're interested in pursuing a career in business development, identifying and building the necessary skills can help you succeed.