Some people don’t distinguish between “business development” and “sales”. Not me. Business development certainly includes sales, but it’s more than just skinning the cat once or twice. Business development is the cultivation of long-term personal relationships, developing a sense of trust with those who are buying things from you, and turning customers into clients by keeping and growing them over time.
Don’t get me wrong: Nobody loves closing the deal more than I do and nobody hates putting “Closed Lost” into Salesforce more than I do. (In fact, I once broke the dashboard of my car – and my hand – when I found out we had “come in second” in a bake-off against a rival company. Urgh!) But true professional gratification happens for me when a client calls to re-up or buy more without any hassle, persuasion, or added education needed on my part. Or, better yet, when a client switches companies and continues to buy from me.
Sure, having a good product has a lot to do with it, and I’ve been fortunate to sell good products over the years (none better than TopRight Partners strategic marketing consulting, of course!). I also volunteer as a fundraiser for non-profits (sales as well, in a sense – the good NPOs even call it “development”). And I’m proud to say that while my contact list continues to grow, people whom I’ve known for decades still take my call and agree to the meeting no matter what it is I am pitching. I think it’s because they trust me, know that I won’t waste their time, and am putting in front of them something that they will probably find valuable. And that comes from developing and cultivating relationships over time and from caring about clients as people and friends (because I love what I do and now have the luxury of representing only products and causes of great value).
An added bonus for all you young folks out there considering a career in business development: It’s the only job that will never be replaced by a robot or a computer. Think about it: on a sliding pay scale, are these jobs safe from technological unemployment? Bank Teller – of course not. Teacher – no. Lawyer – nope. Analyst – no way! Don’t take my word for it, take Geoff Colvin’s, written in this year’s Fortune 500 issue:
“As infotech continues its advance into higher skills, value will continue to move elsewhere…
tomorrow’s most valuable engineers will not be geniuses in cubicles; rather, they’ll be those
who can build relationships, brainstorm, and lead.”
So, stay in touch with your college roommate. Go play golf in your brother-in-law’s member-guest in Pittsburgh. Attend your client’s daughter’s softball game. It’s all about personal relationships, and if you like people, business development will never be work.