How can I be more effective at business development?
August 23, 2012 1:02 PM   Subscribe

Do you work in business development? Please tell me how you spend your time.

I work in business development for a small contract lab services organization. I find myself spinning my wheels and wasting time pretty often, partly because I'm lazy and partly because I don't have a really good model for how to use my time effectively.

There are a lot of problems with this organization that limit my scope and are contributing to my issues. I am looking for other opportunities, but in the interim I would like to make sure I am doing all I can to be good at this.

I do a fair amount of cold-calling to potential clients as well as follow ups by phone and email. When there is some traction, I work on formal proposals, help develop project budgets etc. but once the projects start, I am out of the loop. I have other minor tasks but I am pretty siloed. Once or twice a year I get to go to a conference. I also attend related networking events about once a month, but these are usually outside business hours.

The simple answer to filling my time is probably just 'make more calls' but I am wondering if there is something I am missing. If you work in biz dev, particularly for a services-type organization, what are you doing that makes you happy and successful at your job?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (6 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
One thing you might think about is how you can utilize social media to start to brand yourself and your employer (or maybe just yourself) an an industry expert. Are you maintaining an industry related blog and tweeting interesting industry info 2 or 3 times a day? That sort of stuff, over time, can start to result in better incoming opportunities for the company and for yourself.

Also, make sure the outbound efforts are targeted, and you aren't just the going through the motions to get 30 new calls a day checked off. Been there, done that, doesn't work! Look at where you are successful closing deals, find more companies like that, and put some serious upfront effort into securing appointments with those companies where you have a higher likelihood of success. Use LinkedIn to figure out who you know that might be able to help you get a foot in the door.

Regardless of what Obama tells us about an improving economy, I'm not seeing it down here in the trenches of sales. Budgets are tight and decisions take forever. So a lot of the frustration may just be the economy too.
posted by COD at 1:17 PM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've done jobs that involve "business development," this year's PC term for "sales," all my career. These days I have enough non-sales side activity that I pretty much come in every day with projects I'm working on to the extent that time and concentration level permit. But I do remember those days of "now what can I do?"

I think it's wrong for companies to silo prospecting up so much, because most people can't psychologically take the constant rejection without the reward of getting to do a lot of interesting cool stuff if one bites, plus you learn so much from the ones who are happy, buying customers about why the non-customers of the world should be your customers.

So - will your company let you go any further in some role that lets you talk to current customers, even if it's just a cross-train, temporary sort of assignment? That will do more than anything to make you a better advocate of your product when talking to prospects.

Beyond that, and the training you say you already do - yeah, in your present role, they want you to make lots and lots of calls. You didn't say how happy they are with your job performance, but I guarantee that is the biggest yardstick of effort they apply to you, with the actual results (conversions) being the biggest yardstick of results.

It may be helpful to think of it as a bit of a game. I had a job very briefly doing something similar to what you're doing, back in 2000, and while the company overall was like something straight out of "Office Space" I found it strangely relaxing to put on the headset and just - keep dialing. And not worry too much about rejection or even results. I had a lot of interesting conversations, and even the ones that seemed pretty dead-end were building awareness of the company I was representing.

Along those lines, at your stage you define success as "getting to send a proposal." It's up to the next level reps to close the business. So make a game of it. Try to get to where you do 1 more proposal a day than you've been doing; try to do 10% more dial-outs. Seems kinda mindless, but it's the best chance you've got of getting someone's attention in that company for a promotion, or, failing that, being able to say on your resume that you were the top-performing person in your (department, class, cubicle).
posted by randomkeystrike at 1:18 PM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I like CODs answer - I'd sort of assumed that they did the targeting upstairs and just gave you a bunch of calls to make. If you have latitude to help select the people you call, and/or to bring leads in via social media, LinkedIn, etc., yeah, that is a huge added value. Just don't substitute research for calling. Sooner or later, you gotta pick up the phone.
posted by randomkeystrike at 1:20 PM on August 23, 2012

Another useful and interesting thing you can do is create a formal program for following up three groups: companies that hired some other firm, companies that are current customers, and companies that are former customers. Why did they make those decisions? What can you learn that can be applied to product development, customer service or marketing? How can your company be more competitive? What turns out not to matter that you thought was important, and vice versa (e.g., price). How does the handoff from sales to product rep occur and can it be improved? All of this increases your value to you current and future employers.
posted by carmicha at 1:41 PM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Network, Network like crazy and follow up with whoever you meet. Get a card from everybody.
Real life face to face is worth so much both now and in the future. COD gives good advise; Become an expert, run a blog and introduce your contacts to it in a follow up email. Get other people to know you are an expert and acknowledge it.
Find industry related discussion groups and especially find journalists who specialise in your field. Write letters to Industry journals or give them snippets of information.
Publications love filler.
Use Linked In especially checking out your contacts contacts.
The results won't be overnight but slowly your peers in your industry will begin to note who you are and so will your potential clients.
And remember to have your own private database / contact info files for the day when you move.
posted by adamvasco at 1:46 PM on August 23, 2012

Its a bit counter intuitive. But get out of the office.

Get to industry events, mixers, networking events etc. If your position doesn't have a budget for travel etc, you need to make the case for one. (I realize you're doing this, but i'd try to up the ratio from one a month to one a week)

Not enough networking events? Have a meetup at your office? The more people you meet outside of work, the more stuff you'll have to do while at work.

Other things you can do, social media (as mentioned - excellent suggestion). I know a company who didn't do an email newsletter, instead they'd basically do a monthly "article" which would go out to people. This article shouldn't be just marketing tripe, it should be something which is interesting and useful to your clients and potential clients. In this case you're not selling your company's services, you're showing what you know.

Finally follow up. Talk to past clients and see if they had a good experience, if not why? You might be missing some leads from old clients because something was off and they've been silent about it.
posted by bitdamaged at 1:50 PM on August 23, 2012

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