Career development via business development?
August 17, 2006 5:52 PM   Subscribe

I like where I work and I want to help the place grow, but I'm the IT guy and not much of a people person -- or at least, my idea of what management is about doesn't match the current style. I no longer want to climb the management ladder, instead I want to be involved in business development stuff, specifically ways to use modern technology for both marketing and core business. Does anyone have any suggestions?

I already have a number of ideas as to how the business could explore assorted technologies, but I'm not placed well enough within the business structure to make the proposals. Frankly, no one is.

I'm not sure what I'm looking for. Asking for info on 3-day Business Development training sessions is somewhat insulting to anyone that's done a real degree in the area. (But if you want to address that, I'm in Perth, Western Australia.)

Probably the most helpful thing would be stories from anyone who's started in a very technical position and gone on to a business development role.
posted by krisjohn to Work & Money (3 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm not really clear on what you mean by "Business Development". In most environments I have worked in, that was equivalent to Sales Plus or something like that. Finding partners/customers to work on new concepts with, to explore new business opportunities, etc.

It kind of sounds like you mean R&D more than Sales. Is that right? Or developing new programs using new technologies to replace old processes and programs and methods?
posted by mikel at 6:48 PM on August 17, 2006

Generally, IT in commercial companies has two groups of "customers" -- "internal" customers being real human colleagues and departmental/functional "corporate persons" with systemic needs, and "external" customers being vendors, customers, partners and competitors who have need of interacting with your company in external linkage. You can often get valuable insights and start things rolling, just by asking to audit other jobs, processes, and/or functions, as appropriate, in addition to your regular IT duties. The novelty of having an IT guy offer to do this, himself, without being asked is enough to cause most people in your "internal" and "external" customer roles to say "Sure, come along, see for yourself." The challenge you then face, is to actually be able to do it, and produce a gain for having done it.

Let's say your company is a medium sized durable goods distributor in Oz. When was the last time you rode about for a day with an outside sales representative, and kept your mouth shut as you saw what the representative actually did to get orders for your company, and communicate with customers? How much of his/her day is spent selling, and how much doing customer service? How much of what he/she deems sales is actually marketing (market development, competitive information gathering, finding new sales leads, etc.) and how much of it is actually selling (quoting prices, making offers, getting contracts, communicating details, reporting sales, etc.)? If you could spend a day or two seeing what your sales people really do, and where they think they have problems, without doing anything other than observing, you might well learn more than you think you would.

Following on that, could you use the actual order transaction trail as your continuing investigative thread? How does an order actually get booked? Do your outside sales people enter orders directly, or do they call or fax them in to inside sales/support personnel? Are there internal checks in the order entry process, such as new account credit check, past due payment check, stock keeping and stock turn checks, that complicate order booking? Who is responsible for saying when an order has actually booked? When is stock committed to the order? When does the order begin producing internal documents and work in the warehouse or manufacturing plant? How is the order fulfilled? When is the order "shipped?" When is it invoiced? What happens at each stage in the process if an order can't be properly entered, or fulfilled?

By following the order process fully, you can voluntarily understand a great deal about your internal customer's needs and problems, that you can get no other way. Listening to people complain, without judgement, and doing a good job of fact finding and documentation of business process is a great start to finding worthwhile projects within your company. And it's usually dead easy to get started, as few people generally want to do this kind of thing, voluntarily. So, just start there. Let your boss know you want to do something like this, as an exercise for your own understanding, and then carry through on it. I promise that if you do this with an open mind, you'll learn a lot more than you imagine you will.

And of course, once you've taken the internal temperature of your company, you can do similar activities with vendors and customers. You may find that just providing them with Web based work documents and information in simple extranet applications is so compelling, that you get immediate interest in co-producing an extranet project with your best vendors and customers, if you don't have one already. At the very least, you'll promote mutual understanding and thought for future cooperation.
posted by paulsc at 7:20 PM on August 17, 2006

If you want to go explore assorted technologies, I'd say go ahead and build a rough prototype in your spare time, then show it to management when you feel like it's good enough. From your post, I infer that you're working at a small company. Small companies like professionals that can generate work on their own- it's called being self-motivated and a go-getter.

Want to build a cool corporate Intranet? You can run any small solution off of your own computer. IT stuff for smaller companies follows the 80%/20% rule..for 20% of the work, you can get 80% of the functionality that major corporations have.

Once it looks awesome, you'll look awesome in front of your boss, too! I actually do alot of this stuff for my job, and if you're looking for free, open-source solutions for alot of business related intranet, R & D stuff, tell me what kind of tools you're interested in and I can try to point you in the right direction.
posted by unexpected at 10:07 PM on August 17, 2006

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