BlogSolving the Mystery of Business Development

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Solving the Mystery of Business Development

by Paul Holland, Managing Principal

As published in Business of Furniture, May 2, 2024.

In his book The Prophet, Kahil Gibran said, “A thousand monks, a thousand religions.” When it comes to the topic of Business Development, every leader in a dealer meeting will have a different definition of what it is and an opinion of how to go about it.

So, what is “business development”? It is pursuing strategic opportunities for a particular business or organization, such as cultivating partnerships or other commercial relationships or identifying new markets for its products and services. It seems clear enough, but it’s not. For many, it’s as clear as mud.

Changes in Customer Behavior and Its Impact on the Selling Process

Before we can talk about what business development is, it’s helpful to understand the role of customer behavior, how it’s changed, and how that has impacted the selling process and, therefore, business development.

Before 2007, buyers depended on sellers to be their source of information. Sellers had to be experts on products and services because the clients sought vendors who could educate them early on in their purchasing journey.

With mainstream adoption of the internet, these days clients have done their homework, and they often know what they are looking for. They believe (right or wrong) that they know more about what they need in solutions than do the sellers. In the body of research that led to the book The Challenger Sale, by Brent Adamson and Matt Dixon, the authors cite that customers were already 57% through their journey before engaging a seller of solutions.

Another factor adding pressure to the role of the seller, according to Dixon and Adamson in their follow-up book, The Challenger Customer, is that in complex deals there are now, on average, eleven decision-makers.

When it comes to complex opportunities it’s now the norm that sellers come into the purchasing process later, must work with more stakeholders, timelines have shortened, and there is a need to understand the potential client’s business issues. In the past, the seller was a one-stop shop but today there is a need for a team-based approach to succeed in addressing the complex solutions that clients are seeking.

Business Development as a Strategy

Business development is a complex strategy that focuses on activities, relationships, and business acumen. The top priority isn’t the immediate sale of a good or service. It is about getting to know and understand what drives a decision-maker and creating value by helping to answer their questions and resolve issues to lock in a relationship that leads to a steady flow of new income for the business.

Between shifts in customer buying behavior and the evolving work environment, the commercial interiors industry has been impacted significantly, resulting in varied and highly complex project opportunities. Understanding the opportunity, the client, and their business issues is necessary. It is about much more than the products and services that someone can sell. Today the mission of business development is understanding the client by building relationships, being a researcher of the specific issues for the client, and learning about the challenges of the client market vertical.

The Making of a Good Business Development Salesperson

A good strategy should also address how each different sales role supports the business development function. In the Solomon Coyle 2023 Compensation & Practices Survey, we found that one in ten sellers in our industry is a business developer. Most of the salespeople in our sector are account managers followed by the other usual sales support positions. Clarity of purpose for each sales role is critical. High dependence on account managers and traditional sellers to also act as business developers contributes to confusion and frustration because neither of these roles is well suited to fulfilling the requirements for successful business development today. The competencies and skills of business development differ from those of account management or traditional sales responsibilities, and such skill sets can be assessed and measured.

By now, you are likely asking, what are the characteristics of a business developer? Great business developers are strategic, innovative, engaging, creative, relationship builders, curious, love a challenge, and most importantly, they are students of business and not afraid of rejection. They have a growth mindset and are not afraid to take calculated risks.

So, where do you find such business developers? In any line of work, in any vertical. What is critical is their competencies, characteristics, and skills. Success is not dependent on having experience in the commercial interiors field. Does industry experience help? It can, but not at the expense of finding someone with the right qualifications. It is less important that they know the product and much more important that they know how to get to know the client and their market, as well as their dealer capabilities and the value of the organization they represent.

What Really Works

Business development requires a strategic and innovative mindset — a relentless commitment to relationship building and a drive to understand clients and verticals. The win is in the action of earning the business, not selling the most on the first invoice. Contrary to the “seller” mentality, activity trumps income, which in turn results in more long-term deals, over the long haul.

Ultimately, good business development is critical for growing a sustainable and profitable business. The business developer’s mission is not to be mistaken with other sales roles and the skills of those roles. Everyone has their part. Don’t confuse the mission and expect everyone in the selling organization to be a business developer. Business development is an investment, and there is no shortcut. It takes the right talent, the right competencies, and the right mindset.

Solving the business development mystery comes down to these questions: Are sales roles in your organization clearly defined? Do you have the right people? Do they have the right competencies? Are you rewarding them appropriately? Your answers to these questions will help you identify opportunities for improving the function of business development for your business.

Solomon Coyle can help you assess the effectiveness of your sales organization, whether it’s about strategy, business development, sales leadership, compensation plans, or other concerns you may have — we welcome your questions.

Email support@solomoncoyle.com or call us at 703.574.9100.