What Is Business Development and How Can You Be Successful at It?

Radhika Sivadi

4 min read ·


Business development is important for entrepreneurs, whatever the industry. After all, what business doesn’t want to develop? However, there are many different views of what the role entails. This discussion answers the key question: What is business development? And shares skills and examples to help you be successful in your “biz dev” efforts.

There are as many different views on “what is business development” as there are people in the role. As one columnist noted in Forbes, “Ask ten ‘VPs of Business Development’ or similarly business card-ed folks what is business development, and you’re like to get just as many answers.” Still, this article will aim to settle on one definition. Then, we’ll share:

  •   business development skills
  •   business development activities


What Is Business Development? 

Well, the Forbes columnist already quoted would tell you it’s “the creation of long-term value for an organization from customers, markets, and relationships.” 

In a MarketSplash guide, business development is defined as “essentially any activity or idea that aims to make a business better over time … making use of customers, implementing strategic partnerships, using your markets and building your company’s reputation.”

You may be getting the picture now: business development is a broad, nebulous thing that people define as it suits them. It encompasses sales, finance, marketing, customer service, legal, strategy, product development, and more.

Ultimately, the business development professional will have a finger in many pies, wear many hats, or juggle many balls at once (pick your metaphor to inspire a visual answering of what business development is like). 

Nevertheless, the consensus is that it is focused on growing the business and can be done using customers, markets, relationships, and business reputation as levers.

So, what skills are needed to succeed in a business development role? That’s coming up next.


Business Development Skills

Business Development Skills

Just as it’s impossible to capture the full scope of business development in one simple definition, you can’t expect to pick one essential skill for business development professionals easily. This is a multifaceted job requiring many valuable skills for success. 

Excellent communication. Business development can cross paths and build relationships with everyone in your organization. Plus, your customers and other community partners. The person in this role should be good at getting people to rally around a shared objective. Plus, this individual needs to be a team player. Business development is not a unilateral role, so this person must work well with others.

Creativity. A business development professional is charged with “making a business better and bigger through initiatives and new ideas.” That’s going to take the ability to think creatively. The business development professional is often responsible for brainstorming new approaches and creating plans to build new connections or move in fresh directions.

Organization. Business development bridges many business areas and requires the individual to communicate with different internal and external parties. That’s only going to work if the person is organized. Remember all those spinning plates the biz dev pro is keeping in the air? Creating value for the organization or business relies on a strategic approach to all those different initiatives and relationships.

Analytical acumen. Don’t be mistaken. Biz dev is not just pie in the sky thinking and lots of glad-handing customers and community partners. This individual needs to have the critical thinking chops to identify growth opportunities, recognize threats in the marketplace, and develop new strategic approaches. To increase profitability and build long-lasting relationships of value, this individual needs to speak strategy and back up ideas with data-driven insights.

Ambition. If the goal is to grow the business, you want someone in this role who is a goal setter and wants to achieve success. This is the role in your business focused on setting expectations and getting people on board to achieve them. This requires strong leadership, management, and a drive to get across the finish line.


Business Development Activities

Business Development Activities

Business development is not an easy job. In one Adweek article, business development was described as “the most dangerous job” at advertising agencies. This is an important job that pulls someone in many different directions. This overview of different business development activities can help round out your picture of the biz dev role.

In business development, some of the activities you’ll be tasked with could include:

  • Networking — attending industry events to identify potential partners and new market opportunities
  • Lead generation — identifying, evaluating, and pursuing (or putting the plan in place for others to pursue) prospective buyers
  • Sales support — helping to develop the sales pipeline and set the key performance metrics to gauge success
  • Market research — biz dev needs to not only know the business inside and out but also understand what competitors are doing and how customers are behaving
  • Client relations — partnerships are pivotal in business development, so it’s this individual’s role to maintain current client relationships while also reaching out to new clients
  • Planning — the biz development team is typically included in any strategic decisions regarding business growth, including new facilities, market expansion, product development, and sales and marketing initiatives 

Better Business Development 

There is no one answer to the question of what is business development. Business development can increase profitability, improve customer response time, drive greater operational efficiencies, and expand business operations. Regardless, certain skills and activities could be incorporated into the biz dev role that will prove useful. Armed with these examples and explanations, you can get going on creating that long-term business value all the more intentionally.

Radhika Sivadi