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Business Development: What Is It?

Published 01/14/2019

Work is at the center of any company.

“Shocking, that a company would be centered around work, I know,” Gunner Technology CEO Cody Swann said. “But it’s companies that forget that that have trouble.”

Companies are structured differently, Swann said, but the smart ones structure themselves around the concept of work in clearly defined roles.

Product Development is all about doing the work.

Human Resources is all about finding and retaining people to do the work (and shielding the company from rouge actors while doing the work, Swann added.)

Finance is all about making sure there is money to pay for the work.

Legal is all about making sure the company does the work without breaking any laws.

Research and Development is all about finding new ways to do work and different types of work to do.

And finally (while actually, Swann lead with this, but putting it last makes for a better lead-in), Business Development is all about getting new work.

“It really is the life blood of a company,” Swann said of business development. “If business development dries up, everything else just doesn’t matter.”

So business development is how a company gets work.

For service companies, this means signing up new clients or renewing/expanding existing clients.

For product companies, this means getting more customers, which in turn leads to work in the form of manufacturing, shipping and more.

But for such a simple concept, business development’s specifics are often tough to grasp.

“You talk to 10 different CEOs and you’ll get 10 different answers if you press them on what biz dev is at their company and how it operates,” Swann said. “The most important thing is to define it for your company and build processes around it that are easy to follow and understand.”

At Gunner Technology, Business Development encompasses several functions, including Marketing, Networking, Prospecting, Sales, Bidding and Nurturing (more on all those later).

“We basically have two pathways to new work: Prospecting/sales/nurturing and Bidding,” Swann said. “Networking and marketing are support functions of those pathways.”

In the case of the first pathway, networking and marketing work to drive interested parties into contact with Gunner Technology where the firm then researches the prospects to decide who is a fit for Gunner to work with.

In the latter case, marketing and networking form more of a background role.

Bidding is done on government jobs, so marketing and networking is about providing support information on Gunner Technology when an agency’s selection committee does their background research on bidders.

The deeper the dive into business development, the more nebulous it becomes, which is why defining and tracking become so crucial for individual companies.

“Start off with what you want and work backward,” Swann said. “For example, your company had better be generating reports. Whether it’s annually, quarterly or monthly, you need reports. So let’s say it’s monthly. How much new revenue do you want each month?

“OK. $1 million. Great. What’s the average price tag on your service? $100,000. Great. That means you need to be signing 10 contracts a month. When you pitch an idea to someone, what are the chances they go for it? 10%? Great. That means you need to be giving 100 pitches a month. And so forth and so on.”

The process can be exhausting and daunting, but don’t get bogged down in the “how” just yet, Swann said.

“A lot of people throw their hands in the air and say ‘I have no clue what the answer to those questions are!’,” Swann said. “Fine. Start with estimations or even guestimations, but then make note of how you’re going to track that going forward so you can move to concrete numbers.”

The hiring and managing process isn’t much easier.

“Nearly every single facet requires different skills and personalities,” Swann said. “There’s almost zero chance the guy or gal running marketing and also be in charge of bidding. Even marketing breaks down skill and you’ll need both creative thinkers and analytical thinkers in marketing. You might be able to get away with hiring the same personality types of networking, sales and nurturing, where you want that Type A personality who is charismatic and outgoing, but that person won’t cut it in bidding or prospecting where you sit in a dark room doing research on people and companies.”

But the hardest aspect of business development is keeping the momentum going at all times.

“When the going is good, it’s easy to ignore business development,” Swann said. “‘Oh, we have 10,000 clients and we’re doing a trillion dollars a month in revenue. What do we need biz dev for?’ You need biz dev for the bad times, which can happen at any moment. It’s cliche, but true: If you’re not growing, you’re dying.”