What is Business Development?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 15 September 2022

Published 25 August 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Business development helps businesses across all industry sectors improve and grow. A variety of skills help professionals identify business development strategies. In this article, we will discuss what business development is, essential business development skills and how to get them.

What is business development?

Business development is the process of identifying and creating opportunities for sustainable business growth. These business and development strategies cultivate relationships between companies and their customers, partners and markets.

Large organisations have dedicated business development departments that drive lasting business growth. Business development managers run these departments and oversee business development representatives. Some smaller companies give these duties to sales or marketing professionals, while others outsource their business development needs before major expansions.

What is business development strategy?

Business development strategy is the process of lining up an organization's practices with its goals. For example, a small business with local sales may want to attract shoppers from across the country. This means that the business development strategy should focus on finding suitable markets countrywide.

Businesses have a lifecycle that includes launch, growth, shake-out, maturity and decline. This lifecycle, the economic market and other factors can influence business development strategies.

Business development v. business sales

You can often find the terms business development and sales used interchangeably. They both involve business growth, but they are two separate and complementary business operations.

Business development is the first step in business growth. Business development professionals identify and create growth opportunities then build relationships that allow that growth. Sales professionals take advantage of these opportunities by making strategic business deals with customers.

The work of business developers creates a base for a sales team's success. Sales professionals sometimes work as business developers in small organisations. However, larger companies usually have separate business development and sales teams.

Business developers form and maintain relationships with business partners and associates, such as sales professionals. This is not the only business development function, and they also identify growth opportunities in other areas. For example, business developers analyse business trends. They then suggest ways to use these trends to improve growth. Sales professionals are not typically concerned with changing the way businesses operate.

Business development v. marketing

Business development and marketing both include growth and promotion, but they are unique parts of a business. Business development identifies and creates opportunities, which marketing teams use to their best advantage. The marketing department also defines the company identity. Company identity is the business brand, benefits and the types of customers they have.

For example, a local fashion company's business development team may look for global opportunities. The business development representatives would start talking with contacts based around the world. These conversations may lead the team to a new market with similar types of customers. The marketing team would then choose how to market the clothes in the new country. It would decide where to advertise, how the adverts should look and how much the clothes would cost. Successful business development uses several strategies for long-term growth. This makes it a costly part of any business.

Business development and marketing departments can work well together. For example, business developers could learn the target customers' interests. Marketing then creates content around those interests. Business developers could attend conferences and product launches organised by the marketing team. These events are excellent places to meet potential customers and business partners. Working together helps business developers and marketers create a shared vision. This shared vision helps them operate more efficiently.

Types of business development skills

Business developers use a variety of skills in their professional duties. Learning and improving these skills can help you become a successful business developer. Here are some of the top business development skills:

  • Account management skills

  • Relationship management skills

  • Communication skills

  • Marketing skills

  • Business intelligence skills

  • Research skills

Account management skills

Business developers use account management skills so they can work on several business issues at once. They manage various customers in different markets, business contacts and products or services. They understand the value of existing accounts and work hard to manage and maintain them. They also create opportunities for new accounts to help their business grow.

Relationship management skills

Strong interpersonal skills help business developers maintain existing business relationships and form new ones. They attract new contacts during cold calls and resolve problems for business contacts. They also assess business contacts and find out about their value to the organisation.

Communication skills

Communication skills help business developers share their vision for business growth and listen to their contacts' needs. Face-to-face meetings, video conference calls and telephone calls all need verbal communication. You also need strong written communication skills for email correspondence. Business development managers also rely on written communication skills when creating company reports.

Marketing skills

Good marketing skills are essential for business development. Like marketing professionals, business developers use marketing ideas to drive business growth. That makes understanding marketing principles crucial for success as a business developer. For example, business developers must understand their competition. This helps them position their organisation differently when promoting it to new contacts.

Business intelligence skills

Business intelligence skills help business developers understand their company's markets and potential expansion areas. They know how to collect and analyse data to make predictions. Their accurate predictions help their businesses grow and survive market changes. Successful business developers also understand their employer's products and services and their competitors.

Research skills

Careful research helps business developers learn what their business, industry, customers and other stakeholders need. Their insights can help them create good development strategies. They must identify the right business development areas for research, then determine credible sources providing the information they need.

Related: Importance of Research Skills (With Examples and Tips)

How to acquire and improve business development skills

You can gain and develop business development skills working in a business environment. Some leisure activities also grow these skills. These skills will help you secure and succeed in a business development role. Take the following steps to learn and develop your business development skills:

  1. Work in sales or marketing. These departments also concern business growth, so their duties overlap with business development. Working in these roles can provide you with a deeper understanding of account management, relationship management and strategising, for example.

  2. Practice public speaking. Practising public speaking will make you a more confident verbal communicator. Consider joining a public speaking club or practising speeches for friends or trusted colleagues before making workplace presentations.

  3. Practice active listening. Active listening means that you concentrate your attention on what someone tells you when they speak. This practice can help you improve your understanding and verbal communication skills.

  4. Research topics of interest. Investigating areas of interest can improve your research methods. If the information you find creates more questions, you can also research these answers. Use a variety of online and offline sources.

  5. Subscribe to industry newsletters and magazines. Reading industry publications improves your business knowledge and deepens your business intelligence.

How to become a business developer

Working as a business developer is an excellent way to channel your interest in business development. Follow these steps to secure a business development role:

  1. Earn a bachelor's degree. Most employers hire business developers with bachelor's degrees in relevant fields. Choose a degree in business, economics, marketing or finance.

  2. Work in sales or marketing. Gain employment in an entry-level role to provide the experience you need to work in business development. Hone the skills you need for a business development role.

  3. Apply for business development representative roles. After working in sales or marketing for 3-5 years, you should have the experience necessary for a role in business development. Emphasise your sales or marketing performance, ability to reach or exceed sales or marketing targets and experience attracting new business for your employer on your job applications.

  4. Gain experience in business development. Think about the skills you need to progress in your career and become a successful business developer and continuously work to gain and improve this skill set.

  5. Apply for business development manager roles. Apply for business development manager roles once you have several years of experience as a leader and successful business developer.

Some businesses may hire business developers without degrees if their experience is impressive. However, earning a degree increases your chances of securing a good business development job and salary.

Explore more articles