April 4, 2019 | by Rizwan Siddiqi

You’ve probably heard the term “business development” before or know someone who claims to do “biz dev.” But what is business development really, and what role should it play at your firm? Below I take a closer look at the practice and benefits of business development—and what it means for your organization.

What is business development?

While there is no simple definition for business development, one common misconception is that business development is the same as sales. Business development and sales are both important to a company’s growth and success, but they have different goals.

Writing for Forbes, Scott Pollack defines business development as “the creation of long-term value for an organization from customers, markets, and relationships.” Business development, he says, is about discovering how these three “forces” combine to create growth opportunities.

I would offer that business development is actually any activity that helps develop your business in some way. And because it is primarily aligned with strategy, business development should work alongside and support other functions, like sales and marketing.

When business development is done right, it leads to:

  • Trust between you and your client.
  • An expectation that you will deliver quality services on time.
  • Reassurance that you will be accessible and responsive to your clients when needed.
  • A track record of satisfied clients and positive reviews.
  • Relationships based on respect and a mutual appreciation of each other’s value. 

In the long-term, when business development is done well, it leads to healthy relationships with your clients that result in repeat business.

What is the difference between business development and client management?

Although there is some overlap between the two efforts, business development is generally aimed at finding new customers in the same or new markets and establishing new relationships to deliver products and services. Client management, on the other hand, is directed more at maintaining relationships with current clients and customers and securing additional work from them.

Who should be responsible for business development?

If your company wants to expand or diversify, business development is crucial. Senior leadership is usually involved in business development, but anyone in an organization could potentially contribute depending on his or her skillset. Employees who can be trusted to perform business development can help a company acquire new clients and expand sales or services to existing ones.

Some ideal traits for employees who perform business development include:

  • Excellent communication skills.
  • Ability to influence people.
  • Positive attitude and approach.
  • Strong problem-solving and creativity.
  • Sales and negotiation skills.
  • Accessiblity and responsiveness.
  • Trustworthiness and dependability.

Business development is ideal for employees who enjoy interacting with others and are motivated by taking challenges, setting targets, and achieving goals.

How can employees improve their business development skills?

I believe that, to some degree, business development skills are innate. You either have them or you don’t. However, your employees can always enhance their skills through various leadership trainings offered by organizations like Dale Carnegie, Franklin Covey, ACEC, PMI, AMA, and others. For example, you might want to check out the ACEC Pathways to Executive Leadership program that will begin in October 2019. Finding a business development mentor, either inside or outside the organization, is also an ideal way to learn from an established expert.

What business development tasks should your company be doing right now?

While every company will have different needs and goals, your firm should be doing the following to support effective business development:

Researching. As always, it’s best to do your research first. Working with your marketing department, I suggest taking the “pulse” of your current services, brand, and client relationships through interviews, SWOT analysis, social listening, competitor analysis, and other market research.

Planning. Deltek’s 39th Annual Clarity A&E Industry Study found that firms are pursuing three top business development initiatives: earlier identification of opportunities, strategic networking to expand teaming options, and better opportunity identification. No matter what form your company’s business development initiatives take, they should be outlined in a 5-year plan with specific milestones and measurable outcomes for success.

Equipping. Guided by your research and 5-year plan, your company needs to have the right resources in place for business development—both people and tools. This means choosing the right team to handle business development and ensuring that they have the best technology, data, research, and training to get the job done. It’s also important to have a clear business development process in place so that everyone on your team knows their roles, responsibilities, and individual goals.

Networking. Building relationships is at the heart of effective business development. Your business development team should be connecting with your existing clients regularly and finding ways to meet and develop relationships with new clients. Growing your network could involve attending and/or sponsoring industry events, volunteering with professional organizations, attending and/or presenting at conferences, keeping in touch with alumni associations, connecting on social media, and more.

Measuring. As you execute your business development initiatives, your company should regularly assess client satisfaction and the other measures of success outlined in your plan. Your team should also meet regularly to coordinate and share feedback.

What role does marketing play in business development?

Both marketing and business development are involved with getting clients and growing your business, but they have different strengths and responsibilities.

The American Marketing Association defines marketing as “the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.” Business development, on the other hand, is the process of actually connecting to the clients to secure work and opportunities. Sometimes business development is considered as a part of marketing, and vice versa.

Don’t get me wrong; firms should do both. Particularly with the rise of social media channels, the role of marketing, branding, and communication is more important than ever. A firm’s brand needs to be strongly defined and integrated throughout all channels, which supports business development efforts.

How long does it take to see results?

As mentioned, business development is part of an organization’s overall strategic plan and long-term goals. It is not intended for short-term results. On average, it may take anywhere from six months to a year to develop a fruitful relationship with any potential client or customer. However, once developed, it is aimed at maintaining clients for years to come.

In all, business development is a value proposition for both your company and your clients. It is an ongoing process and must be done continuously to sustain workload and help a company grow.  


Rizwan Siddiqi, PE, is President & CEO of EBA Engineering, Inc. He can be reached at 240.547.1125, rizwan.siddiqi@ebaengineering.com, or on LinkedIn.

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