How to Take the Pressure Out of Business Development

One of the main reasons why salespeople fail in sales is their lack of attention to business development. Business development is integral to sales success yet many salespeople I have spoken to avoid or put minimal effort into prospecting activities. This in my opinion borders on sales call reluctance.

What is business development?

• Business development is about developing new business with both potential and existing clients
• A sale rarely happens on the first meeting. It requires multiple and varying touch points such as the phone, social media and email over a period of time
• Business development needs to be consistently implemented to maximize new sales opportunities and to create sales growth.

Creating new sales opportunities

The less you know about a potential client the more difficult it is to succeed in getting a meeting. Your targeted clients can be divided into:

• No Information – you know nothing about the organization and have no contacts
• Limited Information – you have some information about the organization but haven’t developed any contacts.

Strategies to connect with potential clients you have never contacted

• Use social media to gain information that you could use
• Phone direct once you have developed your value statement
• Use 6 degrees of separation – who knows who within your circle of influence who knows the potential client?

The ‘cold’ call

The term ‘cold’ has been used in sales for decades and conjures false thoughts and feelings. There is nothing cold about contacting a prospective client for the first time. It’s new but not cold so could I suggest you replace ‘cold’ with ‘new?’ Words impact on how we feel.

Words impact on how we feel

Salespeople often struggle and can become mentally immobilized when calling a potential client because:

• They put too much pressure on themselves to make the appointment
• They become self-centered instead of focusing on the client
• They become fearful of saying the wrong thing
• They have a push instead of a pull mindset
• They start selling when the client isn’t in the process of buying
• They use words and phrases commonly used by most salespeople
• They try to take short cuts.

Salespeople often start by talking about themselves and their company. For example, “The reason for calling is I’d like to set up an appointment to introduce myself and tell you about our new product/service”.

The attention needs to be on what is in it for the potential client. This is done by stating value from their perspective and can be measured. A value statement can be tangible and/or intangible that lets the potential client know what they can expect when using your product/service. Intangible value is not easy to measure, for example lower risk, sense of well-being and trust. Measures can be expressed as a percentage, timeframe, or in financial terms.

Measures can be expressed as a percentage, timeframe, or in financial terms.

For example, “We completed a project recently with a company of your size and reduced their overheads by 20% without losing one employee. Would you be interested in how we did this?”

Words that communicate value are and not limited to:

Improve, increase, reduce, downtime, productivity, operating cost, turnaround, maximize, minimize, downtime, save, eliminate, enhance, cut, gain and profit.

Success in business development requires persistence and consistency using a variety of touch points whilst focusing on stating value from the client’s perspective. This will provide you with the greatest opportunity to secure an initial meaningful conversation and a meeting.

Hiring A Business Development Consultant – Mistake Or Opportunity?

I just finished searching the web for business and marketing consultants, and even as a professional Business Consultant, I was left confused and skeptical. The profession seems to be filled with those who over-promise, have little experience, and some who only want to sell you anything but knowledge based on experience. Fortunately, under the rubble, there are those who have spent a lifetime in business and who are practicing professional consultants with a great deal to offer the right customers. Since this is my business, I decided it might be time to offer my observations on why you might need a professional consultant, and how you can benefit.

I am a Business Development, Strategic Planning, and Marketing consultant. I specialized in helping small to mid-sized companies review their current activities and providing Critical Analysis, Strategic Planning and Implementation guidance in my areas of expertise. My goal is to help small business and mid-sized companies grow by understanding where they are today, where they want to go, and exactly how to get there.

With the disclosure out of the way, let me provide my guidance on hiring a business consultant, what to look for, and what to expect for your time and money.

1) EXPERTISE: The single most important reason to hire an outside business consultant is to bring in expertise that you do not already have in house.

Most people have a background in their industry, and many have experience in two or three industries. Some people even have experience with 10 or 15 products within that industry, but knowledge, experience and hands on management of a broader range of products, from over a hundred companies, and building marketing and distribution in diverse markets such as North America, Europe and Asia is experience few people have.

When you look for a consultant you want someone who has a breadth of knowledge and experience that exceeds that which you already have. Along with bringing a new or different perspective to your analysis and strategic planning, a consultant should bring knowledge that is outside the scope of your current environment.

By bringing in someone with a wide range of knowledge and experience in their area of expertise you supplement your current knowledge base. Most companies already have excellent people on staff performing their duties in the areas of business development, marketing and sales. Limitations occur because of the ‘box’ in which we work. You and your staff are running full speed ahead to keep up with the demands of your business. In many cases, you are putting out fires as quickly as they ignite (if you’re lucky). This environment dictates that you focus on the job at hand. When you and your staff meet, you are discussing real problems that need immediate solutions. There is little time to research what other companies are doing and what is successful or not for them.

A consultant should bring an ‘out of the box’ perspective to your table the moment they walk in the door. They may not understand the minutia of your business immediately, but through discussion and some research they will bring new perspective and ideas to your problem solving and business planning process. Their expanded world view will open new doors of opportunity for your organization and offer ideas that have proven successful in other environments.

2) ECONOMICS: The second most likely reason to hire an expert business development consultant is saving money.

Hiring the expertise you need for every aspect of your business development process is not only impractical, but impossible.

When we need professional expertise we either outsource or bring on new staff. Today, in this economy, hiring new staff is a luxury most small business cannot afford. Outsourcing is a good alternative, and in the case of consultants, a highly cost effective alternative.

In addition to bringing immediate knowledge, consultants bring all the benefits of outsourcing. Taxes and Benefits are the responsibility of the consultant and never carried as overhead by the company. Costs are controlled and can fit your budget. Hiring and firing are as simple as picking up the phone. No job search, no severance. Consultants are usually available when you want them and expendable when you do not. For many that description is a little uncomfortable, but a professional consultant is an independent business person (or company) who works at the pleasure of YOU.

In addition to all the benefits of outsourcing, a professional consultant brings immediate payback. Duplicating the expertise of a good consultant might require 3, 5 or even 8 different positions to be filled by experienced managers. Each position requires training and integration into the organization. One expert not only provides the knowledge-base of those positions, but also hits the ground running.

Finally, regarding a good consultant’s hourly or daily fee. My experience is that they are usually priced at the level of a senior partner in a law firm or regional accounting firm. When compared to the cost of hiring that same expertise on a long-term basis, they are almost always a bargain.

When hiring a consultant, clearly define your objectives and identify the deliverables he or she will provide. Always receive a firm bid quote. Then consider; can we do this in house? If so, what is the cost in using our own manpower, including the cost of pulling that manpower off other projects? If not (which is usually the case), then ask if the deliverables and benefits are worth the cost?

3) USABLE DELIVERABLES: You want a deliverable that can be used over a long period of time throughout the organization.

In most cases, you hire a business development consultant to help you solve a specific problem or more often help you define a plan of action for taking you where you want to go. In such cases, you want someone who can deliver in writing a road map for future activities. To do this, they must be able to guide you through a careful and thorough review process in which both you and the consultant identify what is working and what is not, and where the holes are in your present plan.

A good consultant will then be able to lead a strategic planning process in which the consultant, you and your staff collaborate on developing an expanded plan in which your ideas and wishes are combined with the consultant’s to create a plan that is much better than anyone alone could create.

Finally, a qualified expert consultant will be able to create a written plan that includes a full marketing plan and budget that can be used as a guide, a road map if you will, to take you where you want to go.

This document should not be an academic study, but a dynamic real-world document that reflects the hands-on expertise of your organization and the consultant, and is used, reviewed, and updated on a regular basis.

4) OBJECTIVITY: You must have objectivity that ensures the advice you receive is in YOUR best interest.

You want a consultant that is objective with no conflicts of interest or hidden agendas. In order to give you the valuable information you’re paying for, your consultant must have only one allegiance – you.

This doesn’t mean that the consultant you hire hasn’t, or won’t in the future, work for companies in your industry. In affect, that experience and diversity of knowledge is what gives them value. It does mean that they sign a confidentiality agreement; they do not discuss or disclose any proprietary information to anyone outside your organization; and they are not obligated to another company in any way that would degrade their work for you. ­­­­­­­

What you want is someone who has the experience to be called an expert, and professional ethics to match their expertise.

5) HANDS ON EXPERIENCE: Finally, you want someone who has experience in the field. As a small business manager or entrepreneur you need experts who understand the challenges you face, and who have had to meet and solve those challenges.

As a small businessman in my first company (a drafting and engineering company) I hired someone who had been a high level manager with a very large engineering firm. I thought they would bring expertise in how to run my business. What I got was someone who was used to managing assistants and departments, but who had no real knowledge of how to get the job done. In other words, he understood big business and big budgets, but he didn’t know how to roll his sleeves up and deal with my problems. After spending much time and money, I finally realized my mistake. After that, I made sure the advisors I hired had the hands-on experience of an entrepreneur and knew what running a small business was all about.

When you hire a consultant you want someone who has been there, built and managed companies, analyzed markets, and implemented and managed business development, marketing and sales campaigns in a wide range of markets for diverse products, for small to mid sized companies. You want a professional consultant with hands-on experience who understands your problems and can offer real world advice and solutions.

The best way to ensure you have an experienced professional that can truly help your organization is talk with them. A qualified consultant will have a history that speaks to your market, will have references, and will be able to communicate with you in a way that tells you they know what they are talking about. You will hear their competence in their answers to your questions and in the questions they ask you.

What I suggest is after you read their materials, visit their website, and complete your due diligence, call the individual(s) you think are qualified and talk with them. Ask questions specific to your business and industry, and listen carefully to the answers. If the answers are full of fluff and hyperbole know that the service you receive will likely be the same. If, on the other hand, you hear information that feels real, has substance, and reflects an understanding of the subject, you may have found someone who can truly help you shortcut the learning curve of building your business, help you reduce costs, and help you significantly move your small business or mid-sized company forward.

Some final comments about hiring a business development consultant:

Consultants may be experts, but they won’t know everything about every industry. In most cases, you will know your industry and business better than they ever will. What a good business development consultant brings to your table is a diverse range of experience that can apply to your situation. They bring new ideas, and the ability to think outside of the box, which, when combined with your specific company knowledge, catapults your organization forward. Don’t expect them to know upfront all your industry statistics or demographics, that they can obtain through research. What they will know is how to solve the broader questions of where you want to go and how to get there.

Professional consultants are full time and have been for a long time. They are not part time consultants and not ‘between jobs.’ Their expertise is born of long term work and effort, and it is displayed in the service they provide you.

The best consultants work on a fee basis, with costs quoted and known upfront. Proposals should be in writing and itemized to identify a projects objective, scope, and timeline. Transparency and no-surprises are exactly what you’re looking for.

Good luck and good marketing.

A Golden Nugget of New Business Development

This past year (2009) was tough for most businesses, and 2010 will be tough too. Current account lists have been trimmed (in both numbers and profitability) because of the global economic contraction, and the focus of most business has turned to new business development to drive revenue growth. In fact, the majority of sales job listings on careerbuilder.com and monster.com are for salespeople that can develop new business, rather than organically grow existing business. Because new business development is so important to so many, I thought I would post an article on what I consider to be one of the “golden nuggets” that sales executives should think of to help boost his/her sales organization’s new business productivity.

The golden nugget is your sales force’s ability to QUALIFY NEW PROSPECTS. To better understand the implications of good/bad qualification on new business development, I find it’s insightful to take a look at the sales funnel. There are two characteristics of the sales funnel that I find to be telling about new business development. The first is that as opportunities move down the sales funnel, they require an increasing investment of your company’s resources (time and money). The implication is that if you let an unqualified opportunity move down the funnel it will become very expensive (in time and money) very fast, and you will lose out on the opportunity to invest those resources in other opportunities. The second characteristic is that the greatest number of prospects sit within the first stage of your sales funnel (often called prospecting or initial contact). The average amount of time that your salespeople spend qualifying a prospect in the first stage has a HUGE impact on your sales force’s time. If your sales force reaches out to 100 prospects a week, an average qualification time of 30 minutes versus an hour can free your sales force of 3,000 hours per week; that’s equivalent to adding 75 full time employees per week.

So where does qualification fit into the sales funnel? Qualification is the process by which your salespeople identify the quality of the prospect, and determine if the prospect is worth pursuing. In the sales funnel this is reflected by the movement of a prospect either from the first stage (often called “initial contact”) to the second stage (often called “needs analysis”), or the elimination of the prospect from the sales funnel altogether. Qualification has a profound impact on both the number of expensive bad opportunities that leak into the advanced stages of your sales funnel, as well as the time your salespeople will spend trying to qualify prospects. If you could use 75 new salespeople, or would love to have invested more resources in a big opportunity that got away, here are a couple tips to help your sales force qualify opportunities efficiently and effectively:

–Define Qualification: Generally speaking, a qualified opportunity is one in which the salesperson has spoken with someone involved in the decision making process, has found that the target company has a need, and is certain that the target company has an interest/commitment to take action to meet that need. As I am sure you know, there are different degrees of quality and you will want to invest your resources accordingly. I generally find that there are roughly three characterizations that businesses gravitate to once a prospect is deemed to be over the quality threshold: 1) Good enough to let a salesperson invest their time. 2) Good enough to assign local resources (engineers, regional marketers, local sales managers) to the opportunity. 3) Good enough to assign corporate resources (regional sales VPs, directors of product management, C-level suite) to the opportunity.

–Create Qualification Questions: After you have defined what a qualified opportunity looks like, you will need to determine the key questions that your sales force must answer to determine the quality of the prospect. I’m a big believer in looking at my best employees for insight, and almost always find that the best new business development salespeople will have a good understanding of the questions they ask to determine if the prospect is worth putting more effort into. For example, a good qualification question I see elite salespeople answer is “Does your prospect have an assigned budget for the project/product/service?” That might give you insight as to whether the prospect has made a commitment to meet their need.

–Answer Qualification Questions: Once you’ve determined the right questions to ask, it’s time to ingrain these questions in your sales management, sales process, coaching priorities, and CRM software. The key here is to emphasize the importance of answering these questions in as many places as possible; this will help to create an environment (as opposed to a “flavor of the week” initiative) that exudes the importance of answering qualification questions. You can always just require that they answer them, but unless they see those questions as important they are likely to game the system.

–Training!: As a manager and a leader, whenever you set a strong direction for your people it is important to surround them with the resources they need to do accomplish their goals. Seek out an internal or external sales training group that specializes in helping salespeople qualify, and follow up with support: here are a few tips that will help you with sales training.

–Set Goals and Measure Results: As with anything, measuring progress towards your goals is crucial. If you aren’t sure about what goals you need, set-up your qualification infrastructure (steps above) and then start to gather data to help you set a baseline. Set up your goals so that they are consistent with the other goals for your sales force.

One important note: The reason why I see most companies struggle with qualification is that they over rely on one of the two different types of questions they make their sales force answer: objective and subjective. An objective question requires a black and white answer, such as “Is there an assigned budget for the project/product/service, and what is the amount?” Customers have never fit neatly into objective boxes because they are all unique, and a salesperson’s value often lies in their intuition. Holding back your investment in all prospects unless the answer to this question is “Yes” might be a mistake. A subjective question relies solely on the perspective of the salesperson, which often varies from salesperson to salesperson. Of a ten prospect account list, one salesperson might see five qualified prospects while another might see two. This makes it very hard to truly see the ripe opportunities that you should invest resources in winning. In order to be as accurate as possible, it is vital that you use a mix of both subjective and objective questions.

The Taxonomy of Business Development

What is business development? This is a frequently asked question with as many answers as there are people calling themselves business development professionals. What unifies the discipline of business development is not so much the activities that comprise it, as these are immensely diverse ranging across a myriad of subfields. It is rather the goal or the objective: In one way or another, business development is about implementing business growth opportunities.

Business development involves all tasks and processes concerning both the analytical preparation, monitoring and support of growth opportunities. Of course, growth can be achieved in many ways. There are a plethora of activities, conceptualizations, methodologies, tools, frameworks, models, subfields, and buzzwords employed across industries and geographies when implementing growth opportunities for firms. Thus, it is often difficult to make out what is what with respect to business development.

This paper will discuss and distinguish key concepts of contemporary business development for a more comprehensive and translucent picture of this important yet ambiguous field. A particular interest will be taken into how business development activities differ across company sizes and growth stages, from early-stage startups to fully-grown companies, and the various institutions that can support companies on their paths to growth. Lastly, the value of business development services is discussed from the perspective of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs).

1. The people of business development

“I do biz dev”, you hear people say frequently. But yes, business development is indeed something that one can do, and the actors of business development are called Business Developers. Business developers can be internal employees hired to identify and expand a company´s business, and their strength lies in their deep insight into the organization they work for. On the other hand, there are external professional service providers, such as management consultants, who leverage their experience from helping other companies develop, identify, and execute growth opportunities. Whether internal or external, individuals of this professional breed are usually generalists by nature with the skills and know-how to collaborate and integrate knowledge and feedback from a company´s functional units such as sales, marketing, R&D, operations, and finance, and in turn synthetize that information into actionable roadmaps, also called business plans. The business plan can be thought of as a formal statement of a set of organizational goals, including the motivations and criteria for why they are attainable, and a plan for reaching the goals. The tools and methods utilized by business developers are countless, yet the objective remains to answer one fundamental question: “How do we make money?”

While business developers work to address how firms can sell more of their products or services and make more money both today and tomorrow, business development activities are typically skewed towards forthcoming business opportunities and strategy. Many sales representatives claim to be business development professionals, but this does not fully capture what business development is. One of the principal activities a business developer does is identify new opportunities. To do so, the business developer must have insight into a range of business related fields, and have access to key information that can allow new parallels to be drawn. First of all, he/she must hold a fundamental understanding of the company in question, stay abreast of industry trends, and monitor the competition. Secondly, but perhaps more importantly, the business developer must be able to take a holistic perspective, use his/her intuition when analyzing results, and show proof of creativity and ingenuity when synthetizing information in order to conclude which next steps the business should take.

Working in business development is an excellent way to develop skills in strategy, negotiations, and managing partner and client relationships. Moreover, the job of a business developer is highly cross functional, as it requires collaboration with various internal and partner-company teams such as sales, engineering, and marketing to ensure that a deal is consummated. Last but not least, if done well, business development can have an incredible impact on the success of a business.

2. The institutions of business development

A common problem facing many firms, regardless of where they are in the company lifecycle, is that they get stuck in the trenches of daily operations, at the cost of conducting business development activities. When strategy and competitive advantage are no longer on top of the agenda, focus is lost and to the detriment of sustainable growth. The balance between running day-to-day operations and continuously developing the business further to hone the competitive advantage a firm holds is indeed difficult to manage. For that reason, there are a multitude of professional service providers in the field of business development. From the birth of ideas to early startups, to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) who seek second stage growth, and all they way to strategy implementation for corporate giants, many institutions exist to support firms in their business development efforts.

There are both niche specialists targeting specific business needs and generalists taking a 360° view of the firm and its strategy and objectives. They come in the form of governmental institutions providing funding and support to entrepreneurs, and private institutions in the form of business angels and venture capitalists, business incubators and seed accelerators, second stage business accelerators, boutique consultancy firms, and large management consulting houses. One way or another, these institutions interact with companies on their growth journey and provide all kinds of resources to support them, including funding and physical work spaces (offices), professional support, advice and mentoring, tools and frameworks, strategy development and operations efficiency, and access to important networks in the business ecosystem.

In the table below a classification of business development institutions are plotted out, based on the various stages in the company life cycle. While there of course exist much overlap between of these fields, it gives an idea of who, how, when and for whom various actors interact with firms on their path to growth.

Business Incubator

The idea of the business incubator is to provide support for the successful development of companies by means of an array of support resources and services, offering a nurturing environment where entrepreneurs can bring their ideas to life. Incubator services often include one or several of the following:

  • Shared office space
  • Marketing assistance
  • Accounting/financial management
  • Access to bank loans, loan funds and guarantee programs
  • Help with presentation skills
  • Business networks and links to strategic partners
  • Access to angel investors, venture capital and debt financing
  • Comprehensive business training programs
  • Advisory boards and mentors
  • Management team identification
  • Technology commercialization assistance
  • Help with regulatory compliance
  • Intellectual property management

The idea is to allow entrepreneurs and start-up teams to focus on their core value proposition and leverage key resources that a growing start-up needs. Incubators often employ a selective screening process assessing the feasibility and workability of the business plan of incubatee prospects before letting hem join the program. While many incubator programs are industry agnostic, 39% of incubators in the United States work only with the high-tech sector. A company spends varying amounts of time in an incubation program depending the type of business and the entrepreneur’s level of business expertise. For example, life science and other firms with R&D cycles require more time in an incubation program service companies. On average, incubator clients spend 33 months in a program.1 Oftentimes, graduation requirements are set by development benchmarks rather than time, such as revenues or number of employees. The successful graduation from a business incubation program typically increases the likelihood that a startup company will stay in business for the long term.

Seed Accelerators / Startup Accelerator Programs

The Seed Accelerator derives much of its characteristics from the business incubator; their services often include pre-seed investments (usually in exchange for equity) and the focus is on business model innovation. In contrast to an incubator, the seed accelerator views the startup period as short, and startups are often supported in cohort batches or ‘classes’ during a seed acceleration program. But accelerators are not considered “protected” nurturing environments, like the business incubator. They bring together entrepreneurs, mentors, and advisors and leave it to the entrepreneurs to figure out how to best take advantage of the opportunity that emerges. Being selected by a seed accelerator often brings notoriety to a firm, and it is a way to quickly create momentum in a startup, as long as the participants have the experience and drive necessary. Often, participants in seed accelerator programs are experienced startup professionals who are accustomed to the process.The assets provided by the seed accelerator come in the form of mentoring, funding and a strong network effect, but there are few or no internal resources, such as back office support functions, internal marketing or legal advisory experts or legal. It is a sink or swim environment.

Second Stage Business Accelerator

Second stage business accelerator services are very different from those of both incubators and seed accelerators. A second stage business accelerator can be thought of a management consulting firm targeting established SMEs looking to boost performance and ensure a continuous and sustainable growth path. Whether young or old, many companies sooner or later plateau in terms of revenue, and the growth bottlenecks vary greatly between organizations. One classic hold-up is the entrepreneur / founder who insists on having a finger in the pie across all decision and actions taken by the company – a sign that the company since long has outgrown the governance structure still in place.

A second stage business acceleration program typically lasts between 3-6 months and it is aimed to assess and improve the entire “business machinery” that a growing organization needs to have in place to succeed. Strategic focus, institutional strengthening, human resource training and financial strategy, are some of the dimensions that a second stage business accelerator may offer. The business accelerator’s emphasis is on accelerated and sustainable growth, and to eliminate organizational, operational, and strategic bottlenecks that prevent the client firm from growing. In essence, a second stage accelerator bears a strong resemblance to traditional management consulting firms, but adjusted to fulfill the needs of SME’s.

Boutique Consulting Firms

Boutique consulting firms offer organizations highly specialized advice that addresses specific problems or aspects of a business. The overall objective is to improve efficiency and increase profits, and the term “boutique” has more to do with the firm’s focus than with its actual size. One firm may consist of a single advisor, while another may have 200+ consultants employed. More specifically, “boutique” most often refers to the niches in which it offers its services. Examples of niches in which boutique consulting firms operate include human resources and staffing, IT, healthcare, business process outsourcing, and accounting. These firms tend to work with private sector companies but also with governmental institutions and nonprofits.

Overall, boutique consulting firms focus on a limited scope of industries, and resolve business issues quicker than large management consulting firms that require more time for a specific project. The solutions that boutique consultants offer also have more immediate impact.

Large Management Consulting Firms

Large management consulting firms offer a more diverse set of services compared to boutique consulting firms and are often international in scope. They target publicly held or large private companies, international conglomerates, international nonprofits, and governmental bodies. Large management consulting firms are able to draw from massive reservoirs of overlapping knowledge and expertise in contrast to the more narrowly focused boutique consulting firms, and can offer a single client support on IT, strategy, operational, human capital, and financial issues. Moreover, they create industry “best practices” by working across a wide range of industries and firms (though it is debatable to what extent such practices are transferable from one organization to another). Yet, management consulting has long been a booming market with numerous players, both large and small, offering their advice to firms.

3. The value of business development services for SMEs

It might be hard to decide if and when to use various business development services. What is the actual value that these services provide? Is it worth the investment in time and money? Given the growth stage in which your company finds itself it can indeed be worthwhile considering employing business development services in one way or another.

Early Stage

If your company is an early startup, the decision for joining an incubator or seed accelerator comes down to your personal confidence in your business model, the strength of your team, your capacity to execute, and not the least your fundraising skills. If you have a credible story, a business that is nicely progressing on its own and access to both finance and the right talent, you are probably just as well off on your own. In fact, entering any of these programs might just become a distraction. These environments can act to divert your attention by lots of related meetings and events with mentors and investors, getting in the way of focusing on your projects. Moreover they can be confusing, having ten mentors provide their own piece of advice; filtering advice can be a daunting task. But if you need help refining your business model or if you are a first-time CEO seeking guidance from proven peers and entrepreneurs, these types of services can be perfect. The likelihood of raising capital is vastly improved through the tight screening process many of these programs employ and the access to a strong investor network that these programs provide access to.

Second Stage

Similarly, if you run a small or medium sized company the determining factor for seeking external help lies more in the assessment of particular needs and issues facing the business and the overall growth ambition of decision makers / the owner. As is often the case, companies reach a certain size and then plateau for months or years, not sure how boost growth and reach the next level. Other companies achieve growth, but then face challenges to manage it as they run into the hurdles of balancing daily operations with business development. Be it a young company recently graduated from an incubator, or an established firm who seek to renew itself, the transformation of an organization into a solid business organization that can make way for sustained growth, involves many challenges:

1. Ensure relevance in the market place

2. Implement a sound governance structure

3. Identify, operate and deliver according to a core competitive advantage,

4. Build the right institutional capabilities and business processes

5. Continuous innovation

These are some of the most common challenges facing small and medium sized companies who seek to the reach to the next level. At this stage in the company life cycle business risk is beginning to decrease and the opportunity for true value creation presents its self, yet the path to that second level can be a long and tricky walk. Using the help from a second stage business accelerator can be one way to overcome these challenges; to (re)establish the entire “business machinery” required to allow growth to take place.

Later Stage

Firms of all sizes will sometimes find that they lack a particular skill or area of expertise, and seek the advice of a specialist. In such instances boutique consultancy firms come in handy to for example support a particular project or give advice on matters related to a specific topic such as law, finance or HR. Larger corporations often make use of larger management consultancy firms to identify existing organizational problems and development of plans for improvement. Management consultants often bring proprietary methodologies or frameworks to guide the identification of problems, and to serve as the basis for recommendations for more effective or efficient ways of performing work tasks. While most large organizations have their own business development staff in-house, external advice is thought to bring a more objective perspective to the table. Moreover, no company can house all expertise internally, thus the advice from external business professionals may at times come in handy.

Concluding Remarks

Just as when buying any service, when contracting for professional business development services it is important to have clear deliverables. A common mistake made by many business developers is to guarantee X% increase in sales or revenue. But we all know that growing a business involves a lot of risk, for which one cannot control. The deliverables should instead be based on activity: actions, engagement, meetings, introductions, opportunities, networks, events etc. Make sure to always discuss details of the engagement process and the scope of the services to be delivered. It is equally important that the paying party commits to the engagement and set out deliverables it needs to comply with. One should bear in mind that outsourced business developers put their relationships on the line to help grow your business and their future is dependent on the success of every client interaction. For that reason it is important for you as a contractor to do your part: come prepared, deliver on your end and be service-minded towards any business developer. Moreover, make sure to match your expectations with the price you pay. If not, the results of the service you are buying will most likely be disappointing.

As we can see, business development comes in many forms and is practiced by a broad set of actors. From the birth of firms through incubators and seed accelerators, to boosting growth for small and medium firms by means of second stage business accelerators, to advising corporate giants through management consulting firms, business development constitute an important element any phase of the company life cycle. Undeniably, business development is a crucial component of a firm’s success – the opportunities forged today will define what the company is doing on tomorrow.

[1, 2] 2006 State of the Business Incubation Industry – National Business Incubation Association (NBIA)