A new era of Business Development?

Business Development - it’s a term that feels locked in a pre-2008 era. One where sales were explicitly discussed as the primary driver for business development, sometimes at the expense of all other measures. Of course, the world has moved on since then. 

Since the financial crisis, there’s been a growing perception that the interests of business and society have become misaligned. Trust in business is at an all-time low (Edelmans Trust Barometer 2016). Businesses are seeking to define themselves beyond profit and key stakeholders like employees, customers and suppliers increasingly expect business to fulfil a wider societal purpose.

As such concerns are increasingly recognised, many business leaders are debating how to manage and lead their organization’s strategy and initiatives. Some CEOs have decided to grant sustainability a position at a senior level, with the creation of new positions such as chief sustainability officer and CSR Manager. Others, however, have pursued a decentralized approach and have allocated various sustainability responsibilities throughout departments and levels of management. There’s no one size fits all approach, but I do wonder if we are perhaps missing an opportunity to make the much needed shift in operating models by creating new roles/responsibilities, and not redefining existing roles, and in particular a role crucial for sustainable growth – business development.

I think business development has a vital role to play in this next phase of business life – but in a very different way to how business development was previously pigeon-holed as “schmoozing”, sales and the engine for growing profit only. In a nutshell. here’s how and why:

1. Business Development is an external demonstration of your values in action.

People buy from people and companies they trust. Trust is earned through consistent values-led behaviours across your business. Business Development professionals often hold relationships with new and existing clients. Increasing numbers of clients identify themselves as “being socially responsible”, require suppliers to mirror their ethical approach (private and public sector e.g. Wellbeing and Future Generations Act in Wales, Social Value Act in England) and such credentials are a major factor influencing brand loyalty (Goldman Sachs GS Sustain 2007).  This presents an opportunity to drive new sales, win new work and opens up new markets - all whilst being true to you and your values!

How does your Business Development strategy/team reflect you and your values? How does your approach differentiate you in the marketplace? How do you build and retain relationships with clients and targets? How would clients and targets describe your company, and their experience of your company? How do you drive and reward business development activity.

2. Business Development will deliver sustainable growth

In a world where unethical practices are increasingly exposed and society is growing intolerant of “uncaring” behaviour, corporate and brand reputations can be ruined in seconds. The precedent to take the long term view over short term gains is growing. Business Development needs to focus on strategic sales that build value for stakeholders, not just shareholders.

How do you measure the performance of your business development team? What behaviours do your metrics drive in your Business Development activity? How is success defined?  

Business Development is one of those terms that means different things to different people. For us, it means sustainable growth underpinned by a clear purpose, authentic values and strong relationships.

Is business development adding real value to your business?