Skills Every Business Development Person Should Have


There are non-negotiable skills every business development person should have, in fact that role has been tagged ‘the most dangerous’ due to the stress, brief lifespan, and sort of confusion that revolves around the responsibilities it carries.


How successful a business development person is, directly impacts on the agency’s future stability and growth. Their strong professional attributes stand them out in the midst of pressure and organizational chaos. They have high creative thinking, leadership skills, and a strong organizational mindset that helps to impact the agency.


But oftentimes, leaders of agencies set goals that seem too unrealistic for the business development person. This may set him off as not fit for the executives’ unexpected requirements.


Agency leaders look out for someone to draw out proposals, effortlessly bring clients accounts, manage accounts, market the agency, and be well respected by the team. Their expectations are quite high and demanding for one person which eventually places so much pressure on the player and sometimes sets the relationship for failure.


In 2018, the Marketing Agency Growth Report revealed that about 35% of agencies actually have a tough time finding a perfect fit for the position. And another 12% have a heightened challenge retaining such employees. But to understand what specifically makes business development person successful, here are the basic skills every business development should have


1. Listening Skills And Being Able To Ask Great Questions


President of the List, Dave Currie, revealed that people who succeed the most in business development are people who ask great questions. He added that their professional curiosity actually makes them listen intently and ask great questions geared towards identifying and pointing out issues, the effect of those identified issues to the agency, and the urgency and dire necessity of proffering solutions to the issues. 


The business development individual should be capable enough to bring value to the table, as they are expected to be educated already about the agency and the services provided, and their competition.

Consider two objective measures as advised by Dave Currie, to hire the right candidate for this skill. Consider Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and a Conversational Capacity test.


2. Understanding Buying Trends And Patterns Of Prospective Market


A famous market stat reveals that buyers already make about 57% of decisions before contacting a vendor. Buyers today are far more equipped with information than ever before. Whether they are getting this information through a particular brand, their competitors or through their customers, buyers have become more informed much more than before.


Do you think your salesperson understands the weight this carries? Unlike before, the seller needs to be able proffer personalized solutions to the challenges and needs of a specific buyer. Hence, a business development person needs to be able to employ the right strategies that would be of help and develop trust between the seller and buyer, taking the buyer through the sales cycle.


According to David C. Baker of  ReCourses, the person to be hired for this role must comprehend this consultative selling pattern. He says people who have a successful background in transactional selling rarely make the transition into consultative selling.


David added that the process, selling points, and presence are totally unrelated. For instance, he says, “A transactional seller will drive the process to close a sale even if profitability is sacrificed in order to accomplish that. A consultative seller is more patient and might close three to five new substantial clients every year. Their ego doesn’t require constant stroking.”


3. Deep Knowledge Of The Agency Business


The business development person must be well versed and knowledgeable in the agency business. He should not only be able to make marketing decisions, but also business decisions in helping clients. Such people should understand general business strategies, how customers are acquired and retained, leaders’ concerns and struggles, the financial metrics and how it matters to the executives.


It is very crucial that they are able to help clients find solutions to their business problems through the services offered by the agency. 


4. Inbound Marketing Skill


Inbound marketing has to do with attracting customers to products and services through content marketing, search engine optimization, social media marketing, and branding. Unfortunately, a lot of agencies still bank on cold calling, referrals, networking, and emailing, to generate leads for their business. While these are still valuable avenues to aid business development, great sales reps have a good understanding of the function of marketing in winning and retaining the best prospects. They leverage on inbound marketing to achieve the goal of the agency.


Founder of Fuel Lines, Michael Gass, makes frequent reference to a study of CMOs which reveals that about 80% of those who were surveyed were the ones who found their vendors, and not the vendors finding them. He added that business development has been drastically altered through the rise of social media, recession, and speedy growth of technology.


Gass advises that before you go on to bring someone on board to handle your agency’s business development efforts, aside from making enquiries over their traditional business development expertise, it is very crucial to know how versatile they are with content marketing, social media, and generating inbound leads.


A business development pro should bear the task of supporting and driving the marketing strategies of the agency, and also give much value to leads that weren’t directly sourced by them.


5. Action Development And Goal Setting Skills


Your prospective sales rep understands and places high value on useful and meaningful goals and a solid plan in attaining the goals. When there is a solid plan, it helps with giving clarity to the role of the business development person, his responsibilities, and priorities. This will also help the rest of the team to give support to the sales plan.


If the person isn’t able to draw in the encouragement and support of the team, it would become a struggle to succeed in the role.


Lee McKnight of RSW/US says, “Business development professionals don’t always get the support they need, even with well-intentioned leadership, so the ideal business development professional has to ‘drive the ship’ regardless of what materials they have, without waiting or making excuses,”

McKnight gave agency CEOs some suggestions for hiring a business development person. Here are the suggestions:

a.  Set their own expectations


Set expectations that are realistic and within the capacity of the business development person without bias. Ask how much they can do as an individual, and how much the leadership will need to support them with.

b.  Put the business development team structure into consideration


What exactly do you expect? Will the person be working alone to drive business development, or they would  be having a team around them to achieve the goal?

c. Do a review of the person’s past responsibilities


Review how efficient they were in the past. Were they efficient working alone or with others? What were the areas they were in charge of? Will they be able to run pitches, find leads,  and conduct initial meetings?


The person should be able to create a yearly plan targeted at establishing and meeting the needs of business development which attracts prospective clients growth. The annual plan should also have in view the importance of improving on business development day-in-day-out, and not only during a challenge. This should be made a priority which should also align with hiring and capacity forecasts.


6. Must Possess A High Curiosity Quotient


Thomas Chamorro-Premuzic wrote in an article in Harvard Business Review, that people who have a high curiosity quotient are well skilled with proffering simple solutions to ambiguous and complex situations. 


It is easy to develop people in the sales techniques, in meeting the needs and easing pains of prospective clients, and understanding all the agency skills. However, people cannot be trained how to become curious. Curious people develop improved relationships with other people, and this is a key value of a great salesperson.   


7. Perfect Salesperson For The Position


According to Jody Sutter of The Sutter Company, it is necessary to combine the sales and business development role to generate revenue, they however do not demand exactly the same skills. Sutter says, “These days, the director of business development describes a caretaker of the pitch process and requires strengths like acute attention to detail and strong project management skills. Good business development hires tend to be people-pleasers who get fulfillment from supporting a team so that it can perform at its best.”


The other type is the sales-focused personality. Managing partner at Mirren, Brent Hodgins, describes this as a ‘hunter’ role for proactive prospecting. He calls this kind of salesperson a more aggressive person who is squarely focused on getting results. Hodgins says, “In fact, while sometimes appearing less organized on the surface, they can perform well at delivering new leads. However, someone focused on managing competitive reviews/RFPs tends to be more detail oriented and buttoned down but finds little inspiration in the idea of picking up the phone to call on prospects. Often without even realizing it, ‘pitch managers’ actually resist prospecting. This is common with most account people as well.”

Hodgin went on to say that most agencies do not often do justice in getting someone who is capable of taking on both roles. They instead opt for one character type, which eventually fails, and launches blames back to the business development director.


So, do you want someone who will be able to create the strategy for business development, processes, and be an invaluable leadership team member, who the team revolves around, or you want someone who would prospect for new clients, set up meetings while the deal is closed by the CEO?

Jody Sutter says, “Most ad agency CEOs expect their business development leads to excel at both roles and are often disappointed when they don’t.”


8. Skills In Brand Building 


Since it is very important for agencies to build their own brand, generate awareness and leads, grow their market, be unique in their own voice, and communicate their own value, it is therefore important that the business development person should be skilled in building a brand.

According to Karla Morales-Lee of The Art of business development, hiring a person who has a good understanding of how crucial it is to build a brand in attracting and selling prospects is of necessity. He however says that most agencies do not look out for the right things when someone is onboard to occupy the position.


Morales-Lee says, “Cold calling no longer works. Today, the best business development people are marketing-savvy brand ambassadors. Beyond the day to day, you need to hire someone who can build a brand externally and a business development culture internally.”


It is important that beyond defining their brand, professionals should be able to bring change all through the sales practices and marketing efforts of the company. The person should be able to define an ideal client profile, and determine clients that are perfect fit and those who are not, should understand the practice of recruiting and hiring, marketing its firm, and also be able to determine value by fixing appropriate prices.


9. Must Be Realistic While Setting Expectations With Clients


The person should be able to set expectations that are realistic and attainable expectations with clients. It would yield a good outcome if the person is versed and able to set and manage expectations with prospective clients in a way that your company is able to exceed the expectations.


Hence, promising the following day to deliver a proposal, when in fact, it would normally take your team up to four days to create a proposal is not a good approach. The person must be well inclined to communicate the personality, values, and culture of the agency to help prospective clients understand the benefits of working with your team and how your point of views match. 


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