The future is now. But we need to be looking well beyond it, to continue learning about the forces that will shape our organizations as we grapple with transformation and global economic shifts. Two of the most significant and lasting changes will be the future of remote work and remote business development.
As I travel the country and meet with business development leaders and other organizational executives, some common themes have emerged around the competencies needed for modern business developers. While there are skills that remain foundational, as a firm leader you want to have the pulse on the future skills your teams will need to create business development success. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it will expand your capabilities and grow your business.
Research by the Center for Creative Leadership found that 25 years ago, technical skills ranked most important by recruiters. Now, those skills are just table stakes. The number one skill that organizations are looking to hire for today is agility: the ability to see ahead of the curve. Modern business developers grow and leverage agility to help their clients create a competitive advantage. By doing that, they become differentiators.
How do you know if your team is agile? Agile professionals and business development leaders seek continuous feedback, are always curious, easily navigate ambiguity, and aren’t afraid to try bold ideas. Consider agility an integral asset in your team.
2. Connecting the Dots
How well do your team members connect the dots between data and the story it is telling? To connect seemingly disparate pieces of information and formulate a hypothesis? For example, within an organization’s strategic priorities, what does that data tell you about where the organization is headed and what the organization needs to consider? Those on your team who regularly have conversations across different types of relationships are in a strong position to connect the dots—and are more effective as modern business developers.
3. Opportunity Spotting
Opportunity spotting is the ability to identify problems and challenges that are currently unrecognized by the client or the prospective client—but that your team can recognize because you are well versed in the client’s business or industry and can address them from an outside perspective. Modern business developers always ask the question, “how might this be an opportunity to help my client solve a problem?” After all, business development, in its most simplified terms, is the ability to help clients solve a problem or take advantage of an opportunity. Our job is to help them to advance their businesses and improve their outcomes.
4. Balance of Relationship Building & Expertise
The next key skill is the balance of relationship building and expertise in professional services. We are in a relationship-oriented business. Personally, when I look at my own book of business, 90% of my opportunities come from introductions or existing relationships. Your mix is probably similar. But if clients don't have true confidence in our expertise, it doesn't matter how strong the relationships are. We must back up the relationship building with continual learning and continual expertise building. This continuous learning helps keep us competitive.
5. Cross-selling Expansion
As you're looking at your business’s ability to scale and grow, cross-selling expansion needs to be one of your business development strategies. Afterall, you have put a lot of time, effort, and investment into building your client roster. Take time to conduct a strategic, deep dive on each of your top clients to identify where you can help them beyond where you're serving them today. The ability to identify opportunities and cross- sell or expand with different types of solutions or services will help you scale and grow smartly with existing clients where you already have excellent relationships.
Selecting focus verticals can help accelerate revenue growth. To use college terms, think of it as selecting a major and then some minors. Verticalization offers significant benefits, even if you have a predefined territory, a predefined book of business, or a predefined service line. The requirements of business development and client service can be better balanced, especially for those of us that are developing business as we’re doing delivery, if we can home in on a major and a minor vertical. Just getting traction in one vertical could be your team’s runway to spin off into other verticals if you choose.
These six skill sets can be applied to your next business development situations and client building opportunities. As a starting point, encourage each team member to focus on one skill set based on their personal business development goals. It will undoubtedly open more opportunities to serve your clients and grow your business in 2022!
If you’re curious to learn more, I discussed this topic further during the Scaling Growth webinar series. Watch the recording on demand.