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What Is Business Development? A Definition & Guide

Our handy and comprehensive business development guide aims to answer all your questions about the business development role and what it could mean for your business.

Well, let us dive into some of the most important things to know about this term and its growth potential role for a business.

  • What Is Business Development?📌

  • The Difference Between Business Development And Marketing🤝

  • Bridging The Gap Between Your Customer And Your Product🌉

  • Growing Those Strategic Partnerships🌱

  • Moving Into And Understanding Markets🧐

  • Business Development Skills📑

  • Business Development vs Sales📈

  • When Things Go Wrong😱

  • Remember The Importance Of Networking📱

We've all seen roles advertising for a “Development Executive” or “Development Manager” or perhaps the more punchy “Development Strategist”, and even the big bad “VP of Business Development”.

If you're a small business owner, you might end up going to a Business and Development center for advice.

But what do these roles actually mean? 🤔

What Is Business Development?

Business development (BD) is essentially any activity or idea that aims to make a business better over time.

This means making use of customers, implementing strategic partnerships, using your markets and building your company's reputation.

BD roles at any level, from executives through to VPs, are looking at how they can make the business grow their increased revenue, physically expand and develop, while fostering strategic and long-term partnerships in the process.

So why is there so much confusion about what this is and what it means?

A development professional tends to talk to multiple departments:

  • Sales

  • Finance

  • Marketing

  • Customer Services

  • Legal

  • Strategic management

  • Product launches

  • Growing brand awareness

This explains why people often confuse Marketing with Business Development.

The Difference Between Business Development And Marketing 🤝

Marketing is the process of creating, relaying, and delivering offerings that have value to your customers or strategic partners. Identifying every growth opportunity that is available is key.

Whereas your business professional will look for ways to appeal to target markets, your marketing team will adapt their marketing skills and marketing budget to create the material that allows for that target appeal to happen, creating a complementary partnership and long-term relationships.

The professionals might develop the plan, while the marketing team creates marketing content and copy.

However, whereas content creation can be easily outsourced to freelancers, agencies, or even college writing services, a development expert should know your company inside out.

Success comes when both departments work together to ensure the successful marketing of a product, based on the development and research informing the subsequent marketing material.

How Will A Business Grow In Different Areas?

  • Building strategic partnerships for future business growth, and considering potential partners in business.

  • Looking at their existing markets and development opportunities.

  • Growing company reputation with a well grounded business plan.

Bridging The Gap Between Your Customer And Your Product

Let's face it, without your customer you wouldn't have a business. They pay for what you're selling and are the reason why your business will fly or fall.

Development professionals will look at the relationship between what you're selling (or what you could sell) and what the customer actually needs, to align the gap and provide something of added value, and build upon existing strong relationships.

Business Development Bridges The Gap Between Your Customer And Your Product
Business Development Bridges The Gap Between Your Customer And Your Product

It aims to bridge the gap between your customer and your product. Take a car company selling a new sports car as an example.

You might be selling the latest model but are seeing a decline in sales. It turns out your customer is being sold a car with everything you think they need - parking sensors, interior Wi-Fi, the full works.

But they have to pay X amount more, and they don't need those additions, so they would rather go to another car company instead that sells their product for less money and with fewer gadgets.

What Will Your Development Professional Do?

  • Look at customer interaction with a product to establish the issue.

  • Talk to the product development team to create the product the client wants.

  • Work with marketing to develop the new branding and rollout.

  • Generate potential leads before passing them on to the sales department.

  • Look at new strategic partnerships to help reach the customer.

Growing Those Strategic Partnerships 🌱

Strategic partnerships are any relationships with other organizations that can help you grow your customer base, focus on an ideal customer, move into new markets, or help your business to develop unique strengths it didn't have previously.

This is essential to develop any size of business, from the smallest of new start-ups through to huge established corporations.

Traditionally, a larger company may provide the infrastructure or capital while the smaller business offers the expertise in a particular skill that the more prominent company needs.

  • Cross-publishing collaborations are the perfect way to see how strategic partnerships can be beneficial for business development.

  • Academic publishing has been hugely disrupted by a mandate that all scientific, peer-reviewed publications should be made open access.

A larger publisher might suffer in this climate, as it is harder to make business model changes on a company-wide level quickly and effectively.

The development professional in that large company might look to a smaller publisher with expertise in changing subscription journals over to the acceptable open access model. The smaller company will benefit from the larger company's investment in its technical expertise.

The Development Professional Would:

  • Source the strategic partners that can provide them with the technical expertise.

  • Develop and work with them to grow the business relationship.

  • Work out what the strategic partner wants and how this will benefit them in other ways (if it isn't just the financial benefit).

  • Negotiate the cost and outline the contract terms.

Strategic partnerships work at every level, from maintaining positive relationships with the press to establishing good relationships with your key suppliers.

Business development strategy works to establish beneficial relationships that will grow the business by increasing profit, reach, knowledge, and reputation.

Moving Into And Understanding Markets🧐

  • What Should Your Development Professional Do?

  • Growing Your Company Reputation

  • Developing Ethics & Transparency

  • Roles And Responsibilities

Understanding your markets is mainly about understanding your customers on a wider level, and leveraging this understanding will help with business growth.

Here's what Matt Janaway from MarketingLabs has to say:

"Understanding your target customer no matter what market you want to move into is the only way you'll succeed. You need data to support your decisions and to ensure you're making the right steps to get the best results. Your research can't stop once you've decided to take the plunge with a new market though.

Continued testing, research and strategy adjustments are key to ensure you are delivering the right messaging to your new audience, even when you have established your business within a market.

Just because something worked well before doesn't mean you can't get it to work better with a few tweaks based on what your data is telling you."

If you're doing this without the help of a strategic partner, then your development professional will need to research or work with a team that understands the potential market's purchasing tendencies and culture, while also establishing whether developing into that market will ultimately benefit the business.

Let's consider that a company is looking to expand into market X, but wants to know whether their product Y will be a hit with their customers.

Your business professional needs to find out how the potential customer will react to the product, whether it will be of value to them, and whether the success in that market will help grow the business.

Just because something worked well before doesn’t mean you can’t get it to work better with a few tweaks based on what your data is telling you.

What Should Your Development Professional Do?

  • Work with the market research team or consultant to conduct market analysis.

  • Analyze how the customer would react to the proposed product with marketing tools.

  • Speak to the marketing team who adapts the branding to the target culture.

  • Establish potential sales leads and pass these on to sales.

  • Decide whether this market move will ultimately benefit the business.

Growing Your Company Reputation

Company reputation is key to business growth.

Customers won't buy your product if they don't trust you, and partnerships can't be strategic if people don't want to work with you, while markets won't pick up your products if they don't know who you are.

People need to recognize your brand and product for all the right reasons.

Another important aspect to consider is product adoption. How are your customers reacting to your product? The ability to measure and increase the product might prove valuable in the long run.

Developing Ethics & Transparency

A company's reputation will grow if it markets itself as an ethical and transparent company and the development strategist ensures that the business is fulfilling all the customer's needs without cutting any corners ethically.

Growing employee loyalty is just as crucial as developing customer loyalty. Happy employees represent a company that operates with integrity and transparency, as people tend to trust an organization that treats its staff well.

As well as maintaining transparency in its interactions with clients, organizations, and employees, keeping to an environmentally friendly policy is also vital for the business to develop as an ethical establishment.

Global companies often lose clients because they have overlooked an unethical warehouse where people manufacture their goods, or they have disposed of their waste in a harmful way.

The development professionals will look at core company values and make sure they align with fundamental human rights and environmental policies.

Roles And Responsibilities

The role of a development professional will vary from company to company.

A small company might have the business executive looking at overall company growth, while larger teams might have each member dedicated to a particular project, like a product or market launch.

Job titles across different companies could be:

  • Development Executive

  • Development Strategist

  • Development Manager

  • Development Director

  • Development Consultant

  • Development Representative

  • Development Associate

  • Development Analyst

  • Development Officer

As some companies do see the business development role as overlapping with sales or marketing, you might find smaller companies merge the roles or fall under different business functions entirely.

Business Development Skills📑

As with any role, there is a set of fundamental skills that will lead you to thrive in a development position.

Here are our top 10 recommendations for what would make you successful in the role and create opportunities for growth. We've put a couple of them together as sometimes you can't have one skill without the other.

  1. Research And Strategy

  2. Analytically Minded

  3. Communicative And Collaborative

  4. Creative Thinking

  5. Project Management

  6. Goal-Oriented

  7. Negotiation

  8. Resilience

  9. Critical Thinking And Decision Making

  10. Staying Humble

1. Research And Strategy

Researching cutting-edge industry trends, new product potential, and market expansion is an essential part of the role. Checking out small business blogs and learning more can be highly beneficial.

Strategizing what to do with your research is necessary for implementing the work as you'll need to have an action plan to take your research from theory into practice.

Being customer-focused is excellent, but only if you can give the client what they want without costing your business too much money.

Expectation management is an integral part, as it's walking the fine line between offering the client a fantastic product while still making a profit.

2. Analytically Minded

You need to be able to spot patterns and trends in a wide range of information, from reports and datasets

to articles and industry research, to succeed in business development.

Drilling down to the core problem is also essential for planning and strategizing along the way.

3. Communicative And Collaborative

Whether you're pitching to a new client, running a cold calling campaign, or encouraging different departments to work with you (or each other).

Having outstanding interpersonal skills is essential for successfully managing many aspects of a business development project. Being willing to help others is also a vital element of strategic partnerships.

4. Creative Thinking

Businesses can grow only if the development department has new and innovative ideas.

Creative thinking about launching products or solving problems is essential for overcoming obstacles to growth and creating something unique for your clients.

5. Project Management

You're going to have a lot on your plate, and being hyper-organized is the key to success.

Running each new development opportunity as a project will provide you with an overarching strategy, a set plan, and a budget to work with.

It also allows you to spin many plates in one, go through implementing timeline management having excellent planning skills.

6. Goal-Oriented

Good business developers will be working towards a set goal. Which new product will reach the customers? And will entering this new market benefit the company?

Working towards established and quantifiable goals, and enjoying the achievements, or learning from failures, will make you an asset to a business development team.

7. Negotiation

You might not be on the sales team, but you'll need to know how to negotiate.

Whether you're trying to secure a new client account, negotiate a good deal with a supplier or strategic partnership that has long-term value, negotiation is a crucial part of business development.

8. Resilience

You're going to be pulled in 100 different directions, and you'll need buckets of resilience to learn from mistakes and pick yourself up after your failures.

They'll be times when you won't know whether something was successful, and you'll have to keep working through those uncertainties.

9. Critical Thinking And Decision Making

Making decisions and having logical thinking is essential for ensuring business growth and project success, especially while under pressure.

You'll be the person people look to for solutions or advice, so you'll need to make logical decisions both for short and long-term planning that all reach a common goal.

10. Staying Humble

Last but not least, your ability to stay humble will ensure that you keep growing and improving your success rate.

Success has a way of getting to our heads, and this can hamper new business relationships and set you back. Be open to learning from everyone and anyone.

Business Development vs Sales📈

If business development is the process of researching new products and where they will fit into a new market, then sales is the process of selling the product successfully to that market.

You cannot sell the product without first putting the development legwork in, but you won't make money and develop your business without selling its message to potential clients.

The Customer, The Product & The Market 🙌

The development arm of a business will look at identifying your ideal customer/s and finding out what product they want, then developing the product and making sure it's a good fit in the current market.

Finally, the professionals would take care of maximizing the referrals from the existing customers.

In essence, it's lead generation as you develop a list of potential new opportunities (your target market).

It's all the work you put in to make sure that you're selling the right product to the right market, and securing growth opportunities for your business.

Sales: Successfully Selling Your Product To The Customer💸

Sales are the team that takes forward the selling of the product once you've carried out all your background product and market testing and sending it out through the correct sales channels.

To successfully maximize your sales in the market, you'll need a flourishing sales team with established KPIs that increase in size as your product becomes more successful and make sure that all leads are processed through the sales funnel.

The chosen KPIs may change depending on your business and its sales cycle.

A successful salesperson's sales tasks should include:

  • Handling prospecting,

  • Pitching to the stakeholders

  • Converting qualified leads

  • Effectively bringing new business to your company within their sales role

  • Creating appealing invoice letters

A Combined Role: Where The Two Overlap 📰

In larger companies, the sales team might not have time to chase up all the leads generated by the development team.

In fact, hiring an intermediary in a Sales Development role can help ratify a sales lead from Biz Dev before it gets passed on to the Sales Executives for follow-ups, freeing up their time to spend on successful sales.

Alternatively, the Sales Development role might source leads, while the Development team focuses on product development and market expansion.

When Things Go Wrong😱

What are some of the Business Development mistakes?

Companies often have a lower success rate if they don't understand the need for independent Sales and Business Development teams.

If a company expects its Sales team to blindly sell a product to a market that doesn't need it or generate all the leads themselves, they won't have time to sell the product successfully, or it will become futile as the customer doesn't want that product.

Or, the company hires too much of one and not enough of the other.

A sales team without any leads is starting from scratch and selling blind, whereas a business development team with a small sales arm might research their products and market perfectly, but have no one to sell to.

Having strong relationships with partners will also encourage effective communication in all facets of the development role, making sure all teams are kept in the loop.

Business Development Services

As we all know there are so many different hats we wear as business owners. Like managing your website, content creation, marketing, networking, customer management, sales, & the list goes on. For over 10 years I have helped small to mid-sized businesses manage their operations & develop a streamlined process that allows business owners to focus on what's most important. Learn more @

Remember The Importance Of Networking📱


When talking about BD, we cannot forget one of the most important contributions to a successful business, which is networking.

Networking helps to meet other BD professionals and that way, you expand on your expertise but interacting with new ideas from different professionals, and venturing out to find new growth opportunities.

Trade Shows are one of the best places to meet development professionals and throw ideas around.

Nowadays, social media networks like LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook Business help BD professionals to reach out to a wider audience at the click of a button.

It is one thing to network and create a platform for conversation and prospective relations in the future, but you need to maintain those networking relationships too in order to grow your business and keep up to date with trends.

Networking can help you form an idea of some of the best strategic business decisions that need to or can be made to fit your own business.

You Are Ready To Succeed 💯

With all this guide provides, you are set to go out and It takes time to build a solid business foundation, but once it has been established, the opportunities for growth are endless.

Use the tools mentioned to help you achieve your short-term and long-term development goals. implement strategies that will work for your business.

For over 10 years I have helped small to mid-sized businesses manage their operations & develop a streamlined process that allows business owners to focus on what's most important. Learn more @


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