Firing your business development officer could be a pretty drastic step. I’m not really advocating that you take any action one way or the other, but if you’re not happy with your business development officer’s performance, I recommend taking a hard look at what that role should be and actually is in your agency.
I’ve noticed that business development, or “biz dev” for you abbreviation lovers, is often incorrectly defined even by the ones holding that position. Whose fault is that? As the business owner or leader, it’s yours.
Business development is not just sales, not just marketing and not even just operations; it’s all of those at the same time. It’s the advancement of and creation of strategic growth opportunities — looking for new sales strategies, new relationships, internal improvement, strategic alliances and acquisitions that add to the overall value of the company.
Building a business, especially an agency, involves taking a long view. The business development function is key to that success. Without it, agencies tend to do the same old, same old until they get hit over the head to make a change or take a step that has some risk. The question is: How do you make sure your agency isn’t one of those?
Keeping your finger on the pulse of the industry, the trends, the new technologies, the competition and the general business climate around you are all facets that determine where you can further the growth of your agency.
Marketing colleagues have differing opinions on the role of business development. One colleague said that business development is everything and that the typical company loses 15% of its clients every year, for various reasons, which theoretically means you lose all of your clients every seven years. So no matter how great your company is, you likely won’t survive without a strong business development plan in place. And he believes it begins at the top, with the president/CEO and the management team networking in the right circles — wherever you can meet decision makers — becoming board trustees and, of course, using your current clients for referrals. So you need to keep the pipeline running, all the time.
I’ve also observed iterations of the business development role that are broader and more loosely defined with a heavy focus on sales. Responsibility isn’t given to one person to secure new business; instead, it’s handled by senior staff. Prospecting opens the doors, and depending on the request or opportunity, management assembles a team to evaluate it. Potential clients get an invitation to visit the agency and meet the people who would be behind the creation and execution of their work. In this scenario, all department chiefs are responsible for vetting prospects and opportunities in their silos. The chief digital officer fields all digital opportunities, and the same holds true for media, creative, research, copy and content and web development department chiefs. In such a scenario, I’ve noticed that the C-suite or ownership will ultimately fare less well than they do in an agency with a better focus on the future strategies, trends and opportunities that lie in the business development lane because the process isn’t focused on long-term growth opportunities that need to be developed outside of day-to-day operations, including sales.
From personal experience, I’ve found that the misunderstanding of the business development role by people I’ve given the responsibility to falls at my feet. “Why don’t they get it?” I’ve asked myself, more than once.
In retrospect, I didn’t explain the job description as I saw it. So picture this: A new business development officer comes on board and works really hard and brings in a couple of nice pieces of business. You’re happy and even praise their effort and success. There was your first mistake. New business is great, of course, but it’s only momentary, and it’s not their core job.
If you find yourself being the generator of new ideas for the business or continually passing on opportunities to your current business development officer, it should be another red flag. The function calls for ideas to rise to you, not the other way around. Not that you should refrain from promoting new ideas to your downline, but that should not be every day or often.
Across the organization, business development can impact sales, marketing, finance and operations by identifying lucrative sales prospects and revenue goals and helping with crafting messaging that supports the growth initiatives in the long term as well as process improvements that cut costs and add to the bottom line. Looked at through that lens, biz dev is both internal and external. Building strategic initiatives and partnerships, creating new service line offerings, negotiating terms and conditions and discovering and vetting acquisition opportunities all fall under that umbrella.
Being the business development officer is a big job, and it’s essential to the forward thinking of any agency that wants to be around for the long haul. However, it’s up to the business owner or leader to explain in-depth the expectations of the person who will sit in the business development chair or create the process that fosters the growth of the agency.
It’s your responsibility to be very clear during hiring and on-boarding about expectations, processes and accountability so that there is synchronization. Without that clarity, things can get off track rather quickly. Eye-to-eye, face-to-face, this two-way discussion can save you a bunch of angst down the road. Oh, and it can help your agency grow.