How hard can it be to do federal business development? All you need is to be good with people and a willingness to talk to decision makers, right? If it were so easy, why for years has BD been given a bad name, and why have many companies struggled to hire business developers who produce results?
Simply put, it is because so many people are either doing it wrong, or calling themselves business developers when in fact they are not. BD goes far beyond one’s ability to network. It is a profession that integrates aspects of multiple disciplines and melds them into a single career track. If you took the best BD person you have ever met and created a list of their professional skills, it would look like this:
Relationship Builder and Manager, Business Strategist, Advisor, Federal Sales Representative, Account Manager, Closer, Research Analyst, Forecaster, Capture Manager, Contracts Manager/Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) expert, Negotiator, Project Manager, Proposal Process Expert, Cost Strategist, Subject Matter Expert, Juggler, Thought Leader, and Ultimate Professional.
Take away any of these skills, and you will have a lesser business developer. Take away most of these skills, and you will have a typical business developer who doesn’t do as good of a job as they should. So, if a great business developer has to have the skills of multiple people, what are the top skills a business developer needs? They are the Three Rs of BD (Research, Relationships, and Requirements).
Let’s break these down:
1. Research: With all the websites and subscription tools at your disposal today, everyone thinks that research is a no-brainer. How hard is it to find something on Google or sign up for an RSS feed? Even children know how to do it. Companies dig on FedBizOpps or even pay for databases with information on upcoming opportunities. So, many companies search until they find something to bid on, and all the right information to position them well for the bid, right?
Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen as often or as well as you would think, even with all this data available. The truth is that real research is not about gathering data, it is about making connections, so that data aggregates into information, information evolves into knowledge, and knowledge transforms into actionable intelligence. How does one do it well? They have to have experience, intuition, and ability to test the knowledge through connections in the industry, to see if the path to winning is right. A great business developer can make all the difference, while a mediocre business developer collects the data but doesn’t know what to do with it and how to use it to the company’s advantage.
2. Relationships: Everyone knows relationships are the magic of BD. But there are a couple of peculiarities about them.
First, are the relationships your business developers bring current and relevant? Is it who they know, or who they knew? Relationships only matter if one can use them to gain an advantage on a pursuit. Does it matter if your business developer knows some general up the ladder if that general is numerous levels removed from people who hold the purse strings? Many business developers know how to open doors at a high level, and while it looks impressive, it rarely results in new business.
Second, a business developer has to leverage others’ relationships masterfully. They can’t know everyone, nor do they need to. They have to be someone who instantly bonds with people, who understands six degrees of separation, and gets to the right people through introductions.
Third, relationships take time to develop, and you may not have the just-in-time connection you need for your company’s pursuit. It is good to know people, but your business developer has to foster a strong relationship with them over time so that they think of your business developer as a trusted advisor. It is a long-term investment that takes a tremendous discipline of following up and providing value. The trick is to get away from the “closer” mentality in relationship building, and still make money for the company. Being a trusted advisor doesn’t have to turn into typical business development – where movement (relationships) is mistaken for progress (winning contracts). A great business developer will make sure that their relationships will bring in revenue while remaining heartfelt. And, they won’t be limited only by the people they know. They will work the network.
3. Requirements: There is more to winning business than just showing your company meets the requirements as written in the RFP. Everyone has to meet the requirements—that’s a given. But your business development effort has to yield understanding of the unwritten requirements such as the story behind each requirement, hot buttons, and the client’s wish lists. Remember, agencies consist of people, and all people have wants. Finding out these wants and weaving them into the story may mean the difference between you being a solid option and the only option. A business developer will also help you shape the requirements so that you could tailor your solution better to what is being asked. You would then have to vet your solution with the customer to verify if this is indeed what they wanted. This process will make your company the most desired choice for the customer, every time.
The key to successful business development is to be talking to agencies all the time, and researching through other available sources – turning data into actionable intelligence. People want to work with people they know, trust, and who they believe can deliver. Finding the right business developer is hard because it is a tall order, but it is rewarding when you make a good choice.