Commentary: The Real Scoop on Business Development Training
I’ve seen a surge in interest for business development training in the past year or two since the economic rebound. I believe this surge results primarily from two factors.
• The financial reality that while most firms are still watching their overhead dollars like a hawk, there is more discretionary money available to fund training initiatives that were put on hold during the recession.
• A reluctance by some firms to hire (or rehire) full-time business developers. Many were let go during the downturn, and some firms have never filled this role. In their place, many firms have doubled down on building a firm-wide BD culture and bolstering their existing seller-doer culture.
But any discussion of BD training is incomplete without addressing the elephants in the room:
• Does it “work”? In other words, “If I inject my project managers with a ‘shot of BD,’ will they be transformed into better business developers?”
• How do you develop the necessary systems and metrics to foster accountability and measure success?
Why are many folks so “black and white” in their thinking about BD training? One thing I’ve learned over the years is that we need to be more inspiring and exacting in our expectations when it comes to BD training. As firm leaders, we need to create a compelling vision for our firms, careers and personal growth—one that encourages more folks to want to build their BD skills and become more involved—in ways that are unique to them, their aspirations and limitations.
I wouldn’t be writing this piece if I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard someone say, “You’re either born to be a business developer or you’re not.” Or, “business development training doesn’t work—the cream will rise to the top.”
Talk about throwing the baby out with the bath water. Yes, it’s true that some folks more easily “get” how BD works, while it can be an uphill battle for others. And it’s true that the potential return on investment for training is higher for some than others (so choose wisely who should participate in training workshops!). But everyone can improve their BD skills and efficacy in ways commensurate with their functional role, career juncture and BD acumen and interest.
Getting It Right
Over my two-plus decades of marketing and BD consulting, I’ve been directly involved with many BD training and coaching initiatives. Here are some tips based on that experience:
• Don’t embark on BD training unless you’ve developed market-specific business plans containing actual top target clients and prospects, target professional associations and venues and other critical information to focus your time and efforts and provide mechanisms for accountability. Any BD training you do must be part of a broader undertaking to establish a firm-wide BD culture.