This is a question I get asked often: what is a business development professional, and what’s the difference between in-house, outsourced and consultant? The variety of terms that are used to describe similar (but not necessarily the same) types of business development roles can be confusing.
Having a clear understanding of these roles and the differences between them will help you to choose the right option for your business, and avoid making a potentially costly mistake.
Let’s start by defining business development itself; here’s my definition (adapted from writer, Scott Pollack):
The process of finding new strategic opportunities that create long-term value for an organisation through developing relationships with customers, markets, sectors, suppliers, partners and other commercial relationships.
Now that we’re on the same page, we can look at what a business development professional actually does.
What does a business development professional do?
A business development professional typically works closely with management, sales and marketing teams to develop a strong understanding of the target audience and business’ end goal.
He/she works towards business growth that requires the development of business relationships. This will not only include customers, but also commercial relationships, such as supply chain and partners.
Resourcing and establishing processes is also a key concern of a business development professional, as they are crucial to driving and sustaining growth. For instance, a start-up oil and gas services company might have a new technology for oil operators. The technology might be patented, but they don’t have their ISO accreditation.
Without this accreditation, they are unlikely to have a tender accepted by an operator. The same thing could happen if they haven’t joined FPAL yet or, depending on the product, perhaps they need a certain type of audit from DNV.
A business development professional will identify any such gaps that exist within the business. He/she is there to ask the right questions to ensure that the business is ready to pitch to the prospect client. These questions might include:
- Are we targeting the right market?
- Is this the right product for this market?
- Do we have the processes and resources to make it a success?
Now, let’s explore three types of business development roles that can help you achieve business growth. Remember these are broad groups – job titles and tasks might vary from organisation to organisation and from sector to sector:
3 types of business development roles
In-house business development
An in-house business development professional is likely to work for the organisation on a full-time basis. They will often have deep experience in one area of the business, from working in similar roles/industry for many years.
They’d be looking to develop relationships within their industry, and find where they can build strong rapport that ensures that others are talking about them. Their focus is on clearly communicating key messages that build credibility.
In-house business development professionals will have a single allegiance i.e. the organisation they work for and, hence, could be perceived as having greater loyalty.
Outsourced business development
This is an option that could cut costs. It is one less salary, pension and healthcare cover to worry about and it provides flexibility.
In my conversations with some business owners, they feel that outsourced professionals understand the need to get results quickly and therefore work hard to prove themselves from the start.
Outsourced professionals are often working with several clients and therefore can have quite varied experience. This varied background provides interesting perspectives, and new ideas, hence the money has been well spent to get outsourced support into the business.
Business development consultant
As a consultant, one of the main goals is to teach businesses how to do it themselves. The consultant’s end goal is always to move on. Therefore, some of their time in the organisation is spent teaching and/or training in-house staff to take on the work once the foundation is there.
This can be difficult for a business owner who would prefer a long-term engagement with a consultant that is driving good results. There are no rules on timing, but it certainly shouldn’t be for years on end.
Much of the work I get is from business owners who have a technical background and need to learn how to think commercially. This is a perfect teaching opportunity and a great environment to get the company into a sustainable position. From there, we can create a solid business development-focused presence going forward.
I also work with many business owners who have got stuck in a rut; they have been so busy operationally that they have forgotten, or not had time, to be strategic. I work with these executives monthly to help them get strategic again and start focusing on their business growth and sometimes exit strategy. We focus on specific actions and a simplified plan to fit into their already busy schedule.
Business development drives opportunity and growth. It collaborates with sales, marketing and commercial functions to achieve the goals of the business. The expertise could come from within an organisation, as in-house permanent staff. It could also come from working with an outsourced agency or a consultant.
Which option is right for your business depends on your business model, financial circumstances and your goals and objectives.