In Conversation: How to Build a Successful Biz Dev Team

This month – amid a heap of heart shaped chocolates and red roses – we got to thinking about relationships…in Business Development.

Often, we see businesses that are looking for someone with an enviable Rolodex who can bring client accounts with minimal effort in addition to being able to write proposals, market your agency, prospect, manage accounts when necessary and command the respect of the team.

But, like many relationships, not having a realistic view at the outset of can run the risk of setting that relationship up for failure.

So, how do you build that successful Biz Dev team with the enviable Rolodex? What elements should be present in order for this relationship to flourish? What are the qualities to keep in mind when building your dream Biz Dev team?

To better understand what makes a successful Biz Dev team, we sat down with Upfront Sales Director Guy Edwards to get his take on #relationshipgoals in Business Development.

What would you say are the five essential qualities in a BDM that you look for when recruiting?

  1. Good BDMs are confident, calm, engaging, have an enquiring mind and most importantly, they listen. The old adage of “people buy people” is still as true as when it was first said. When I meet a BDM candidate, I’m always looking for someone I could drop into a large networking event and know they will be able to work the room and speak to the right people.
  1. Questioning skills. Outside of the first 30-second pitch, I look for people who understand how to ask the right questions, and most importantly LISTEN to the answers. In a presentation or pitch/role play stage of the interview process, I want to see a candidate posing smart questions to me that demonstrate their understanding of the business that they are pitching to.
  1. While I place a high value on preparation, in the case of Business Development, all the preparation in the world will only get you so far. Candidates need to be able to work with the information you are given by the prospect and understand how to use that information to drive the relationship forward. Often with multiple disciplines i.e. from an integrated agency offering, you will get so much more traction by being able to pick up what areas of the business the prospect is actually interested in. Good BDMs figure out what the priorities are for the prospect and how they can deliver on those priorities?
  1. Account management. In a industry like Business Development, being able to build good working relationships with people extends past the prospects and into the long-term relationship with the client team. Agencies trust us completely to deliver their new business activity for them and that comes with a huge responsibility for clear communication and trust on both sides.
  1. Business Development can be the best job in the world for the right people. On the Upfront BDM team, we love Biz Dev, and we love winning new business for our clients. I need to see that passion from candidates, because whilst it is the best job in the world for some, if you aren’t passionate about it, it won’t be the right role for you.

Conversely, what qualities in an agency or business do you look for as a Business Development Professional?

Good question! Personally, I’m not a job hopper so I look for a role that I can see myself in for a year or two. But most importantly, I look for a business I respect. I have overheard horrific pub conversations in the past from BDMs slating their work place! I would hate to feel that way about my company.

I look for businesses that have a lower employee turnover. It’s a bonus to see employees who have also progressed through the company, because for me, if a Business Developer is the same role for a prolonged time, that doesn’t excite me about joining that team as that infers there could be less room for growth in the company.

Beyond that, I am looking for the usual clues to give me a better insight to who an agency is and what it stands for – social media posts, content and blog posts, awards they’ve won and how they fit within the wider industry.

As a BDM you want to “back the right horses” so to speak, so I find through that research you get a good feel for the company culture. If it chimes with how I like to work and feel about the industry, then that’s a big tick for me.

Would you say there is ‘ideal’ workplace culture or company ethos that you find most suitable to support a Biz Dev team?

Oh yes, definitely. The agency must know not only what they do, but why they exist. It may sound like a subtle difference, but for me it’s a very important difference. How many times do people simply say what their business does:

“Oh, I work for a digital marketing agency”

instead of

“We exist because our clients trust us to create manage and deliver their presence online”

For me any business wanting to invest in Business Development first needs to have a few key elements:

To be a meritocracy. Good work always rewarded and acknowledged.

Clear and open lines of communication. This sounds simple, but it’s easy for people to get internally focused and then divisions can creep in. This should encompass the senior team.

A clear and open mandate for the business, e.g. the mission statement for “who we are” right now and where is the business going. I think it’s really important for all of the teams to be pulling in one direction.

It might seem obvious but I like businesses who value new business and BDM activity, because that tells me the relationship is already off to a good start and we can work together to get some great results for their business.

Do you have any tips for someone exploring the realm of Biz Dev, either in a BDM role or an agency looking to invest in Business Development?

For those who are looking to start out I would say, find a proposition that you are passionate about, and sell yourself into the hiring manager of that business, if you are right in your assessment of the business and you do love it, work hard and you will fly.

For agencies that are looking to invest in Business Development I would say it’s important to understand your needs as a business, what resources you currently have and what model will work best for your needs. We recently wrote a piece on outsourced vs. in-house Business Development, which covers a lot of the relevant questions agencies should be asking themselves in the initial stages of developing a strategy.

All relationships need good channels of communication in order to thrive. What are some of your favourite tools you use to stay connected with your team and ensure a strong work relationship?

Timetastic is brilliant for leave planning and management, it’s simple, effortless and centralised.

I’m a big fan of Gmail and have been for years, in my personal opinion none of the other email services come close.

I really enjoy a Google plugin called Mailtracker. It allows me to know that my emails are delivered and if I promised to have something over to a prospect – I know I have delivered my end of the bargain.

We are blessed at Upfront to have Upstream as a resource for our BDM activity. It saves a huge amount of time trawling for decision-maker contact details and gives us all the relevant industry insights in one place. You might think I’m totally biased, but I have used the range of these tools over the years and Upstream is head and shoulders above the competition.

We are just moving over to Pipedrive as our CRM and from what I have seen so far it looks excellent. It’s easy to use and engaging, which (having come from Salesforce) is a definitely breath of fresh air.

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