What makes a great New-Business person?

Newbiz folk play a big role in paying your salary or securing the exit you’ve dreamed of, so let’s take a moment to celebrate the best and explore your options.

Years ago, I went into an important internal meeting as a newly-joined New-Business Director and was met with confused faces from my new colleagues. Soon, one of them, with the kind of embarrassed reticence we Brits excel at, asked why I was in the room.

I explained that the meeting topic was a fundamental pillar of my job description. This, it turned out, was news to them.


The fact that I‘d been through a whole bunch of job spec iterations with the CEO before I joined – which he apparently hadn’t shared with anyone else – is actually beside the point. The reality is that unlike, say, a creative director, client service lead or head of strategy, there isn’t a generally accepted beginning and end to what a new-business person does.

The territory is fairly clear – helping win stuff. Pitching, marketing, lead generation. RFPs, awards, events etc. The level of responsibility is guided by experience, so people soon unpick what they lead vs. manage. It does get a bit murkier when you look at genuine decision-making authority, for instance over branding, pitch strategy or developing existing clients.

But the bigger issue is about fit. I’ve met hundreds of new-business people from a wide range of agency, consulting and technology businesses, from global networks to start-ups and independents getting ready to sell. They come in all shapes and sizes, with different skills, backgrounds and perspectives.

More to the point, although we’ve moved on from the bad old days of “welcome aboard, here’s your phone, now piss off and make the magic happen”, new-business folk do plug different gaps, solve different problems and gel with different groups.

So why do 99% of new-business job specs still look basically the same – even if you’ve got a decent headhunter in the mix?

In a nutshell, because CEOs don’t know what they need.

  • Do you need a lifelong new-business pro or T-shaped practitioner in your agency’s discipline?
  • Re-inventor of your model or spinner of existing plates?
  • Creative marketer or super-connected PR whizz?
  • Hungry lead generator or thoughtful new-business strategist?
  • Behind-the-scenes RFI engine or front-of-house client charmer?
  • Meticulous completer-finisher or get-shit-done force of nature?

And that’s just personality and skill-set. What about tailoring your search for business maturity, immediate priorities or level of seniority? Or new-business model. Or different remuneration models. Or outsourcing options.

No wonder it’s so hard to get right. Unrealistic expectations abound. Hiring becomes a ‘journey’ and chemistry – important though it is – tends to trump meaningful fit. Or you want to believe you’ve found a silver-bullet ‘unicorn’, but they soon inevitably disappoint.

Defining new-business hires involves asking yourself soul-searching questions – not least about what skills already exist in your business, what other senior people want to do less of and whether you’re prepared to give real authority.

You still have a fighting chance if you try to decide all this after they join. But if you never have this debate at all, you’re doomed to repeat the whole costly, credibility-sapping cycle again soon.

So as a starter for ten, check out the BD100 – an annual initiative to find the UK’s 100 most influential business developers. Nominations close on the 31st Jan – so crack on with that – then we can all start checking out the entries and seeing what makes the cream rise to the top.

You can also get involved on Twitter via @The_BD100 and #TheBD100.

Good luck to everyone who gets nominated. And hats-off to any agencies who find their perceptions have been changed.

Written by Robin Bonn, the founder of Co:definery – a New-Business management consultancy.

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