The link between Business Development & Operations - or - How to sell (or buy) together

″Business development is defined as the tasks and processes concerning analytical preparation of potential growth opportunities [...] but does not include decisions on strategy and implementation of growth opportunities.″

The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Strategic Management (2014)

In practice, it has been difficult to discern the unique features of the business development function (as for others as well). So

  • Are you caught in the trap of Business Development committing to services you cannot truly deliver?
  • Are you dissatisfied with the status quo of Business Development interactions with clients?
  • Are your clients dissatisfied with hearing “promises that cannot be kept”?
  • Did you ever (even once) think about the possibility of getting rid of Business Development altogether, in order to only run the operational part and please your customer ?

Until I read those questions first time, I never really thought about the background of a Business Developer, only focused on getting what I needed. Meanwhile I spoke with a couple of people and collated some thoughts…

Common Perceptions – One of the Other

Operations People Perceptions of Business Developers :

  • Are the first and thus potentially most important spokespeople for a provider, yet they approach prospective clients and “try to sell them anything and everything” - instead of what the client actually needs;
  • They are not skilled in or terribly knowledgeable about operational performance - but they are highly interested in numbers and sales targets;
  • Will “promise anything” in order to get the deal and reach their targets.

Business Developers Perceptions of Operations People :

  • Never truly deliver what is expected and frequently complain about the task in hand;
  • Have great technical skills, but no real “feeling for business”;
  • Administer everything through a set of rigid systems and processes and don’t care so much for timelines.

There is some truth in this…a little. It’s likely the same is true when comparing any two co-dependent functions. Thankfully, these perceptions should be – and often are – misperceptions. To ensure we keep them as misperceptions and close the gap between sales and delivery, we should ask a few questions of ourselves.

  • What is wrong with our current approach?
  • How do we remove the roadblocks?

How to Level the Playing Field ?
(examples only)

Aim to “impose a minimal level of coordination, while leaving ample room for individuals to pursue their own objectives.”
(Simple Rules; Donald Sull, Kathleen M. Eisenhardt, 2015)

(1) Implement Some Rules

Systems and processes, written and unwritten rules, shape our behavior - even subconsciously. (Leandro Herrero, Daily Thoughts)

Ask that people:

  • To prepare the projects together.
  • Listen to each other - when they take breaks, that they assess how they are doing and adjust their direction;
  • To check their use of time - when they pause, they check and reassess their approach.

(2) Business Development

  • Don’t reward them based on “the quick win”
    Consider rewarding them in a way that is well aligned with long term – not short term – objectives. This will encourage BD to think about the broader good, rather than short term gain.
    Reward based on achievement of strategic goals – which yields the same results as above.
  • Align business development people with the customer and company's success.
    Encourage business development to work and sell services in collaboration with operations representatives. This will help to ensure they address the most important issues upfront - delivering the client the right solution and one that is feasible and has operations buy-in from the very start.

(3) Operations

  • Develop an operating model which does not take over and develop a life of its own, “producing” identical people for a machine that is inflexible and in danger of becoming obsolete;
  • Provide people with the processes, systems and a set of rules they truly need, no more, no less;
  • Let them apply their expertise (instead of taking hasty decisions) and be creative where possible.

All in all

It isn’t just about people, it is all about people.
Encourage people to collaborate. We think this makes for a great sell.

Your duty is to

  • evaluate options
  • gather opinions and input from across the company
  • process them into one coherent solution
  • decide and move on

Collectively, we make better decisions happen.

Happy Partnership!

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