Business Development (BD) is one of the most sought after roles in the job market these days. Many companies are using this designation for hiring. But do we actually know what is a BD. Is it sales; service; market development; product development; or what? What is business development all about? If you ask different people from different departments to define business development, there is a lot of likelihood that you will get all different answers. Some will say its sales, some will say its relationship building, still others will say that it’s about doing what needs to be done to expand business. Well, in essence they would all at some level be correct.
Business development is a complex term which requires a holistic view and comprehensive action as it relates to the growth of your business. At its core BD is about proactively looking for ways to expand the business and then aligning the team and the resources to achieve the desired growth. BD is a specialized role that works with across almost all the departments in any company, internal and external including Sales, Marketing, Product development, vendors/agents/associates, and the list goes on. The role of BD is to see the larger picture and then focus on all the moving parts, people & process to move in the direction of growth.
So now since we have understood the definition of business development, how is a Strategic Planning related to business development? To be successful in business development, you need a strategy. A focussed clear path about not only what you want to achieve but how you will get there. Being strategic means future oriented, perceptive, open-minded, proactive, calculative, making decisions based on evidences and calculations, etc. So you see how important it is to do a Strategic Planning in business development. Let’s understand this a little more.
To develop business we have two choices primarily:
1. Work as hard as possible and take every idea what we can think off to execution;
2. Slow down, get clear about what we think and develop a strong plan to help us get there.
Both choices actually result in some level of business growth, it’s just that the later ensures that we develop more business far faster and waste less time and resources doing it. That is the power of Strategic planning when it comes to business development.
Strategic planning is where it all begins but more than often this is one piece of BD that gets overlooked. You need to define your goals, clarify your target and get clear on the actions you will take to get there and this is where strategic planning helps. With such a critical role it’s easy to understand why the strategic planning is vital for the success of BD.
This is high level decision making and to be successful as a BD person you need to deeply understand the business and the industry that you are in.
There are 5 key aspects of strategic planning in BD:
1. Vision and long term goal – Before you can take actions, as a BD person , you need to understand where you are headed. Begin with the end in mind as Steven covey used to say. Knowing the long term goals will ensure that we have the information you need to create the plan to get there.
2. Current Status – Before you design the plan on how to achieve the long term goal, you need to take a long hard look on where you are now. This is commonly called a SWOT analysis. Take good, hard and honest look at the current state of the company you are in in perspective with its Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats keeping in mind the business development aspects or role.
3. State of the Industry – What’s happening in the industry; how is it changing or adapting; how is the market situations impacting it; what is happening with technology; what new products and services are being created. Understanding the answers to these questions will help us make the change which will be strategically successful.
4. How your company operates – What is the modus operandi of your company; what products are being marketed; how are they being sold; how is your distribution model; how is the payment process for vendors/agents/suppliers; etc.
5. Outside Perspective – What is happening outside the business, what is competition doing, what new products are developing, how is the economy shifting. Having a sound knowledge of external factors and competition analysis will help in making smarter moves when in comes to the internal aspects of your company.
Strategic Planning offers a no of models and types from which to choose. Primarily they can be categorized into conventional or evolved. BD role requires a system thinking strategic plan which is a more a holistic approach as it provides a structure for a focus plan, that ensures that our strategy both, fits and enhances the overall goals set. This plan incorporates different perspectives to our planning taking into account things happening inside the departments as well as outside with competition and industry in general. This plan is an active plan meaning, it’s a plan to keep you accountable while giving you the opportunity for the needed adjustments as and when required to the change looking at the overall objective/goal or due to the market or the competitive changes around. This is not a plan that you can write and put on the shelves. This plan actually becomes part of a daily BD routine.
Below are 5 key aspects of a system thinking strategic plan:
1. Desired State – The desired state is the End Goal that you or the company would want to set for itself (Eg. – Increase market share by 30%).
2. Current State – Use SWOT analysis to determine the current state of the desired BD role.
3. Key Indicators – These are primarily signs that show the progress on the desired state being achieved.
4. Future external environmental scan – Assessment of department, company, competition and industry for the current trends, challenges and changes that would have an impact on the future. Review and plan for adapting to the changes that is happening outside the company on above aspects.
5. Gap State – Where should we focus to move from the present state to the desired state. (choose 3-5 major goals only and not the full list as it would be difficult to analyse).
A system thinking strategic plan is very powerful as it helps us move with razor like focus.
So now we understand the importance of strategic planning in BD and also the system thinking strategic plan with the key aspects that drive it, which is the best suited for the BD role. So now let’s go a bit deeper on how to take this forward.
Post doing everything that we learned above how do we initiate this in the correct way is the main question that we all would be stuck with.
Post taking all the necessary decisions as required keeping in mind the aspects described above, before jumping in right away, first build the foundation to ensure that the strategic planning will hold ground. Think on all perspectives and do some research which will help in making an informed decisions. Many people fail to do this step. While having a plan is better than not having a plan but lacking the understanding of the big picture, lack of education of external factors and lack of clearly defined ownership and engagement in the plan leaves us with a strategy that is difficult t implant and is hardly impactful or produces the desired result. This is as good as building a structure without a foundation which will only result in a mayhem later.
So you need to sit down with all the data gathered from above points right from the vision and mission state all the way to the Gap state and analyse it. The analysis should be done keeping in mind the desired goal and the end result. The analysis should cover extensive in depth look at all aspects and the SWOT analysis to get the most accurate outcome.
Determine who will be impacted when we design the strategic plan and how can we cover that aspect – This helps in planning better. Who and how we will hold ourselves accountable? When you invest the time to do all the research and think through this entirely, it would end up leading you to build a strategic plan with a strong foundation.
The Right people play a vital role in this strategic planning. Hence choosing the right team becomes so very important to this entire process. Involve people who are required to be a part of the strategic planning as early as possible. The earlier we involve them the better and faster will be the outcome. Nothing is possible by just a single person. It would be great if we could design the plan, write the plan and execute just by ourselves but the fact remains that we can’t do it all. There is a lot involved and hence we need to engage a larger and a correct team to do so. There are many things to consider while building the correct team but the major pointers to consider are as below:
Key Pointers for Team Building
1. Know your team right from who they are and what attitude they bring to the table which should be in alignment of the planning that needs to be done – Natural leaders should be given preference as they are those who will embrace the vision and help you succeed.
2. Choose wisely based on your goals and what is the desired objective.
3. Create and align Roles for all the team members which should be defined, explained and analyzed for each member. Each one should understand their roles and responsibilities clearly.
4. Build community – More than building the team and creating the plan, implementing is even harder. The stronger the bond is with the team, the more connected they will be which helps in getting the execution done faster. The community with a strong connect helps build faster. They would also work together to ensure that they remove the hurdles in the way much faster and help execute the plan perfectly for you and the company.
5. Follow team’s lead – The team needs to lead this implementation and not you. This is one very important aspect that most of us seem to forget or omit in all this. The more the team takes charge the more ownership they would feel towards the same and much better results will come in needless to say much faster. Hence delegation becomes one of the most important aspects of execution.
Also to execute properly we would need to understand little more about the following two aspects as mentioned above:
Desired state Vs Current state
1. Desired state – Desired state is nothing but the end goal or the final result expected. We need to think and analyse correctly as to where we want to reach. this requires us to think and work on the following aspects:
a. Design and create vision/mission for the goal in mind.
b. Create a set of core values which are aligned to your goals.
c. Create or align the long term goals basis the desired state.
Always remember to keep in mind that all the above you need to do should be done considering the future external environment scan which we have discussed in above paragraphs.
2. Current state – Its very important to determining your current state at that time. Once this is done then creating your key strategic initiatives should be the next logical step (deeper view of the desired state). Use SWOT analysis to close the gap between strength & weakness. This will help you get a closer understanding of your current state.
The above two aspects in conjunction with the other key factors mentioned herein will help you to execute better.
Now comes the most difficult of the planning phase which is Execution of the strategic planning. Many of us reach till the last step successfully but have failed to execute properly or execution is not done fully. This leads to a half cooked plan which falls flat on the face of it when launched and leads to failures. So what steps do we need to look at while executing the strategic plan at hand.
1. First look and implement and close short term goals (mini strategic plan which are a part of the larger goals or strategic plans). In the layman’s language there might be many small activities that would lead to the larger goal within the plan. These smaller activities also termed as mini strategic plan needs to be executed first in the right sequence within stipulated timelines for the main plan to fall in place on its own.
2. Developing Metrics and accountability by making action plans. Action plans r only for short term goal. The action plans would help in aligning the mini strategic plans in place and the accountability will help keep a check on it.
3. Create ownership of your strategic plan. You need to empower your team and let them drive this so that there is ownership at every aspect of the planning and execution phase. This helps in making people more responsible and breaking a big task to multiple small tasks and then helping it get aligned together into the larger objective.
4. Keep the strategic plan active. – Delegate owners for short term goals and check on them regularly. Create a task force for the same to be accomplished.
While we are at executing let’s also discuss the major Roadblocks that you might come across while executing the same:
1. Too complicated – The plan is very complicated to understand and execute. The plan needs to be simple and easy for effective execution. This needs to be kept in mind while designing the same.
2. No Plan for your Plan – Every plan needs to have option/s inbuilt to be able to adapt in case needed.
3. Wrong people on the bus – You have chosen the wrong set of people within your team which will only hamper the execution. Also people working in different directions will lead nowhere. Remember the goal is common and in all of the team needs to work in that direction.
4. Too Rigid – The plan is too rigid to adapt or change with the changing environment around us.
5. Not being honest – The plan was made without thinking or putting in honest details. Ambitious ideas or wrong facts as well as inputs will only create further problems and will lead to a failure.
Strategic thinking in business development relies on a lot of small, finer and big aspects most of which I have tried to cover for you in my article. Its not an easy job to do but it’s one of the most enjoyable jobs around the world today helping companies scale up their operations, business and volumes globally which helps them achieve a larger market share. It’s also one of those profiles which are more than often misunderstood. Many do not understand the actual role of a Business Development staff and how is strategic thinking related with it, but still apply for the job thinking it would be beneficial for them or their career. If you understand the profile well enough, it would help you plan and execute things better. I have tried to cover as much as I am aware of and I hope this can help you understand the profile better and plan accordingly.
The thoughts above have been extracted from the learnings and experiences I have garnered over the years in this field.