Business development is a complex field that requires the ability to spot opportunities to grow a company. Every company does it a bit differently and because of that, it can be difficult to find the perfect match. In such a diverse environment, candidates might have the most different backgrounds, so how can recruiters cut through the noise?
Simply put, business development refers to a set of tasks and processes meant to develop growth opportunities sustainably. Of course, customers are an important growth driver, but they're not the only ones. In fact, the best business development teams don't limit themselves to sales, but actually experiment and explore alternative, uncharted paths!
So how can you make sure you increase your chances to find the right business developer? The answer is simple, look for skills that will predict the success of that candidate. We run interviews with hundreds of leaders from asking them what they're looking for in business developers.
This is what we learned!
1. Communication Skills
On top of the list of skills that recruiters look for in business developers, there are communication skills. Business developers have a crucial role in finding new opportunities and to do so they have to interact with many different stakeholders.
This requires very strong communication skills, both verbal and - probably even more important - nonverbal. As business developers, we must be able to quickly understand the other person and adapt to them. Only in this way we can make sure to establish genuine connections, which will facilitate building opportunities.
However, being charming talkers is not enough in business development. In fact, successful business developers are as much as good listeners as they are talkers. Active listening is a critical skill because it enables us to connect on a much deeper level with our stakeholders. If we are able to show our interest in what the other has to say, they will naturally open up and trust us more.
How can you quickly assess if the business developer is a good listener? A tip we heard from one of our interviewees was a trick she uses every time she interviews a business developer. She throws in the chat some very uncommon words and if the other repeats it, she knows that's a good candidate.
Next time, try saying "flabbergasted" and see if your candidate picks up on the clue. A good business developer will find a way to repeat it back, because not only are they good listeners. But also because they understand why you randomly said such a word...and that's a good thing!
Goo business developers also possess high emotional intelligence so that they can read the other person and adapt the communication to them. Empathy and a genuine interest in the other person is a game-changer in business development. The most successful are the ones that manage to become friends with your stakeholders because they are able to quickly build trust.
Emotional intelligence is particularly visible in nonverbal communication. The way the candidate moves, looks at you and physically interacts with you, can give you many clues about their EQ. Look for people who sound enthusiastic, that look at you in the eye and lean towards you as you speak. They are the hidden gems in the field and the ones that will get the most out of their relations with your stakeholders.
2. Organizational Skills
Organizational skills are extremely important when hiring business developers. Because of the diverse nature of the job, your team will be doing many different tasks and contacting many different people. It is extremely easy for us to lose ourselves in them and therefore be inefficient in the way we work. That's why it's crucial to look for hints about the person's organizational skills.
Start with time management and identify how the person usually structures (or not) their time. One of our interviewees said that he always asks the candidates to describe their standard day in as much detail as possible. If the person has a strong routine and is able to give many details about their typical day, it's usually a green flag!
Furthermore, every business developer needs to be very good at prioritizing their tasks. This field is very experimental, so we might end up with many projects at the same time. Some business developers could tend to be overly optimistic with the risk of not completing any of the projects. Or worst, neglecting the most essential ones that actually bring results. Ask questions to understand if the person has their priorities straight.
Last, look for business developers who are very good at goal setting. Business developers need to be open-minded because that's the only way to stay receptive to new opportunities. However, there is the risk of losing time on things that were never meant to be actual growth opportunities. This usually happens because business developers enter into conversations without having a clear goal letting the situation take over. Uncover goal-setting skills early on to avoid wasting unnecessary time later!
3. Negotiation Skills
Next skill that recruiters look for in business developers is negotiation. Business development professionals are responsible to find new opportunities and this inevitably comes with negotiations. A big part of the daily job is to find win win solutions, making sure that all the stakeholders are happy with the final outcome.
This means that in order to get things done, your business developers need to be able to negotiate both internally and externally. Whenever a potential customer puts conditions, they will need to convince their managers to give in or change your customers' mind. In both cases, you want to have strong negotiators able to make all parties happy.
Successful business developers are trusted by their colleagues and they're able to positively influence them. So, it's important to look for candidates who show good judgement, compassion, empathy, and persuasive skills. Many business developers tend to have strong personalities which make them stand out in the crowd. That's great and functional to the job, but make sure they're also able to put their ego behind when negotiating.
Bonus: about 70% of our interviewees said they judged positively business developers who negotiate their salaries. Next time a candidate asks you to revise their compensation, take it as a good sign that you made the right choice!
Creativity has a big role in business development as it helps develop new ideas, increasing efficiency, and finding solutions to complex problems. Creative people look at things from a unique perspective and think out of the box. And that is very important when trying to find new growth opportunities.
Although crucial for business development success, this skill is often overlooked in favor of more standard skill such as the ones above. But the reality is that creativity is a necessary skill to be able to innovate and come up with new growth ideas. For example, when it comes to lead generation, business developers who are not very creative will very quickly end up without any lead at all. This is because if the entire team only has one source of leads, that will be emptied much faster.
On the contrary, creative business developers are able to approach this task with much more openness which allows them to open up new, uncharted paths. This will make your company go much faster than any other competitor ensuring the success of your business development effort.
At The BD School, we like to challenge our students with out-of-the box case studies to test how creative they are and help them unleash their talent. In one of the exercises, we ask them to look at their desk and create something valuable with the random objects they find around them. Some business developers freak out, but the majority comes up with very innovative ideas, very quickly.
In your next interview, ask them the same and analyze their reaction. If they got very excited and started brainstorming with you, that is the perfect sign you found the right business developer.
5. Strategic Thinking
Of course, being creative is great, but this skill needs to be used in a strategic way. That's why another important skill recruiters look for in business developers is strategic thinking. Now, many people roll their eyes when they hear such skills because it sounds too fancy and after all, we need people to work!
But, we learned that good business developers are extremely aware of what's going on around them and are able to strategically take advantage of those situations. Your business developers need to know how to run market research and how to analyze the data they gather. Only in this way they can effectively build new opportunities, because that's how they can assess whether something is worth pursuing or not.
Moreover, one of the business development pillars is constantly adjusting based on new input coming from markets, customers, and relations. For example, your business developers need to quickly adjust their pitch depending on the seniority of the stakeholder they're talking to. Now, if the person doesn't have strategic thinking, s/he will simply not be able to see the difference. The risk in that is offending potential customers because they didn't adapt to their level of seniority.
Last, especially when experimenting with new ideas, it's important to have someone who's able to visualize and predict some issues that might come on the way. In this way, you can mitigate the risk related to opening new channels and increase your chances of success.
6. Commercial Skills
Every business developer must have great commercial skills. Because all the great ideas they come up with don’t mean much if there is no one that wants to buy into them. Understanding what specific customers want and pitching it to them appropriately is essential. Just like using psychology to engage with their stakeholders and establish trust.
Being commercial means thinking about the impact your job has on the overall well-being of the company, thus helping business developers work having a clear goal in mind. Commercially minded business developers are good at coming up with new ideas and immediately think about how they could potentially sell them. But it also means, deeply understanding the needs of their customers and creating customized solutions that will make them happy.
Commercial skills also include product knowledge and your business developers must know precisely what it is they're trying to bring on the market. Otherwise, they will have a hard time building credibility and establish themselves as reliable business partners.
A good tip we heard on how to spot commercial skills is to simply ask the candidate if they have some sort of side business. Business developers tend to be very entrepreneurial, so chances are they do have side projects. And that's a great asset for your company because it means they'll be able to understand how the engine works and contribute at a much deeper level.
To Sum Up
Overall, the perfect business developer is someone that scores high at most of these skills. As the role of a business developer is so complex, it's definitely a challenge to find a candidate that matches with all of them. So in case of doubt, we would definitely recommend to prefer a candidate with less skills, but with the right attitude that is the other way around.
If you have a candidate who's passionate about your company, curious and humble enough to get in the field and learn, you can rest assured, they'll make a great business developer!
Because the best part of it all is that all these skills are actually very easy to acquire if you provide your team with the right knowledge and tool. In the end, the recruitment process is the first step to a possibly long and fruitful collaboration. But, if you fail to keep developing your team, even the best candidates will leave you at some point.
So make sure you foster a culture of learning and keep your team excited to be part of your story!