Avoiding the Biggest Business Development Strategy Pitfall

Trying to build an effective business development strategy these days can feel difficult, bordering on overwhelming. Competition is fierce in an increasingly complex global landscape and the number of tools you can use to reach prospects has never been greater.

But all that choice is a double-edged sword.

How do you choose the right tools for your strategy? How do you even know whether your strategy is focusing on the right things?

Answering these vital questions starts with taking a step back to really understand what your business development strategy should focus on achieving. But all of this begins with a reexamination of what a business development strategy even is.

What Is a Business Development Strategy?

At its core, a business development strategy is a plan to enable a business to grow and become more successful.

Simple right?

Well, the keyword in there is “successful” because that word can mean very different things to different businesses and stakeholders. Does success mean honing in on the right customer profile? Does it mean scaling rapidly within your existing market or to new ones? It’s all too easy to let one stakeholder’s definition of success come at the expense of another.

The problem comes when the process of creating a business development strategy focuses entirely on the first part of that definition without considering the second part. Your focus is all on how to get somewhere but not where you’re actually going. 

It Doesnt Matter Where We Are Going as Long as We Get There Fast

But in reality, understanding what success really means to your stakeholders should always be the foundation for your strategy.

Only then can you proceed to understanding your organization better and applying that knowledge to improving its capabilities in the right ways.

Why Business Development Strategies Are So Important Today

It’s easy to see why business development is important because it’s fundamentally about making organizations more successful. And when is success not important?

But again, the key element of a business development strategy is understanding what success looks like. Every business today has to deal with an unending list of competing priorities and stakeholders. Really understanding the bigger picture is how you can be strategic about where you invest your resources for maximum impact.

An effective strategy is also about balancing a strategic vision with the tactical agility needed to adapt to a fast-changing business environment. Create a plan that’s too rigid and it will become obsolete in no time. Neglect that overarching vision and you might find short-term success but who knows where that will ultimately lead you.

Getting your business development strategy right is a vital first step towards achieving that balance.

The Difference Between Business Development and Sales

Speaking of balancing long-term vision with shorter-term success, it’s also important to appreciate the differences between business development and sales.

Salespeople are generally focused on identifying and cultivating leads before ultimately converting them into customers. Business development, by contrast, is more focused on identifying and developing entirely new markets, partnerships, and strategic growth opportunities.

In other words, while business development focuses more on the big picture, salespeople need to focus on what’s in front of them. It’s a deeply symbiotic relationship because salespeople rely on business development to create the environment for their success. Then, business development professionals rely on salespeople to transform the opportunities they’ve created into real success.

The Difference Between Business Development and Sales

This is why business development professionals should take an interest in ensuring sales is taking advantage of modern techniques like sales agility to enhance the success of both functions.

Before proceeding to learn how to create a business development strategy, why don't you take a second to check the state of Agile marketing this year?

How to Create a Business Development Strategy

Now that you’ve got a basic understanding of what a business development strategy should be focused on, we can look at the actual steps of creating one.

Begin with Research & Analysis

It’s not exactly shocking that the first step in building a strategy is doing research. But what’s important in this step is precisely what you’re researching.

Before you dive into researching markets and trends, you should actually begin with stakeholder analysis. That means identifying the key stakeholders of your organization, both internal stakeholders like your sales team and senior leaders and external ones like investors and your customers themselves.

But why start there? 

The entire goal of business development is success and it’s the stakeholders who decide what success looks like. Otherwise, you can easily create a business development strategy that’s great for some stakeholders and terrible for others. 

For example, you might put together a strategy that makes getting sales easy by misleading customers. That might work for salespeople but it’s going to hurt your customers as stakeholders. Understanding the interests of all these groups and ensuring your strategy delivers value to them all is key. Otherwise, you risk leaving some stakeholders out, hurting your ability to deliver on that fundamental promise of long-term business success.

Of course, this step also requires the usual analysis of customer needs, market trends, etc. You’ll need to refine customer profiles, identify growth opportunities, and generally understand your opportunities. Just be sure to consider this analysis in the context of those stakeholders.

Set Your Goals

Once you have a solid understanding of your market, customers, and other stakeholders, you can start deciding what you’d actually like to accomplish. These should stem from an understanding of what your stakeholders value along with what’s possible in your market.

For example, if your organization’s leadership sees a need to expand into a particular new market, simple revenue targets aren’t going to cut it. That revenue can easily come from existing markets, meaning you reached your goals without actually achieving what you wanted. You need to set and align goals that will reliably move your organization toward its strategic goals while serving its stakeholders.

Create and Qualify Your Leads

In this step, you’ll begin to identify prospective customers and cultivate those relationships in the long run. Here you run into another key difference between business development and sales. Business development strategies need to be built around long-term relationships that can continue to drive value to stakeholders over a longer period of time.

Repeat customers are simply far more profitable than new ones, so good business development strategies usually rely on them.  


This is where far too many business development strategies fail to live up to their potential. Even the best strategy isn’t going to remain effective forever. You need to constantly look at how your strategy is performing and find ways to experiment, tweak, and improve.

That’s how you cultivate that balance between strategic vision and flexibility in implementation. 

But iteration isn’t just about improving your strategy as you go, it’s also about adjusting your goals when needed. Remember, your goals always stem from your stakeholders and those stakeholders aren’t frozen in amber. Their needs and wants will change, meaning you should occasionally change in response.

To do this, you’ll want to set up regular opportunities to solicit feedback from your stakeholders as well as looking at how your strategy itself is performing. Armed with this information, you can make choices about how to adjust your goals and strategy as you go. That might mean experimentation or even beginning the business development strategy process again. 

Key Concepts You’ll Need for Success

To wrap up, let’s take a deeper look at the concepts behind this approach to building a successful business development strategy.

Customer as Stakeholder

We’ve talked a lot about the importance of stakeholders, but it’s worth emphasizing that your most important stakeholder is doing to be your customer. For example, tools like marketing persona templates can help you understand these customers on a deeper level. That understanding is key for really providing them value that isn’t merely superficial and can serve as the basis for a long-term relationship.

Reminder: Customers Change!

Even if you do the most possible research into your customers, your assumptions about their preferences might not be correct. Then, even if they are, those preferences will eventually evolve and change. This is why keeping your business development plans flexible is so important.

But knowing this and implementing it are two different things. So create reminders to regularly re-examine your assumptions to ensure they remain relevant.

Focus and Adaption: A Recipe for Biz Dev Success

By now the foundations for a successful business development strategy should be clear: understanding your stakeholders, building goals around their needs, and iterating as you go. But that’s just the basic formula, finding success beyond that requires really mastering the concepts we’ve outlined here.

To help you do precisely that, we’ve built an online learning platform we call The Ropes. In it, you’ll find short, focused, and digestible lessons on key concepts like:

So if you want to really hone the concepts that underlie effective business development strategies, start here today.

Before you leave, don't forget to check the state of Agile marketing this year. 


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