Carl Rosenblatt

OPINION

Is your next BD exec a former journalist?

Stop the presses; BD leaders and reporters have plenty in common

Rarely has the business development function been so difficult—or its skills so valued.

Tight budgets are shrinking the pool of new government opportunities, while continuing resolutions, sequestration, and battles over the debt ceiling have dramatically increased the uncertainty surrounding agency plans and programs. Companies cannot afford to overlook emerging opportunities, but neither can they afford to chase projects that may never get off the ground.

Consequently, business development planning today requires a sophisticated understanding of customers’ plans, budgets, and needs, as well as timely, accurate market intelligence.

So who are the best people to generate this much-needed information and intelligence?

Interestingly, they often have many of the same skills as the best newspaper reporters. As a former writer for the Washington Post, I have found that successful journalists and successful business development leaders share similar attributes, including:

1. No fear of rejection. You’ve got to do a lot of cold calling and introducing yourself to busy, wary people. A thick skin is a must. Rejection comes with the territory.

2. Relentless investigative instincts. You can’t rely on just one source for your information or, in some cases, even two or three sources. You may believe that a certain project is in your customer’s pipeline, or that a certain company will be a great fit as a subcontracting partner, but you still have to consult alternative sources. More information is always better than less.

3. Strong interviewing skills. When you’re investigating, you’ve got to know what questions to ask, how to ask them, and how to develop long-term, trusted relationships so you can keep going back to your sources. And listening rather than talking is always the best approach.

4. Ability to follow the money. Good journalists always pay attention to money, particularly who is providing the funds and who is getting them. Similarly, good business development leaders know who is spending money, how much they are spending, and what they need. You have to be smart about it, of course. You can’t chase every procurement. But you’ve got to know where money is being spent, not just today but in the future, and prioritize your activities accordingly.

5. Irrepressible Optimism. Although you have the skeptic’s need for facts, you have the optimist’s faith in hard work. You follow up with sources and dig into the details because you are confident of the eventual payoff. You endure 19 rejections because number 20 may bring the reward.

Of course, these are not the only characteristics business development leaders need. They also require a forward-looking business development strategy, a proven methodology, and a business plan that aligns a company’s capabilities and culture with the opportunities it pursues.

Nevertheless, even the best strategies are only as effective as the information upon which they are based and the people who carry them out.

Ultimately, the desired business development traits and skills boil down to rigorous due diligence. Reporters who rely on hunches and limited sources won’t get any scoops. And they may get the story wrong—front-page wrong with a major correction.

Following the pack is a safer play, but you won’t stand out. It’s the reporters and business development leaders who expend time and energy collecting information, cultivating sources and contacts, and doing a lot of listening that give themselves the best chance for success.

Reader Comments

Sun, Apr 7, 2013 OstracizeMe

I sense the last commenter is on to something. With the MSM and trade press close used to printing what the companies and gov clients want to put out, the "media" has not developed much know-how or domain knowledge useful in BD strategy or actual pursuits. That is why the ranks of "media" almost always offer little to help get business. Better recruiting grounds might well be those--a small minority--of delivery people who show that they truly hear the clients, and furthermore, have their attention. Those are the people worth their weight in drachmas, as they say. Am hard pressed to think of the last time I found info that is Valuable for BD, not to mention distinctive and differentiating, in the "media."

Tue, Apr 2, 2013 Gondrilla

Interesting precept. But business journalists, especially those at the Post, which has never invested in the biggest non-govt industry in town, would have little substantive knowledge of this contracting industry. I mean nada. And it shows. And why is the trade press so thinned out and not earning any money. Yes, a journo background may help, but not for the business thinking part of it, but perhaps in the writing. That is why so much coverage seems to be content lite or free. But, the basic problem is that there is next to no coverage of a 600 billion dollar industry that is worthy of the name journalism.

Fri, Mar 29, 2013 Maryland

I cringe when I hear the repeated use of the term "soft skills" in reference to BD professionals. If you ascribe to Miller-Heiman or any other BD framework you know that planning, executing, and following-up on critical meetings is a specialized skill. Most people think BD is just a matter of getting on a calendar then the customer telling you what he wants to invest in. Knowing your customer, engineering the discussion to get what you want and give what they need is a very real skill.

Tue, Mar 26, 2013 SuZett Colorado

It helps to understand your customer's technologies. Yes, a journalist has the soft skills, but when a customer talks about complex systems and requirements, can a journalist offer ideas and develop solutions? If a customer doesn't think a rep has technical depth, that rep loses credibility.

Tue, Mar 26, 2013

The problem with business right now, there are way too many people (equate to overhead) trying to generate revenue from thin air. There are BD people, marketing people, sales people, etc. And the sad thing is to "attract top" talent the salaries for all these overhead functions is out of hand. And when these folks don't perform the engineering and manufacturing functions gets sacked. The best sales come from the rare bird that is technically competent and articulate who can tease out the customer's real problem and then put together a team that solves that problem. We need to get away from used car salespeople.

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