Is your next BD exec a former journalist?
Stop the presses; BD leaders and reporters have plenty in common
- By Carl Rosenblatt
- Mar 22, 2013
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.