From red, white and blue to green

Winning strategies | How to build your business development team

Hiring retired senior military officers for business development positions is a common practice.

However, the business development role is highly misunderstood. It is often perceived as a meet/greet/golf/dinner networking activity, rather than a skilled profession requiring high-level business thinking, extensive people knowledge and effective process execution.

As paradoxical as it may seem, when senior military officers embark on their second careers, the best term to describe them is trainees. However, few receive an orientation on the corporate culture, strategic vision, markets, potential opportunities, or the capture and proposal processes.

In their former careers, these officers were highly trained and professionally educated. Now they're thrust into private-sector roles with little or no preparation.

Some fortunate individuals may be formally "partnered" with seasoned professionals charged with teaching them the tenets of business development.

Although it is good in theory, partnering can sometimes evolve into a tension-driven relationship between the aggressive, strategic visionary, "out of the box" thinking professional as the teacher and the "toe the line," former senior military officer now in the position of trainee.

Corporate leadership is looking for a return on its investment when it hires retired senior military people. Members of this group may be successful in opening doors, but without prior education in how to develop business, they are at a loss what to say after hello. The sought-after relationship goes nowhere.

Scenarios such as this often result in the "six jobs in six years" syndrome. Individuals once successful in their military careers now confront the opposite experience with job turnover.

Clearly, there's a disconnect between the mission-oriented military perspective and the business objective of revenue growth.

On one side, you have persons with a desire to continue their public service experience, using their knowledge and expertise to achieve something worthwhile to benefit private industry. In the other corner is the uncompromising, "sell, be sold or be gone" corporate philosophy, driven by revenue objectives.

Given the complexity of the business development role, organizations should invest in the professional development of their new hires to protect and grow these assets. This means sharing the strategic vision, mission and goals of the company early in the relationship as part of a corporate culture orientation.

Ideally, this introduction should be followed by professional education in the business development role, with an emphasis on internal and external collaborative and teaming characteristics of business development.

Most important is educating former flag and senior military personnel in the mission of business development. For 30-plus years, these individuals considered their military experience not merely a job, but a mission. Often the mission component of business development is neither well understood nor embraced by an organization, and therefore it is not well communicated.

The purpose of professionals in business development is to help customers solve problems with the right service or product solution. If you focus first on this purpose, long-term trust relationships will be developed, and contracts will be won.

The best business development folks follow their mission, develop trust and risk asking tough questions to uncover the customer's real problems. Retired senior military people are well prepared in risk-taking, building trust and taking responsibility to drive technology solutions. Harness and apply this exceptionally strong background and experience along with education in professional business development, and these trainees can and will become valued members of your BD team.

Bill Scheessele ( is chairman and chief executive officer at MBDi, an international business development professional services firm.

About the Author

Bill Scheessele is the CEO of MBDi, a global business development services firm providing expertise in business development best practices in the national security, defense, scientific, energy and engineering industries. The firm offers BD consulting, strategy, planning and personnel services in addition to education workshops to help BD professionals identify hidden strengths, barriers to progress and opportunities for improvement. Learn more about MBDi, their revenue growth resources and their workshops at

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