Bill Scheessele


BD: It's not rocket science, it's people science

What’s so hard about business development? … It’s not rocket science.

We have heard this phrase repeated many times by professionals in technical industries, usually by leaders who are experienced in management, finance, and operations, but not in developing business. So, it is understandable they may not be aware of the subtler aspects of the business development process.

While it is true that BD may not be rocket science, it isn’t intuitive either. After many years’ study of all aspects of BD and interviewing numerous successful BD Professionals, we have discovered that BD can be more complex than many people imagine.

Effective BD requires technical knowledge, yes, but also an understanding of behavioral psychology, or “people science”. Successful BD practitioners understand what motivates customers and why they make purchasing decisions.

Think that good mechanics for developing business can make up for lack of people knowledge? Time and again, we’ve discovered that even if you follow your tried and true process perfectly, the absence of an understanding of the personal dynamics surrounding customer engagement can and will affect the success of your efforts.

Effective BD professionals understand not only what is going on in the prospect’s mind, but also what’s going on in his or her own mind. This is easier said than done.

Unlike its cousin, transactional sales, which entails short-term focus on features and benefits, BD requires developing a long-term, person-to-person relationship built upon trust. Technical degrees may be required for research and development, but an understanding of behavioral psychology is the backbone of BD and revenue growth.

Many technical sales professionals choose to ignore the people science side of BD, but that makes achieving their goals much more difficult – if not impossible. Students of behavioral psychology find that understanding themselves and others has a profound effect upon their career.

Technically trained professionals (e.g., scientists and engineers) are often surprised to find that obtaining buy-in for initiatives within organizations, with teams, and even personal interactions involves the same thinking and skills as those for developing business.

Anyone who has acted in a BD role even a short time knows that it can be tough. It is not easy to stay confident and keep a positive attitude in the face of frequent rejection. When you take rejection personally, it can shake your confidence and you will appear desperate. Prospects can smell desperation – and desperation destroys their trust. 

A strong understanding of behavioral psychology will help you stay confident through the process. This understanding includes not only the prospect’s behavior, but also your own.

  • Are there certain things that you can do to build trust?
  • How do salesmen destroy trust?
  • How has your technical training impacted your ability to appear trustworthy?

For example, we know from behavioral psychology that the more the prospect thinks you know about them, the more likely they are to trust you. If that is the case, why do technical professionals in the BD role feel compelled to tell their prospects about themselves?

In our experience working with technical professionals, we have found that people knowledge may be the most critical BD knowledge of all. Yet the psychology of BD is the least understood and least appreciated part of the process. For technical professionals, the soft stuff truly is the hard stuff, but it is also the most important stuff.

Ignore it at your peril.

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 services in addition to education workshops to help BD professionals and teams identify hidden strengths, barriers to progress and opportunities for improvement. Learn more about MBDi, their revenue growth resources and their new virtual training options at or 704.553.0000.

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