BD success rests on culture, strategy, leadership

Culture, leadership, and strategy are interlinked in every successful business development organization. In our experience, however, everything starts and stops with leadership.

A leader should take ownership of establishing the vision and mission statement, defining the values and goals, and driving the strategy. When teamwork, collaboration, communication, and incentives are aligned with these foundational principles, the leaders will drive a strong organizational culture.

Some leaders focus on adjusting their strategy and overlook the importance of culture. However, an organization’s culture has to be established and demonstrated from the top down – the leadership team has to live it themselves through their day-to-day actions.

They cannot just point to a delegated employee and say, “You’re the change agent. Now go make it work.” 

Instead, leaders at all levels of the organization have to establish an environment of accountability and personal responsibility for achieving the desired cultural attributes through employment engagement.

We believe in core-competency based strategy development. After all, if you do not have a specific product, solution, or service you are offering to your client, any strategy will do.

During the development of a strategy, we consider features and benefits of the core competencies and perform a market analysis. We also perform a gap analysis to identify the gaps between our core competencies and the demands of our targeted markets. Then, the next step is to define a method for resolving the gaps (e.g., build, acquire, or partner with another company as needed to meet the customer’s requirement). Only then do we recommend that the product, solution, or service become a part of overall go-to-market strategy.

Since most markets are dynamic, strategies should be reviewed and revised periodically as needed (typically not more than annually). A change in strategy will only be successful if the leadership and the organization’s culture is able to evolve as well.

For example, a company that decides to change their strategy from providing services to the private sector, to offering services to the public sector, will almost certainly require leadership and employees to adapt to a new cultural model after the change is made.

Qualities of a BD Professional in a Successful BD Culture

Often, an organization’s transformation to a new cultural model requires additional talent or replacing business development personnel. When interviewing a potential candidate for a BD organization, we look for someone who understands our core competencies and has experience with the products, solutions, or services we are selling.

The candidate should also understand how our core competencies apply to the client’s functional area or domain. For example, do they have a command and control, back office, or a logistics-oriented environment?

We also want to know if the candidate understands the state of the art for a particular product, solution, or service. For example, the state of the art in training used to be providing instructors in a classroom with handouts and group exercises. Now, the state of the art is a blended learning approach that could involve modeling, simulation, computer-based training, or automated solutions including the use of mobile devices.

We look for candidates with an inquiring mind, someone who proactively seeks a greater understanding of their client. So, we ask a series of probing questions to gage their personality. For example, “What did you do to prepare for that meeting with the customer? What research did you perform to understand your competitor? How did you create the discriminators or the features and benefits? What lessons did you learn in your most recent loss and in your most satisfying win?”

We are particularly interested to see if a candidate understands how to establish credibility with a client. It is not enough for a business development professional to only understand the culture of their company’s internal organization – they must also understand the culture of the client they are pursuing (e.g., their environment, constraints, budget, or pain points).

Do they actively listen to the client’s concerns? Do they ask open-ended or follow-up questions? And, most importantly, do they understand how to “fly by the seat of their pants” if the client indicates they require a different product, solution, or service than was expected?

Finally, do they find a way to obtain a follow-up meeting or a referral to another member of the client’s organization?

Each of these skills is desirable, because they improve a business development professional’s ability to provide a solution that will meet the client’s needs in a timely manner. If a candidate cannot provide practical examples of this level of knowledge and experience, the chances are good that they will not be successful in a customer-facing BD role.

Indicators that a change of Culture, Leadership, or Strategy May Be Necessary

Some indicators are fairly obvious. For example, minimal (or no) growth would certainly indicate that a change is necessary. And if your organization is not achieving its objectives, it may be necessary to make a change in one, two, or all three of these areas to correct the issue.

Sometimes the need for a change of culture, leadership, or strategy is driven by external circumstances. For example, your competitors or clients may drive the need for change. Or shareholders may demand change if they are not seeing the returns they expect. The culture may also change when your company is acquired or when a new law is enacted by an oversight agency.

The Value of External Experts in Culture Change

Regardless of whether you engage external experts or an internal team, you cannot successfully change the culture of your organization without support from leadership. Period.

That being said, there are numerous advantages to working with an external expert. For example, if your culture change initiative is led by an internal employee – particularly one that is still a part of the existing culture – it may be difficult for other employees to see that person as a true “change agent” or someone who is qualified to give advice and direction. In that example, an external resource that has proven expertise in driving culture change can bring a greater level of credibility and productivity to the process.

Click here for a copy of a Strategic White Paper, Culture. Leadership. Strategy.

Case Study

One of MBDi’s consultants was previously hired as a “change agent” for a well-known defense contractor that had experienced 0 percent growth in the previous five years. The consultant found that many employees did not appear to be concerned about the lack of growth. From their perspective, everything was fine – after all, they were still getting bonuses and winning a contract here and there.

Our consultant quickly discovered that the company’s culture had devolved into an entitled workforce. The leadership team was not holding meaningful reviews, setting goals for growth, or holding employees accountable for achieving the financial objectives. Leadership was also allowing mid-level managers to make decisions with little or no oversight. It is no surprise, then, that the managers assumed power for themselves.

The consultant brought in a group of external experts to perform a competency assessment against a set of skills for each employee’s specific functional responsibilities. This assessment helped the consultant’s team identify if an employee was the right match for their current role.

Within an 18 month period, 18 of the 21 vice presidents and 57 of the 84 employees in the organization had been replaced. The good news was the leadership established a growth-oriented culture that was focused on implementing the revised strategy.  As a result, the company grew from $2 billion to $3.5 billion over the next four and a half years.

In conclusion, an organization that is led by a leader that is committed to a culture of shared values, goals, and practices has a core competency based strategy that is aligned with the needs of the targeted market, and is focused on rewarding the desired behaviors (including a willingness to tolerate mistakes and measured risks), will be a high performing and healthy organization.

About the Author

Lee Cooper is president of Cooper Growth Strategies and a senior consultant with MBDi. Lee is a recognized expert in turn-around and grow initiatives, transforming ineffective BD/Sales teams into high performing, revenue growth organizations.

Reader Comments

Tue, Oct 21, 2014 Amy Fadida United States

Thank you, Lee. This is a very helpful tool in providing guidance to clients and organizations.

Tue, Oct 21, 2014 Goombah

In the experience of many companies, the BD cadre are known for expensive dress, bloating lunches and dinners, and not getting one's hands dirty in difficult work. The more successful companies win new business and new clients by showing their delivery people to the clients.

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