Can you define business development?

For over three decades, I have been challenged many times to describe what business development is.

Frequently, business development is defined by what it is not. It is not the same thing as sales. This is a simplistic answer and does a disservice to both areas.

Business development is a way of thinking and a process of delivering the best solution to a client’s problems, whether or not they purchase from you. It’s based on a philosophy of selfless service that builds long-term trust. Selling is a transactional relationship focusing on short term benefit to either party. The former is based on being externally- and purpose-driven; the latter being internally- and goal-driven.

While the philosophy of business development can be used in most industries, it is particularly applicable for professionals leveraging personal knowledge and expertise to solve problems. Over the span of 37 years, we have challenged our clients in engineering, government contracting, energy, IT and biotech to rise to that level of thinking and behavior.

What is common to these industry groups is the fact that technical expertise must be leveraged into revenue. Business developers in these industries are experts in their professional fields and serve as trusted advisors. It is their knowledge that provides solutions, but also problem prevention for clients.

You would not expect a multiple-degreed engineer or retired military flag officer to be comfortable engaging in transactional selling. A professional and a leader with these credentials has the background and expertise to transcend from acting as a consultant to serving as a partner to their clients. This change in behavior evolves through embracing the necessary thinking, knowledge, discipline and process to understand problems from the client’s perspective.

Trained business development professionals are not reactive, relying on events to spur revenue generation. From a personal and professional perspective, they understand that they are the differentiator in the relationship with their client.

And most importantly, they recognize that the first thing a prospect buys is the character of the business development professional.

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.

Reader Comments

Wed, Aug 10, 2016 Louis Jurgens Gambrills, MD

Well said, Bill. I've been in Sales and BD for 25+ years and know each process well. I have become resentful of CEOs who are looking for YABDVP (Yet Another BD VP), when what they really mean is, "I want a sales person who will turn this around and generate $xxM by the end of the year, whatever it takes." This is instant pudding, not relationship building, nor is it BD. Not looking to re-enter the revolving door of BD again. --LJ

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