Career in business development: the ultimate guide
Career in business development: the ultimate guide to help you understand if business development is right for you.
When I was younger I never dreamt of becoming a business developer. I thought of becoming a doctor, an astronomer, a hairdresser, a journalist, and eventually, an ambassador.
But business development, I didn’t even know it existed.
To be really honest with you, I didn’t really know what business development was all about until I realized I was actually doing it.
My career in business development started quite…unconsciously, I would say.
It wasn’t until 2017 that everything became clear. Looking at my past jobs the puzzle became clear. As I would connect the dots of all the things I did it appeared clearly:
I was a business developer.
It was almost a mystical moment and I started reading up, trying to know as much as possible about it. How to build a career in business development, how to become better at it.
To my surprise, there wasn’t much information about it, so I started reaching out to people in the field and asking what they were up to.
I got so passionate that I decided to dedicate my career to this field and created The BD School to share knowledge and help other BDs like you become better at this job.
If you are thinking of starting a career in business development, or take it to the next level, this complete guide on how to build a career in business development is all you need.
You will learn:
- Why choose a career in business development?
- What does a business development manager do?
- What’s the typical business development career path?
- How profitable is a career in business development?
- Is business development good for you?
- What do you need to start a career in business development?
- How to land a business development job?
- How to prepare for interviews?
Why choose a career in business development?
Thirteen years ago I moved my first steps into a career in business development and it has been an amazing journey so far.
In particular, I love that business development really allowed me to learn a lot about myself, my capabilities, and how I could use my skills to deliver value.
The beauty of business development is that it really obliges you to think out of the box and find creative solutions to business problems. Besides, it helps you uncover a lot of skills you didn’t even know to have.
In my opinion, there are 3 main reasons why you should choose a career in business development:
1 – A career in business development uncovers your skills
One of the things I’m most amazed about is that working in business development feels almost like a movie. Every day is completely different from the other and you just have to embrace the challenge.
I learned that I love change and discovered that I have very strong adaptability skills.
Then I learned I was gifted with empathy and that helped me to understand my clients and eventually reach my business goals.
A few years later, I learned that I was particularly good at spotting opportunities and problem-solving. The list of skills I uncovered thanks to business development is really incredible.
I believe each one of us has some hidden talent, but unfortunately, we don’t always get the chance to experience them. We get stuck in our routines, we don’t get enough challenges and we end up getting comfortable with what we have.
In business development, it is just not possible to get comfortable and this will push you to your limits. You will discover many new qualities and improve the ones you already have.
Business development is first and foremost a personal development journey.
2 – You never get bored if you work in business development
If you tend to get bored easily at work, then business development might just be the career path for you.
Business development involves so many different activities and stakeholders that you simply won’t have the time to get bored.
You’ll get the chance to work on many projects involving other departments, and you’ll get the chance to learn new skills beyond your field of expertise.
For example, during my last job, I was part of both the sales and growth teams. I was busy contacting prospects, but also organizing webinars, working on email marketing, and more.
This allowed me to learn new skills that contributed to my professional growth extremely fast.
Business development makes you more valuable in the job market.
3 – You are the frontman of your company
If you choose a career in business development, you prepare yourself to become the frontman of your company. You are the first contact for clients and partners and whatever you say can make or break a deal.
Under this perspective, working in business development brings a lot of responsibility. You’re usually performing one of the most profitable activities in the company.
This means that if you work well you’re directly responsible for the growth of your organization.
If you work long enough in a company, you earn the right to steer a company’s direction based on your findings on the field.
By experimenting and always being in contact with your audience, you’re in the perfect position to suggest new ideas to your company.
Last, if you work in a startup, you can grow your career extremely fast. Business development at startups is very strategic, so your actions will have a big impact on the growth of the company. This will make you a key employee in no time!
Business development allows you to realize your career goals quickly.
What does a business development manager do?
Business development takes many different shapes depending on the strategy of your company. So business developers do different things depending on the company they’re currently working for.
In terms of responsibilities, you will have to think of ways to generate new business opportunities and execute them.
Usually, as business developers, we come up with new ideas, test them, and then if they work, we scale them with other departments.
In practical terms, these are the most common business development activities:
- Research (market, competitors, customers)
- Opportunity spotting
- Lead generation
- Cold outreach (email, phone, social media)
- Partnership management
- Project management
- Stakeholder management
- Closing deals
What’s the typical business development career path?
When I started thinking seriously of a career in business development, one of my first questions was how far you can actually go with it. I know that you can become a business developer but what’s next?
You know, when you are a doctor your career path is pretty much stable and clear. But business development is a different story.
Because it’s such a broad field and there is some confusion around it, job offers are also pretty messy. This means that sometimes the same job can be very different from one company to another.
However just looking at the career path, you can expect pretty much this progression:
1 – Business developer or business development representative
Abbreviated in BD or BDR, it is the most entry-level position and that’s where most of us will probably start. Of course, depending on the company this role can vary a lot. However, generally speaking, this function is mainly related to either acquisition of potential clients or opening up new channels.
2 – Business development manager
Contrary to what you might think, being a BDM (Business Development Manager) doesn’t necessarily mean you will manage a team. But, what you’ll definitely manage is the entire business development process. As BDM you’re still very much involved in the execution of your plan even if you have a team working with you.
3 – Head of business development
That’s the first real senior role and that’s when you start executing less and manage more. You are involved in strategic decisions, building and managing a team and you directly work with the company leadership.
4 – Director of business development
This role is more high-level and requires a more strategic and long-term approach to the business. You are responsible for the activities and outcomes of your team. But contrary to the other roles, you’re less involved in the actual execution and mostly deal with mid-management staff.
5 – Vice President of business development
When you reach this point, you’ll enjoy sitting with the senior leadership discussing how you’ll drive growth opportunities in the long term. You’re fully on the strategic development of your company and think ahead in the future. At this level, you’ll manage less and think more about what the company should do next.
The most interesting thing in developing a career in business development is that each stage is a sort of microcosmos of the next level.
What I mean is that the ultimate goal in any stage of the company is to find growth opportunities.
The real difference between these stages is the number of things you experience in your career.
As a VP you have a lot more examples to use in your decision process, while as a business developer you only have limited experience.
Is that a problem? Not necessarily.
In fact, as an entry-level professional, you have another superpower which is your hunger for knowledge and if you use it correctly, you will be able to be successful even without much experience.
Now that you know what to expect in terms of career path, make sure you also check the salary expectations for each one of these positions.
This will help you make sure that a career in business development is aligned with your long-term financial goals.
How profitable is a career in business development?
Besides the benefits of your personal and career growth, business development is also a great career to achieve your financial goals. In fact, in countries like The Netherlands or the United Kingdom, business development professionals earn up to 42,000 € per year even in entry-level positions.
This is mainly because of two main reasons: First, because it’s a function that directly contributes to the revenue growth of the company.
Second, because it’s a complex function which means companies are willing to pay more to keep you and avoid the costs of hiring new employees.
Of course, not all business development jobs are equal and many factors can contribute to your actual salary. For example, your location, level of experience, and company size can definitely have an impact on your salary.
So before deciding your next career step, make sure you research the average salary in your area.
You can easily find this information using the LinkedIn Salary feature or websites like Payscale and Glassdoor. On these platforms, you will be able to filter by location and years of experience so you will be able if your expectations are aligned with the market.
Read also: Business development salary report
Is business development good for you?
At this point, you should have a clear idea of how a career in business development looks like. Now the million-dollar questions:
How do you find out if business development is good for you?
Of course, we don’t have the answer for you, but we can give you some practical tips to understand if this is the right career path for you.
A good way to know if business development is good for you is to ask yourself these questions:
- Are you curious and use creativity to solve problems?
- Do you like learning new things?
- Are you able to cope with change?
- Do you enjoy talking to people?
- Are you resistant to rejection?
- Are you able to motivate yourself?
If you answer YES to all these questions, then business development might be good for you.
Be aware that business development can be very challenging and sometimes you will do tasks that you don’t necessarily like and many of them are quite repetitive.
So if you don’t have patience, it might be a problem for you to keep your motivation high.
What do you need to start a career in business development?
Starting with business development is easier than you might think. Pretty much everyone with a genuine passion for this field can get started. But, you must be ready to take your personal development seriously.
Why is that? Because according to a survey we run with 1000+ business developers from all over the world, there isn’t much knowledge available inside their companies.
We discovered that as much as 73% of professional BDs don’t really know what their job means and 71% never received formal training from their companies.
Besides, looking for information online is a very painful and frustrating process because most of the knowledge you find is superficial and inaccurate. I went through the same process and it took me many years before actually mastering business development.
That’s exactly why I created The BD School, so you can have an easier life navigating business development and become great at it.
So, if you’re serious about starting a career in business development the first thing you need to do is to gain knowledge about it. Which doesn’t mean only following a course at the university, but really seeking all the possible ways to learn.
These tools will help you learn business development:
1 – Check free content
Before you commit to spending money on learning business development, take advantage of free content online. You will find many resources on our blog, or simply ask Google and YouTube to find some inspiration.
This process will help you understand what you need to learn, so you can focus your effort rather than wasting time on the wrong things.
2 – Read business development books
They are your best allies. Books take longer to read because they’re more complete than any article you can find online. While they seem to take forever, they actually help you internalize the knowledge, so you won’t forget important topics and you’ll remember for longer.
We collected a list of the top 10 books for business development, be our guest!
3 – Connect with experienced business development pros
Asking professionals in your industry about their experience will open your eyes. There are plenty of ways to do so, for example, you can look for interesting people on LinkedIn or you can join a community.
All you have to do is ask for their advice and you’ll find plenty of nice people willing to help you.
4 – Get a business development mentor
As soon as you have clear ideas about your business development career, it’s time to get yourself a mentor. Mentors have experienced professionals that will help you set a clear path for your professional success.
We made it easy for you to find BD mentors, so if you want, check out this page.
5 – Take a business development course
Once you have clear career goals, it’s a good idea to take a course. Formal training will help you become more confident and know exactly what you have to do to be a successful business development professional.
You can find many cheap courses on Udemy or similar platforms but beware: cheap doesn’t always mean good. So before investing your money, make sure you find a trusted trainer that will take care of you.
What are the requirements to start a career in business development?
After gaining knowledge about business development it’s important that you focus on building the requirements to work in this field. The cool thing about business development is that it’s very diverse and it fits many different personalities.
However, this also means that each company has slightly different requirements. Of course, we took care of it so you don’t have to waste too much time on it. We analyzed 100+ job descriptions and based on that creates this shortlist of requirements.
These are the common requirement for business developers in Europe and the USA:
- Education: generally they require a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in a business-related field plus an industry-related field (e.g. healthcare). If you don’t have a degree, don’t despair. Many companies are more interested in your personality, rather than your degrees.
- Experience: depending on the seniority you can have a specific requirement which varies from 3 to 5 years of experience, up to 10 for senior positions. If you are just starting, you can apply for entry-level positions so you won’t be rejected based on your experience.
- Skills: most companies require communication, creativity, relations building, active listening, organizational skills, and time management. Moreover, you need to be quite sociable and ready to adapt to anything that will come your way.
In business development what really makes the difference is your attitude. So if you don’t have a degree or experience yet, focus on building your skills. Skills combined with a positive attitude will make you stand out anyways!
How to land business development jobs?
If you are convinced about starting a career in business development, your next step is to actively look for job opportunities. The good news is that at the moment there are approximately 70,764 business development job offers at this very moment on LinkedIn alone.
You can fairly assume that you will be able to find your next job.
But when looking for business development jobs, you need to pay attention to the type of opportunity you come across. Business development is a broad field and every company has different needs. This has a direct impact on the type of activities you will execute.
Generally speaking, there are 5 main types of business development roles:
- Strategic business development: in this role, you will be responsible to research and analyze data in order to spot new opportunities.
- Sales-oriented business development: in this role, you will be responsible to find potential customers for your company.
- Partnership-oriented business development: in this role, you will be responsible to find partners for your organization.
- Product-oriented business development: in this role, you will be responsible to co-create products in collaboration with other teams
- International business development: in this role, you will be responsible to launch your organization in new unexplored markets
Innovative companies use a holistic approach to business development, which means that as a BD you are actually responsible for all these areas mentioned above. However, realistically, most companies only focus their BD efforts on one or the other.
To make sure you find the opportunity that matches your expectations, read the job description in detail. In addition, get in touch with other business developers working in the company and ask them for more information about their daily job.
This will help you have more realistic expectations and maximize the chance of finding your dream job.
Another important thing to keep in mind when looking for business development jobs is the type of company you want to work for.
For example, if you work for a startup your role will have more responsibilities as well as more things to do.
Once you are clear on the type of companies you want to work for, you can start looking for jobs. You can look on famous platforms like LinkedIn or Indeed, but you should also look at innovative companies that offer job openings.
Especially if you want to work for startups, you’ll find many job portals which are highly specialized. In The Netherlands for example you can use Techleap. While in Italy you can use platforms like Xjobs if you want to work in startups.
Last, check for industry-specific job boards to make sure you get extremely relevant job opportunities. In this way, you will not waste your time with companies that don’t match your requirements.
Before applying for jobs, prepare your new CV and a motivation letter. Keep in mind that many companies nowadays use tools called Applicant Tracking Systems.
This software helps companies to filter out good candidates from the bad. So my tip is, make sure you optimize your CV using the same keywords you find in the job offer. If you’re curious, check this article to better understand how ATS works.
How to prepare for business development interviews?
After you apply for a business development job, you can focus on preparing your business development interview. This will be your moment to shine and show your recruiter the value you can bring to the company.
In order to run a successful interview, it’s important to gather as much information as possible about the company. You want to check their website, social media pages, and any possible media coverage about them.
Besides the information about the company, make sure you connect on LinkedIn with their employees in the same position. The recruiter will show the bright side of the company, but you want to have real insights from people doing your same job.
You can send them a simple message like this:
“Hi Name, I see your work at COMPANY NAME. I’m considering applying for the BD job, do you have time for a quick call? I’d like to have your insights to better understand the company. Thanks, YOUR NAME”
Last, check the reviews about the company on Google or any other review website like Trustpilot or Glassdoor.
If you don’t know where to start, follow this checklist:
- Read company mission
- Check the company history
- Read company products/services
- Watch interviews of relevant people (e.g. Founder, CEO)
- Connect with current employees
- Check customer reviews
- Check Glassdoor reviews
Don’t miss any of these steps, there isn’t anything more frustrating than a candidate who didn’t prepare at their best. So don’t be lazy and do your homework.
After doing your research, prepare for some common interview questions that you might get. We won’t go into detail right now, but we created a specific document with 21 most common questions and a description with examples.
Make sure to download your copy and then rehearse the questions with a friend, colleague or one of your mentors if you already have one.
Will you become a business developer?
Now you know all you need on how to build a career in business development. You will need patience and dedication if you want to build a long term career. Sometimes you’ll hate it, but mostly you will love it!
The most important is that you’re not alone in your professional BD journey, and you can count on us to support you in every step of it! We spent the last 3 years to research and understand the field of business development.
We created a methodology to help business developers be more effective in their job in just 5 weeks. So if you don’t want to invest a decade to enjoy your work, check out the course at the button below!
Founder at The BD School
The thing I love the most in business development is its creative process. My job is to help people unleash their potential and become great at business development.
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