Just a few years back I was working as a financial analyst for a real estate investment firm in San Diego. I was the farthest person from being a sales guy. I couldn't understand whoever wanted to undertake a career in sales. Neither I understood why sales were important at all. Until I had a revelation, selling is the hardest and most important job in the world. It doesn't matter if you're selling a product, a service or if you're selling yourself. Selling is everywhere.
Whether there is money involving or not you're still selling. What do I mean? Let's say you want a promotion. However, you're not the only one. A few people are competing for the same spot. For you to convince your boss you're the right person you need to be able to sell your capabilities to your boss. That is also why selling skills are paid well. In fact, if you look among the most paid 25 jobs in the US you will find the sales manager with a mean salary of $135,090.
For a year now, I've been taking care of the business development for WordLift, a B2B SaaS that operates in the SEO industry. In this article, I want to clarify what does it mean to be a business developer and what are some of the days to day activities to perform. A caveat, business development varies according to company, industry and business model. However, if we look at the big picture, we can find some similarities across business development activities. Let's start with what business development is not.
- Business Development is not only direct sales
- Business Development is not only about sales
- Business development is about nurturing the right relationships
- Business development is about scaling up a business
- Business development is about hacking the growth of a business
- Business development is about creating value
- What activities does business development imply?
- The sales pipeline
- What can I do to improve my sales pipeline?
- Some of the things I've been doing as a business developer for a B2B SaaS startup
- The channels you can tap into to get traction
- The secret weapon for the business developer: LinkedIn
- At the end of it, it's all about listening
Business Development is not
only direct sales
Thinking about the business developer as the sales guy, it's limiting. Not that a business developer doesn't sell (it is its primary duty), but it does so by creating a distribution. In other words, rather than looking at the single sale the business developers try to find sales channels to tap into to speed up the process of scaling up a company. If that means selling a product or a service directly, then the business development person will become a sales guy.
Business Development is
not only about sales
A good business developer doesn't have to have prejudices about the kind of daily activities to undertake. Especially if you do collaborate for a startup the day to day activities can vary quite a lot. For instance, one day you may be sending out emails to potential prospects. Some other days, you may be taking part in a conference. While some other days you may be writing an article about a topic that is of interest to your target customers. Other days yet you might be setting dozens of calls and talking to prospects or drafting a proposal for custom projects. In addition to that, you might be coordinating the activity on projects and accounts you closed and you manage. Therefore, all the activities that enhance the sales process grow the business and help you reach the financial target are welcome.
What is business development?
Business development is about nurturing the right relationships
Business is based on trust. No matter which industry you operate in that is the baseline. Therefore, as a business developer, you must learn to build relationships and trust pretty quickly. How do you do that? This brings us to the next point
Business development is about scaling up a business
To be great at business development you have to be a quick learner. Thus, able to understand several aspects of the business you're serving. For instance, throughout this year I had to learn quite a new subjects: SEO, funnel optimization, content marketing, and all the other channels available to grow a business. In short, you have to become a sort of hybrid, able to learn anything to make the company grow. That leads us to the next point.
Business development is about hacking the growth of a business
As I said at the beginning of the article business development could vary quite a lot based on industry, business model and stage of maturity of a company. If you are called as a business developer for a startup, most of the activities will be connected to grow the startup and ferry it to the next stage of growth. To do that you'll need to understand how to use growth hacking.
Put it very shortly that is a mindset fine-tuned for growth, which is data-driven and measurable. Of course, there are many other aspects of growth hacking. If you want to know more in detail how this relatively new discipline read my previous article on the topic:
For how complicated growing a business might seem, it all boils down to one crucial aspect: create value!
Business development is about creating value
Reaching out to people is one of the most effective ways to start a business relationship. However, the line between being spammy and create value can be ephemeral. How do you create value? First, you have to investigate the person you will going to approach and identify the things that person values the most businesswise.
For instance, if I want to approach another entrepreneur that sells a product similar to mine I have to understand exactly how I can create value for him. If our products are complementary, would make a bundle with both add value to him and his customer base? Would this generate enough value? In short, you have to invest a bit of time trying to understand that person business, and what objectives he/she is looking for to achieve.
What activities does business development imply?
As a business developer, I realized that there is no limit to your creativity. Anything that can enhance your sales process can become something you want to focus on. At the same time, the pipeline is the primary focus. In short, you might want to stay creative while concentrating on having enough prospects on the one hand and enough potential projects on the other side, ready to be closed.
The sales pipeline
A sales pipeline is as a visual representation of your sales process where all your potential customers are displayed and neatly arranged according to their phase in your sales cycle.
Being able to track your sales pipeline is a critical activity. A sales pipeline is just a way to have clear in which stage of the sales process you are with a potential client. As shown by Sales POP from the initial contact to closing a deal it takes a few steps:
- Initial contact
At each of those actions, we can assign a probability of closing a deal. For instance, at the initial contact, you don't have an idea yet whether the person you're reaching out would later become a customer. Therefore, the more you move forward down the pipeline, the more the chances of closing the deal improve. Sales POP research shows that each of those stages has a chance of success as it follows:
- Initial contact – 0 %
- Qualification – 10 %
- Meeting – 30 %
- Proposal – 60 %
- Close – 100 %
Therefore, after you have qualified a lead, you have 1 in 10 chances of closing it. Once you have met, defined the project and sent a proposal, then your chances will improve up to 60%. The chances of closing a deal also depend on other factors. For instance, have you previously worked with this person? In short, if you have already built trust it will be easier to close the deal. If you are expanding a project you were working on, then it might be easier as well. Therefore, it will depend upon several factors crucial to any deal.
What can I do to improve my sales pipeline?
Before the sales get in you, need to prepare the soil. That also means a set of activities that create trust in yourself and the company you work for to bring more leads. How do you do that?
- experiment new tools, or channels. Like social selling
- find out new tactics by asking a feedback to your peers in the same industry
- creating new partnerships
- managing existing partnerships to see if there is a chance to expand the scope of work and create more value for them and your company
- direct sales (outreach, live demonstrations, free training)
- off-line activities (like live seminars)
- content marketing (writing articles of interest to potential clients)
What other specific activities can you do as a business developer for a SaaS startup?
Some of the things I've been doing as a business developer for a B2B SaaS startup
As a business developer of a small startup, I also had a great responsibility as I had been in charge of one of the most precious things for a startup: interactions with clients. In fact, at times clients help you understand your business better than anyone else.
Talking with your clients help you define, strengthen and develop your product or service so that it fits better with the market. In the last year I've been doing a few activities entirely all with the same objective: grow the business quickly and sustainably. Some of the activities I've found more useful have been:
- talk to clients to understand how they are using your service and assess if they could benefit from a custom project
- building relationships with micro influencers or in any case people with an active community behind
- performing product demonstrations (one of the most influential ways to create value for you leads while showing them practically how to use your service)
- LinkedIn for social selling: more on that later
- identifying and creating new distribution channels
- being featured in the media (I know it sounds like PR activity, but the content is the most significant weapon to build trusted relationship quickly)
- go to events related to your industry
Let's dive a bit into the way it makes sense a career or a part of your career in business development.
Why undertake a career in business development?
A little premise. I don't see myself as a business developer for my whole life. Instead, I see this as a transition toward being an entrepreneur. I'm already a digital entrepreneur. However, when I launched digital products in the past, I noticed how struggling was to get traction for those. Therefore, I understood I needed an experience in sales if I wanted to become a better entrepreneur. In other words, at least for me mastering and acquiring the "selling mindset" allows me to be a better entrepreneur, thus by giving me more freedom. Why should you work in business development? A few reasons:
- develop an entrepreneurial mindset
- get more freedom compared to a traditional job
- dynamic work that pushes you to learn new things quickly (to be good at selling you need to understand yourself first the value of the service you offer)
- make more money (less salary but more commissions if you do perform)
- high pressure but also more fun than a traditional job (at least for me)
- being your boss (if it is in a large organization, of course, you will respond to someone. However, the only boss you have are the commercial objectives you agreed upon)
- get to build a professional network quickly (you're pushed to meet new people daily even if you might be the most introvert person on earth)
What are some downsides?
Of what I can think of here are some I identified:
- The bottom line is your mixed blessing. In fact, although you might be doing things right for specific periods you just don't seem to be able to close a deal. From the outside that might look like you're not doing your job properly. What I like to call the outcome bias. In those periods you have to be good to think about your track record
- your pay is proportional to the objective you're able to achieve. Therefore quite volatile
- some days it just seems you'll never get to achieve the financial results agreed. It is normal to feel like that. The good side of it is that you'll feel what any entrepreneur experiences
Overall the balance is positive. Now the most critical question. How do you make a business get traction?
The channels you can tap into to get traction
Gabriel Weinberg, CEO, and founder of DuckDuckGo, a search engine that doesn't track your data, put together in his book, Traction a list of channels that are critical to allow a business to grow. He identified sixteen channels. Below some examples of how to use them:
- Targeting Blogs
- Unconventional PR
- Search Engine Marketing
- Social and Display Ads
- Offline Ads
- Search Engine Optimization
- Content Marketing
- Email Marketing
- Viral Marketing
- Engineering as Marketing
- Business Development
- Affiliate Programs
- Existing Platforms
- Trade Shows
- Offline Events
- Speaking Engagements
- Community Building
To tap into those channels, you can use the Bullseye framework that I discuss more in detail below:
The secret weapon for the business developer: LinkedIn
65% of salespeople who use social selling fill their pipeline, compared to 47% of reps who do not. source: blog.hubspot.com/sales/sales-statistics
LinkedIn is a fantastic tool to generate conversations that can help you speed up the prospecting phase. In the last months on LinkedIn I've been able to achieve the following goals:
- found new B2B clients
- built new partnerships
- got media coverage
- personal branding
Those things are possible if you are consistent. Three ways to build relationships with business are:
- outreach to people that might get value from what you offer
- use LinkedIn publishing to create awareness or become a thought leader in your niche
- share and like posts about people you admire to strengthen your relationship and create value for your network
LinkedIn is the only social media I find useful for B2B and the social media I use on a daily basis. What else?
Try out beBee! It is another professional network focused on personal branding with an engaged community, which is growing quite fast.
At the end of it, it's all about listening
Based on a research by Hubspot those are the top four ways to create a positive sales experience, according to buyers:
- Listen to their needs (69%)
- Don’t be pushy (61%)
- Provide relevant information (61%)
- Respond promptly (51%)
Therefore, it is critical to learning to listen, which does not mean thinking about what you have to say next when the other person is listening. But instead to focus solely on what the other person says emphatically. One mantra I have (or at least I try) to follow is "how do I create value for this person?"
Once that becomes hardwired, it will be much easier to get things going!
Let's wrap it up
To wrap things up throughout this year I've learned quite a few things. After resigning to my job as a financial analyst, I was looking for something that would get me more freedom. That is why I put together ebooks and online courses that allowed me to become independent. However, initially, I blindly thought that all you needed was great content. But I soon found out I was wrong. In fact, as I started to focus on the marketing and distribution part of my online business I could not have it take off to reach the objectives I had in mind.
I realized an experience in sales would allow me to master the critical skills to become a better entrepreneur. That is also why I joined WordLift as a business developer. I found this role challenging yet stimulating; pressuring yet fun; tiring yet exciting. Thus, the overall balance is positive. I would suggest anyone that is trying to transition from employed to self-employed or becoming an entrepreneur to have an experience in business development.