Instinctively, it may seem obvious what business development is, yet expressing the concept in words is something that most business leaders find tricky. At a basic level, it's about growing a business or a product from its current state. This involves identifying and developing strategic relationships with people outside the organization. You should also be creating ideas and initiatives that help to open up new opportunities for your business.

What Is Business Development?

In simple terms, it's about opening up new opportunities that can help your business to grow. For example, you might cultivate partnerships or new commercial relationships, or you might identify new markets for your products and services. The main thrust is adding long-term value to the business – business development is not about quick wins. Rather, it's the act of developing ideas, initiatives and plans that will increase revenue and profitability and assist your business expansion in ways you can count on year after year.

Is Business Development the Same as Sales?

Business development is not the same as sales. The sales function is focused on one thing: closing deals to generate revenue. Business development, by contrast, involves the whole journey from identifying new customers and markets to nurturing leads, to opening up new channels and partnerships that will connect you with the opportunities you've identified. Typical goals include new client acquisition, business expansion and brand amplification. These strategies generate revenue only indirectly, and over the long term.

What Is a Business Development Executive?

The primary role of a business development executive is to identify new business opportunities. What form this takes will differ from business-to-business but it usually involves identifying new partnerships, new products, new markets and new ways to reach customers in existing markets. A business development executive will typically achieve these goals through market research, networking, attending industry events, cold calling and nurturing leads with prospective partners and customers to expand the presence of the business and its products. Many business development professionals have a background in sales, marketing and/or project management.

Business Development Ideas

For small businesses, business development typically focuses on one or more of the following areas:

  • Selling more product to existing customers. Initiatives include testing your pricing strategy with offers and discounts; expanding your marketing efforts; increasing your web presence; communicating better via blogs posts, newsletters and social media; and cross-selling and upselling your products.
  • Selling products through new channels such as online, social media, mail order, product rentals or software as a subscription service.
  • Expanding into an adjacent market such as another city or state. For example, you might look at attending trade events in these areas, networking, developing an advertising presence, franchising models, new distributor relationships or even buying a competing business.
  • Developing new products to sell to your existing customers – what are your customers telling you they need?

The important thing to remember is there are no one-size fits all. Make sure that you're focusing on goals that are relevant to your business, and get help if you need to.