When an agency or corporation does not need the specialized expertise of full-time, in-house engineering resources, it enlists the services of a professional consultant much as it does an attorney or an accountant – to fill a specific need, at a specific time, charged by the hour. Within these professions-for-hire, a knack for cultivating such customers is as highly prized as technical acumen. In fact, business development experience is usually a factor considered in many mid- and nearly all senior-level searches we conduct.
Involvement in BD fosters business strategy know-how and provides hands-on experience in negotiating deals and nurturing partner relationships. It is also an inherently cross-functional pursuit, requiring collaboration with various internal and external teams, such as sales and marketing along with technical SMEs, to ensure that the right contracts are sought after, won and executed successfully.
To help benchmark your own skill set or set a path to your desired goal, I will share how I define the stages of business development and at what point in your career progression you are most likely to participate in each respective stage.
“Bird-Dog” Stage: Your job is to see others and be seen. You are assigned a vertical, target(s) or a niche, and you own that space. Your responsibilities include acquiring advance intelligence on projects in the pipeline and identifying and securing teaming partners. This is the top of the business development funnel, but in terms of career lifespan, it is the last business development experience you’ll be involved in chronologically. Prerequisites: You manage people or business units and are held accountable for revenue; your responsibility may be defined by geography or market segment.
Pre-Proposal Positioning: An opportunity has been identified, and you are involved in positioning strategy by leading or being part of the team which is made known to the customer in advance of any RFP hitting the streets. Partnered with the Bird Dog, you can even influence what an RFP looks like. This is the second ring of the funnel, and the second or third phase of BD experience you might be involved in as a professional consultant. Prerequisites: A contributor with some tenure and relationships, your value to your firm is steadily increasing based upon WHO you know – and who knows you – rather than only on WHAT you know.
Proposal Prep and Presentation: You contribute to the preparation of the proposal, with responsibility for defining the technical approach in at least one area. You earn extra credit if you are part of the presentation team (if one is required). The third ring of the funnel would be the first place you cut your teeth in business development. Prerequisites: You are an asset to the firm whose resume will appear in the project team. You are interested in the business development process and you have something to contribute to the BD effort from a technical and execution perspective. Your input is important for you will likely be managing tasks or sections of the consulting engagement should it be awarded in your firm’s favor.
Project Scoping and Negotiations: Congratulations, you’ve won! Your team has been selected in the top spot, and next comes the ‘make or break’ to hammer out the final details. You employ your finesse and authority to make all parties happy. This is the bottom of the BD funnel, and along with pre-proposal positioning, it is, chronologically, the second or third experience you might have during your career as a consultant in A/E space. Prerequisites: A contributor with some tenure and relationships, your value to your firm is steadily increasing based upon WHO you know – and who knows you – rather than only on WHAT you know.
While the rings of the funnel are distinct, your involvement with each of them may not look nearly so neat and tidy. It’s quite possible, indeed likely, that your experiences will overlap, especially at smaller organizations. The important thing to bear in mind is that business development is a process that you engage at different depths as you traverse through your career. For example, you may never be a “Bird Dog” (few people are), but it’s important to understand that successful business development cannot occur without the activities that reside at the top of the funnel. If you want to increase your value to your firm in this way, it is important that you strive to cross the levels of this funnel whenever a door to do so opens.