Business development managers are concerned with improving and growing a business, by establishing and developing relationships with customers, suppliers and other partners

As a business development manager, you'll identify new business opportunities in order to generate revenue, improve profitability and help the business grow.

Your work can involve careful strategic planning and positioning in the appropriate markets, or enhancing the operation of the business, position or reputation in some way.

You may have a single role in the organisation or lead a team of staff. Your work will often reach across all areas of the business.

Types of business management

Business development can be applied to almost all types of business, but you may choose to specialise in a certain sector, such as:

  • construction
  • education
  • finance
  • healthcare
  • IT
  • manufacturing
  • telecommunications.

Alternatively, you may work across many different businesses, but with a specific focus on either:

  • B2B (business to business)
  • B2C (business to consumer).

Responsibilities

As a business development manager, you'll need to:

  • research and identify new business opportunities - including new markets, growth areas, trends, customers, partnerships, products and services - or new ways of reaching existing markets
  • seek out the appropriate contact in an organisation
  • generate leads and cold call prospective customers
  • meet with customers/clients face to face or over the phone
  • foster and develop relationships with customers/clients
  • understand the needs of your customers and be able to respond effectively with a plan of how to meet these
  • think strategically - seeing the bigger picture and setting aims and objectives in order to develop and improve the business
  • work strategically - carrying out necessary planning in order to implement operational changes
  • draw up client contracts - depending on the size of company, this task may be completed by someone else or agreements may not be as formal
  • have a good understanding of the businesses' products or services and be able to advise others about them
  • ensure staff are on board throughout the organisation, and understand the need for change and what is required of them
  • train members of your team, arranging external training where appropriate
  • discuss promotional strategy and activities with the marketing department
  • liaise with the finance team, warehousing and logistics departments as appropriate
  • seek ways of improving the way the business operates
  • attend seminars, conferences and events where appropriate
  • keep abreast of trends and changes in the business world.

If your business development role is more sales orientated, you may also:

  • help to plan sales campaigns
  • create a sales pipeline
  • negotiate pricing with customers, and suppliers in some cases
  • increase sales of the business
  • carry out sales forecasts and analysis and present your findings to senior management/the board of directors
  • develop the business sales and marketing strategy.

Salary

  • Your starting salary as a graduate business development manager will be in the region of £22,000 to £25,000.
  • At mid-management level with several years' experience, you can expect to earn between £30,000 and £60,000, depending on the region and sector you work in.
  • As a senior business development manager or business director, it's possible to earn around £80,000.

Salaries are affected by regional variances, and pay is generally higher in London and the South East. The sector you work in is also a determining factor.

It's common for bonuses to be paid and these can be very large, sometimes matching your annual salary. Some jobs will be advertised with 'uncapped commission'. Jobs are often advertised with a basic salary and a higher on-target earnings (OTE) figure. Other benefits may include a pension, healthcare scheme membership and company car.

Working hours

You'll usually work a regular 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday week, though you may on occasion have to work longer to meet a project deadline or when attending an event or conference.

Flexible working and working from home may be possible.

What to expect

  • You'll work in an office environment, but will frequently travel within the day for face-to-face meetings with customers and other business partners.
  • It can be challenging trying to create new business opportunities, in addition to the constant pressure of meeting or exceeding targets. However, business development is quite a creative role and can be very satisfying.
  • You may have the responsibility of managing a team and their output.
  • You'll be expected to dress smartly, especially for meetings, though slightly more relaxed business casual attire may be acceptable at other times.
  • Depending on the type of business, overnight or overseas travel may be required.

Qualifications

A degree is not essential for this role and some business development managers work their way up through an organisation, gaining experience in a sales or marketing role and undertaking work-based training.

Another increasingly common route into business development management is through an apprenticeship, combining work with part-time study. Apprenticeships are available at various levels, including degree-level.

As it's a competitive role with good prospects, many entrants do have a degree, and a degree is essential if you wish to apply for a place on a graduate training scheme.

Degrees in business development or business management are the most relevant. Other relevant subjects include:

  • accountancy
  • business studies
  • economics
  • finance
  • international relations
  • marketing.

A postgraduate degree is not a requirement for this career.

It's also possible to move into a business development manager role from related jobs such as commercial manager, account manager, sales executive, business development executive and sales manager.

Skills

You'll need to have:

  • tenacity and drive to seek new business and meet or exceed targets
  • an excellent telephone manner for making initial contact and for ongoing communication with customers and business associates
  • interpersonal skills for building and developing relationships with clients
  • written and verbal communication skills - needed for communicating with a range of people, both internally and externally, as well as presentation skills
  • IT skills, including the use of spreadsheets
  • teamworking skills and a collaborative approach to work
  • decision-making skills
  • the ability to multitask and prioritise your workload
  • project management and organisational skills
  • the ability to motivate yourself and set your own goals
  • negotiating skills
  • the ability to think strategically
  • the ability to analyse sales figures and write reports
  • a flexible approach to work with the ability to adapt to a fast-paced, ever-changing environment
  • initiative and the confidence to start things from scratch.

The ability to speak a foreign language is an asset if you're dealing with overseas clients.

A full driving licence is a requirement for many roles.

Work experience

Work experience is important and can in some cases lead to permanent employment.

There may be opportunities on your degree to take a year out in industry or to do a shorter work placement. If your course doesn't include a placement, try contacting local businesses to ask for work experience opportunities.

Part-time or vacation work in a business that has a focus on business development and management is particularly useful, but any experience gained within sales, marketing or business administration will be good for your CV and skill set. It will also show future employers that you're serious about your career choice.

Employers

Business development managers are employed across the public, private and charity sectors, in all types of businesses and organisations.

Employers tend to be larger companies that can dedicate time and resources towards developing their business. In smaller companies, business development is usually carried out as a smaller function within a broader mix of responsibilities.

Common types of employers include:

  • banks and other financial institutions
  • education institutions
  • IT companies
  • manufacturing firms, and any business involved in the sales of products or services
  • pharmaceutical companies
  • telecommunications and technology firms
  • the NHS and other healthcare providers.

Look for job vacancies at:

As well as sector specific job websites, national newspapers and general online job boards and job websites also advertise vacancies.

Check the jobs pages of the websites of any companies and organisations you're interested in, as current vacancies will usually be advertised there.

Recruitment agencies such as Reed and Michael Page also advertise business development manager jobs.

Professional development

Business development is a broad field, so there are many ways in which you can shape and develop your career according to your interests and ambition.

Much of your training will be on the job but there are also a huge number of relevant courses available, such as Level 2 and Level 3 courses in business principles, sales and marketing and sales management.

The ILM (Institute of Leadership and Management) has details of a range of relevant business, management and leadership qualifications and apprenticeships.

Other qualifications, networking opportunities, information, support and career guidance are available through membership of professional bodies, such as:

It's possible to switch between employers and sectors, perhaps specialising further, or moving to a larger organisation with a broader remit or international connections.

Ultimately, progression will be determined by your personal drive and aims. There's no specific structure, but you'll find many opportunities for gaining increased responsibility and, with it, an increase in salary.

Career prospects

Business management is carried out across many sectors, in most towns and cities and within many different types of organisation. As a result, there are many possibilities for career development.

You could choose to specialise in a particular sector, such as IT or healthcare, or in a particular area such as sales or marketing.

You may progress to the role of senior business development manager, perhaps being responsible for a bigger team or department, with higher targets. With enough experience, you could reach director level.

Working overseas is possible if you work for an international company. You may have the option of travelling and working for short periods in the overseas divisions of your company, or you could apply for a permanent overseas transfer or to a new company.

There are also opportunities to move into consultancy work, providing advice to a range of companies. You may also consider setting up your own business development consultancy.

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