Business development jobs typically require several years of business development job experience. For someone with no direct job experience, it begs the question how to get experience in the first place. Most aspirants face a classic chicken-egg dilemma unless they can somehow bypass convention entirely. Getting your first job in business development is similar to the comb over. You have a few gaps to fill in.
Depending on your starting point, you may need to shore up your work experience. Similar to the comb over, you need to cover up what you don’t have with what you do have….
Your personal comb over depends on your career starting point:
Coming from an outside sales position: The clearest distinction I know between sales and business development is that sales people master a single selling process while business development people master creating selling processes for new situations. The good news as a sales person is you've got a track record of convincing people to buy things. You just need to show that you can think out of the box and handle non-conforming sales situations. Pick a few really difficult sales deals that you'd normally pass over. Close them. List all the things you did to close the deals. The messier and more heroic the stories, the better. Count your years of doing difficult sales deals as years toward your business development experience and highlight these experiences in your résumé and cover letter.
- Unconventional approach: Consider becoming the go-to sales person for your company's business development group. Business development is constantly on the prowl for customers to validate partner solutions. A sales person who actually cooperates with business development and takes us into their best customers is gold in our eyes. Sales people, however, usually run away the other way when they see us coming since helping us doesn't usually contribute to their current quarter. If you proactively help out, you can ingratiate yourself with their team and, when a business development job opens, be in the pole position to take it.
Coming from an inside-sales position: Get a job in outside sales and follow above steps. Or, many companies have business development positions that are similar to inside sales in terms of workflow. Demonstrate an ability to close non-conforming deals as above.
- Unconventional approach: Become business development's go-to sales person similar to the above for outside sales.
Coming from a sales/solutions engineering position: Business development executives need technical folks. All we want to do is demonstrate that the things we do in PPT actually work in a customer's environment. There are technical marketing and technical business development positions that are calling for you. Your professional experience is probably directly relevant. Once you do these positions for one to two years, you can get promoted to, or apply for, a pure business development position.
Coming from an engineering or developer position: Similar to the sales/solutions engineering people, you have a special place in business development executives’ hearts. You have the power to make the things we say should work actually work. Unlike the sales/solutions engineering people, however, you don't have direct customer experience. You need to make up for this by demonstrating a positive personality and demeanor that would be an asset for us to bring you in front of a prospect. You can cultivate these skills if you don't have them.
- Unconventional approach. You can get into your business development group by moonlighting for them. In business development, we are always trying to get prototypes and customer integrations built. When we ask for such assistance, the VP of engineering inevitably says, "Oh, that project is unproven. It'll take six months for engineering to get to it." It is the VP of engineering's job to demote the priority of any unproven project. Because most business development work involves unproven projects, this institutionalized conflict always exists. Until we prove ourselves or get big enough to have dedicated technical members, we are scrounging for technical resources. It follows that anyone with the technical skills to help us out stands to become a dear friend. This could be building prototypes, integrating with a partner product, or just something really simple that manifests the vision being presented. You will probably get pulled into prospect meetings. You will definitely get lots of free drinks and meals for your efforts. And, when a technical position opens up in business development, you'll be nicely positioned to apply for it. Business development might even create a position to bring you in full time if things are going well.
Coming from a legal position: Contract lawyers are in a great position as they are involved in the nitty-gritty of every complicated deal that requires nonstandard paperwork. They know the processes and the players. I wasn't surprised to learn that Chris Sacca is actually a former lawyer before he became a deal guy. The real question for lawyers interested in business development is whether you can cross the chasm from corporate legal protector to figuring out how to get things done. From what I've seen, lawyers with litigation backgrounds are most challenged by this.
Coming from a finance position: In some financing and M&A deals I've worked on, one or more finance people get dedicated to the deal to run the model. Volunteer for these opportunities and get experience with business development.
Launch a venture-backed start-up as the business guy. Once you raise one or two institutional rounds, the investors will want to replace you with a more seasoned CEO, CFO, VP of sales, etc. At this time, go for "Co-founder and VP of BD" role. You have the domain expertise and probably a bunch of contacts. You'll be surrounded by pros who will be happy to teach you the business development process details.
Get an MBA. People seem to hire freshly minted MBAs for business development roles. Take advantage of this.
Find a successful business developement executive who doesn't want to travel anymore. This is actually how I got my start. My manager told me everything I needed to do and, in return, I was on the road for three weeks out of the month.
Other things to highlight:
Become an expert in an area. Becoming a domain expert will bring people to you. I've hired dedicated business development people to focus on areas in which they know the industry inside and out. This works well if you are a product person, especially.
Build a rolodex in an industry vertical. You can do this in any number of ways. It takes time, but if you are careful at managing the process you can meet many people in a target vertical quickly.
Social media presence. You can enhance becoming a recognized industry expert in an area through a dedicated social media effort.
PPT skills. Building presentations is important. Learn it. Live it. Love it.
Presentation skills. Just as important right after PPT skills. Consider joining a local Toastmasters group. I’ve been a member for over 10 years.
Business planning skills. You can exercise these skills without an actual business. That is what people in business school do.
Build your LinkedIn presence. I once heard a CEO say he'd never hire a business development person without at least 500+ contacts in LinkedIn. I think quality is more important than quality but in any case you should build your LinkedIn presence. Building a quality LinkedIn presence takes time and it has to be based on real relationships to be of value. You should be doing this all the time.
These are some of of the conventional and unconventional ways I know of. I'm sure there are many more as well.