How to Organize a Business Development Team

Jan 05, 2023

How should you organize a business development team (BDT)? It begins with understanding the team’s purpose, then choosing the right structure and roles. When organized well, a BDT can greatly enhance its organization’s success.

First, let’s discuss exactly what a business development team does. Then, we’ll examine how to set up a productive and effective BDT.

Business Development Definition & Purpose

Let’s explore the purpose and key functions of the business development team.

Function of the BDT

A business development team seeks to identify and pursue new opportunities for the company. As a branch of the marketing function, this team focuses on ways to expand the business. 

Key Activities of a Business Development Team

What does this team do on a daily basis? Here are some typical activities:

  • Creating a pipeline of leads for the sales staff to work with.
  • Looking at new market opportunities (e.g., expanding into a new product area or geographic location).
  • Considering new strategic initiatives.
  • Determining ways to increase brand awareness.
  • Exploring ideas for strategic partnerships.
  • Researching and creating customer personas.
  • Identifying ways to bring in higher profits from business activities.
  • Discussing these opportunities with departmental and company leadership.

These activities include cost assessments and analysis of the various challenges and risks involved in potential opportunities. BDT staff will also consider what moves their competitors are making in the marketplace, conducting thorough research to share with business leaders.

As you can see, activities go beyond lead generation to encompass a broad spectrum of possibilities.

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Types of Business Development Team Structures

How to organize a business development team? You have multiple options to choose from, depending on organizational size, culture, and preferences. Let’s examine common business development team structures.

Individual vs. Team Model

The business development department structure can focus on one primary innovator. This exceptionally talented individual, often called a “rainmaker,” has an extensive track record of success in securing leads, closing deals, or bringing ideas to fruition. Other team members focus on completing the necessary tasks to support the rainmaker’s plans. 

However, if the rainmaker leaves the organization, the business could be left floundering. And in less hierarchical cultures, other employees may feel resentful of the rainmaker’s status.

A business development team structure can also include multiple strategic roles, as we’ll discuss in a moment. Together, these strategists discuss and agree upon plans rather than taking direction from one person. Today, organizations are increasingly adopting this team-based approach.

Centralized vs. Decentralized Teams

In a centralized team, all members work under one leader as a cohesive organizational unit, as Andreas Kohne writes in Business Development. 

Meanwhile, in a decentralized BDT, members from across different teams work together on business development activities. Team members could even rotate in and out, bringing fresh perspectives, expertise, and cross-selling opportunities.

Further, teams could have a designated leader called a business development manager or director. Or, they could report to a leader of the broader marketing and sales department.

Commission-Based or Non-Commission-Based

In some cases, BDT staff earn a commission based on their success. This can incentivize creative thinking through shorter-term rewards. In other cases, they earn a flat salary. 

Again, consider your scale and how quickly you expect to grow when designing your business development organizational structure.

Critical Business Development Team Roles

These positions in the business development hierarchy play a crucial role in team success.

A business development manager will have a strong background in marketing, sales, and business development. Strong analytical, strategic thinking, and communication skills are required. 

Teams can include additional roles such as these:

  • Market researcher: Conducts industry research to better understand the target audience, trends, and risks.
  • Digital strategist: Uses digital media to increase brand awareness and advance campaigns.
  • Data analyst: Collects and interprets large volumes of data to help the team explore strategic alternatives.
  • Closer: Finalizes terms of a deal, handling final negotiations with a client or strategic partner.

Ultimately, the business owner and CEO sit at the top of the business development hierarchy. They’ll often discuss major decisions with the team before initiatives move forward.

Common Issues with Building Business Development Teams

Next, let’s explore common challenges of establishing a BDT and how to overcome them. Many organizations experience challenges related to funding when setting up a BDT. 

Lack of Upfront Funds

Small organizations may not have the means to hire BDP staff upfront. Here are three possible ways of handling that dilemma:

Appointing a “scout”
In a smaller organization, one individual might act as “scout” by watching for new market opportunities. This nascent form of a BDT can scale with your organization. 

Finding a strategic partner

Alternatively, an organization can quickly secure a robust business development team with the right strategic partnership. For example, an experienced investment partner will typically have business development experts at the ready.

Rotating team members

This option, mentioned above, can help reduce the cost of creating a BDT. Team members could serve on an as-needed basis or for a set time period. 

Acquiring Talent

Hiring the right staff can require a lot of research and patience—and settling for less can hold your organization back from meeting its goals. If lack of talent has been a roadblock, you might consider hiring a consultant or working with an investment partner who provides these human resources.

Choosing Between Internal and External Talent

Hiring outside staff for strategic roles can feel demoralizing to current employees and lead to dysfunctional turnover. Consider whether existing staff could qualify for such roles with some training. If not, appoint them to junior-level roles on the team where possible, so they can learn and grow alongside a capable BDT manager.

The Future of Business Development

What does the future of business development hold? 

According to the 2020 Future of Jobs Survey by the World Economic Forum, “business development professional” is the sixth-most in-demand career. We can expect to see more organizations hiring staff devoted to this function.

Further, business development teams will continue to leverage predictive analytics, and other data analysis tools, over the coming years. Their role will involve less data processing and more strategic thinking, as a result. Naturally, reaching leads on social platforms will also keep growing in importance.
Keeping these points in mind will help you stay relevant and successful over the long-term.

Now that you understand how to organize a business development team, you’re equipped to start designing a successful one. Over time, your BDT can continue to evolve as your organization grows and achieves its business goals.

  1. About the Author:

  2. About the Author:

    As Principal with Valesco, Patrick Floeck’s primary responsibilities include business development strategy and investment origination. Patrick received his Master of Business Administration from the Southern Methodist University Cox School of Business, with a concentration in Finance.

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