So, Rosie and I sat down with Nancy and Justine to talk about Business Development (or, ‘BD’) ahead of our interview series with three women working in the BD space. To give you some background, dear reader, we realised late last year that we really hadn’t interviewed anyone in pure business development in our six years of interviewing for Gazella…, and it has always seemed such a fascinating and mysterious part of our industry for me – coming from the delivery side of the industry.
We have a lineup over the next three weeks that includes interviews with Jessica Jones, Mersi Halilovic and Bel Coates. As always, we are here to bring you the stories, the experiences and the journeys of those working in BD in our industry. But in the meantime, here’s the Gazella editor hot-take from Nance and Juz. Enjoy! D x
Justine: I think BD to me is the foundation of any business. A business is only as good as its networks and its clients, particularly in construction. It’s a critical pillar to any organisation. Sometimes people don’t really appreciate it, particularly from a delivery perspective. From a construction point of view, you are building fast, you’re building quality, building amazing, beautiful spaces, but there’s all this planning and front end work that is involved from a BD perspective before contract award and construction actually commences, that a lot of people don’t actually see.
Nancy: Agree, I think it’s a full circle thing. You form relationships with people. You bring in the work. You keep on top of it. Then you’ve got your teams delivering it. It’s critical that you are remaining across it, because you’re the one, (or the front-end team), need to maintain the relationship to ensure that it is a successful job. That’s is an example of how repeat business occurs. I think the main thing with BD is about relationship forming and maintaining. It’s also not a transactional thing. It is a genuine relationship that you establish, build on and work on, in order to provide the business with success.
Further to this, obviously every business has different requirements. I mean, with the interviews we’ve done, we see that there are a lot of ways of doing BD. And it comes in various forms.
It’s not just about the individual doing the BD, it’s connecting the right people. It’s putting the right person with the right person. It’s a marriage. It’s the ultimate right fit. It’s strategically thinking in order to get the best outcome from that individual.
Justine: I also think that anyone in any role, at any stage of your career, can do BD. It doesn’t necessarily have to come from the business development manager. There are also assumptions that it’s very front end and business oriented, but anyone at any level can BD. It’s not just about organisational BD. It can be about your own BD profile.
Nancy: Every meeting you go to – you are representing the company and yourself as well.
Justine: Yes! So if you decide to move, you take your personal brand with you, and your personal relationships, wherever you go. You are not just representing the business.
Nancy: I genuinely enjoy people. I love knowing what their backgrounds/paths have been, what they are working on etc. For me, the ultimate success, or what gives me the ultimate satisfaction is knowing that I have contributed to the business. The way I see BD, it’s success for me too, if I can form genuine relationships. It’s a bonus having a friend and working with them. You know what I mean? We do long hours, so having a friendship or knowing someone a bit better makes that process easier.
Justine: Nancy is naturally great at BD. You’re obviously very good at what you do and that’s very much reflected in how you do business. For me BD was something that was outside of my comfort zone. Coming from a delivery background, I had never experienced it. Someone suggested it to me and it was probably the most overwhelming and daunting thing that I’ve ever completed in a role.
Nancy: So what made you say ‘yes’ then?
Justine: I had the opportunity to be put in the role and I said ‘yes’ to that opportunity because I thought, ‘why not!’ I was thinking of moving away from a site based role and that was essentially the reality of it. There is no textbook way on how to BD and I found I was making it up as I went along and in my own way! Sometimes people might think they are not naturally inclined to BD but everyone has the ability. It’s just about how you chose to BD in your own way to get the result.
Nancy: That’s a good point. It’s not like a traditional role where it has a set job description. It’s quite fluid and everyone has a different approach to it. There is no set way of doing BD. You’re right Juz, people sometimes just naturally fall into it, whereas others know that that’s what they want to do, coming from a sales or marketing background.
Justine: Coming from a delivery perspective, I had to retrain the way my brain thought about how I would deliver on what I was supposed to deliver on. I wasn’t delivering a project with a outcome that was easy for me to see on drawings. It’s taking a step back and thinking, what’s my goal now? What is my intention and how am I going to get there? It’s forming relationships as opposed to having a delivery outcome. There may still be KPIs – I want to win this many jobs – but it’s like you said Nance, it’s the life cycle of the relationship from the beginning of the project to the end, to hopefully the next one, to developing an ongoing relationship.
And that leads into that connection piece. If you create a relationship or a network with someone, this can potentially lead to a relationship that can be lent on personally or professionally. That connection might be relevant to your job right now, or not. This connection may simply be the sounding board for you when you have a problem and need to reach out because they’ve got experience in something you don’t. Or technical expertise in something you don’t. It’s very different from being on site. It’s not always a tangible outcome.
I also had to learn to deal with rejection. That was the other thing that I had no experience in. You put your heart and soul into these tenders, then not even get a seat at a table in a tender interview. What?! Even people rejecting you on cold calls. Reaching out to people on email and phone calls and not getting anything back. It’s a daunting thing if you’re not used to it. But it’s business. It’s not personal. That’s what I had to learn. Some people want to connect, some people don’t and that’s okay.
Nancy: They are not rejecting you, they are just not interested.
Justine: Yes, but that’s learning. I still hate getting rejected now.
Nancy: I get it. Maybe we have to do a psychology piece on getting rejected after this…
The next generation are going to find it hard. Not only do they not want to get on the phone, they are not attending events (I know, I’m speaking in generalisations here). You have to be able to just get out there in BD.In the future perhaps there is going to be a different way of doing BD and maybe it will become more transactional where these things may not be required or as important.
If you look at the generation above us, right…they may have made deals at restaurants and golf courses. We’ve shifted from that as well. There is still that, but it’s less. The industry has shifted in how it does BD. Now people are more into thought leadership pieces and lunch & learns. This next generation they may want to go the gym at night, or do something else, they don’t want to go to events. They want to be at home. We are evolving the way we do BD and I think it will change again.
For me, BD is not me going out, bringing all the work in and trying to convert it as an individual. It’s me, picking the right people. For example, if I know the head of a developer is going to make the decision, I might not be the one approaching him. I might coordinate for our owner or one of our directors to be the one that meets with this person. It’s marrying up the right people. You’re moving people around like a game of chess. So that you get the best outcome for the business. Not me as an individual.
Justine: You’re understanding the environment. You’re painting the picture for the right person to be in with the right person to make the connection.
Justine: Which is so critical.
Nancy: And you do have to understand people for that.