Business development skills: Definition and examples

Updated 9 August 2023

Business development is focused on obtaining more clients and exploring different ways to work to promote the growth of a company or organisation. By understanding the successes and failures of a particular company, business development professionals can determine areas to improve upon. Improvement may come through generating and keeping good relationships with other companies and partners, or it may involve identifying opportunities for growth elsewhere.

In this article, we discuss what business development professionals do and what skills are required to succeed in this role.

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What is business development?

Business development is the analysis and identification of long-term methods to improve the output of a business by creating good relationships with current and potential customers, clients and markets. The main goal of a business developer is to promote business growth. The strategies to achieve this goal vary depending on the type of business.

Related: How to find the best jobs for you

Business development vs. sales

Whilst these professionals often collaborate on helping an organisation grow, there are many differences between them:


Whilst a sales team works to generate leads and revenue for the company, business developers work with other potential partners and businesses rather than directly selling to customers. Business developers often work closely with sales team members to drive any qualified leads along the appropriate sales funnel and work to ensure a future sale. After the handoff, the sales team members will highlight the benefits of the product, negotiate and ultimately close the deal. A business development team and a sales team need to work well together and pass sales leads on when necessary.


If a company is seeking to expand and grow in other ways, perhaps into other countries or areas of production, business development professionals may be required. A skilled business developer with experience can create and nurture long-term partnerships that lead to additional leads and closed deals. This means that the company can experience growth without the need for a large increase in the sales team.


Business development focuses on the long-term success of a company and finding the best ways to achieve this goal. By identifying and creating business development opportunities, companies can form relationships with partners to help foster growth. For some companies, business development is the means that create long-term value. Sales teams may be more focused on achieving short-term financial growth for the company using long-term leads established during business development initiatives.

Business development terms

When searching for business development opportunities, you may find a few common terms on the listings. Here are two key phrases you'll usually encounter when working with business developers or working towards getting a role in this field:

Sales pipeline

This term refers to potential revenue or income opportunities and where they fall in the process of purchasing from or forming a partnership with a company. The pipeline visually represents the progress of the deals, beginning with prospecting and ending with closing the deal. By adding to the sales pipeline, a business development professional can support the sales team and increase potential sales.

Target audience

This term refers to the ideal customer or partner for the company. Identifying target companies, customers or clients is important to determine if you have a customer base that will be interested in your product or service. This means you can optimally dedicate your time, effort and resources to finding and securing leads that will have the most impact. You can determine your target audience through market research, data analysis and discussions with potential partners.

Business development skills

If you are looking for a career in business development, there are several skills you have to develop. Whilst many business development roles require a degree, experience in sales, marketing or business management can be equally important. If you have in-depth knowledge about a particular company or market, perhaps by gaining more experience, you may be in a good position to suggest business development ideas.

By developing relevant business development skills, you can increase your chances of being successful in this field. Setting personal goals to improve these skills can help you be a more competitive candidate. Here are some of the skills you may highlight on your resume and during business development interviews:

  • Sales

  • Communication

  • Negotiation

  • Marketing

  • Business intelligence

  • Analysing ROI data

  • Project management


Since business development directly impacts the success of a sales team, having basic sales skills can help you succeed in a business development role.

Business development professionals target areas of potential growth and persuade others to follow their lead. They have to follow up on opportunities and sell ideas and strategies rather than specific items. They also need the interpersonal skills to build relationships with potential partners or prospects. To achieve their growth objectives, business development professionals have to be comfortable cold-calling or setting up in-person meetings to discuss potential opportunities and sell the idea of a partnership that benefits all involved parties.

Additional sales skills include:

  • Prospecting

  • Keeping the sales funnel updated

  • Making sure the CRM or customer management platform is up to date

  • Qualifying potential leads

  • Ensuring relationships with clients are warm, respectful and continually nurtured


Strong communication skills mean a more confident and effective business development professional. If you can present your goals and justifications confidently and produce clearly written documents and emails, this will help others to better understand your goals. Similarly, by being able to listen attentively to your clients, colleagues or customers, you will build trust and form a strong working bond.

Some specific communication skills you should develop as a business development professional include:

  • Presentation and pitching skills

  • Active listening

  • Understanding body language

  • Business writing

  • Interpersonal skills, like empathy and respect

  • Visual communication technology skills

Related: 10 best skills to include on a CV


Though a business developer may not finalise any deals, they should be able to negotiate with potential clients and partners to understand if their organisation can get a good deal early on in the vetting process. To succeed in negotiations, you need to think creatively, understand the needs of others and prioritise the goals of the potential contract.


A goal of a business developer is to promote a company and to engage with others who might be interested in partnerships. This means that you should understand the basic principles of marketing and apply them in your business development role.

Some tasks you may have in this role include finding ways to promote the brand, expand the market, acquire new users and generate awareness. Depending on the size of your organisation, you may or may not have the assistance of a full marketing team. Additionally, many business development executives are looking for opportunities to form partnerships, not sell to a direct end customer. Therefore, the ability to promote the brand effectively is crucial.

Some specific marketing skills you should develop include:

  • Email marketing

  • Social media management

  • Writing cold-emails and other outreach correspondence

  • Utilising target audience and consumer personas to effectively identify and communicate with leads

Business intelligence

Business intelligence is all about gaining a thorough understanding of the market your business works in. This can be from gaining professional experience or from collecting and studying data you or another team have gathered.

Some of the most common types of data that benefit a business developer include how large the potential market is and what might affect it. It is important to know the types of marketing campaigns that can produce the desired responses from specific markets. To improve your business intelligence skills, you may start by performing research, collecting data and learning more about target markets.

Some business intelligence skills include:

  • Collecting, organising and reviewing data

  • Making data-driven decisions

  • Using data visualisation

Analysing ROI data

Successful businesses need to measure returns on investments (ROI) and be able to report on successes and areas for improvement when presenting to managers and executives. This means being able to clearly state what you have done, how much it costs in quantities such as time and money and what benefits to the company your actions have had.

The metrics business developers use include revenue generated, the number of deals produced through partnerships and their influence on the sales pipeline. It is important to be able to track company progress and update regularly on any business development plans that you are working towards.

  • Using sales tracking software

  • Making accurate insights based on data

  • Presenting data clearly

Project management

Developing a business is a large and complex project, and you need to be able to manage many aspects to be a successful business developer. You can use many project management skills to effectively handle leads, monitor prospects, time correspondence and set development goals. Common project management skills needed to be a business development professional include:

  • Leadership

  • Team management

  • Strategic thinking

  • Risk management

  • Delegation and resource allocation

  • Time management

Related: What is project cost management and how can you use it?

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