How Business Development Enriches IT Delivery
If IT professionals are a restaurant's chefs, then business development professionals are the rest of the staff -- those attracting guests, designing the menus, and managing the profits.
By Dr. Donn DiNunno
Project management (PM) has been the focus for successful IT delivery for as long as data has been automated and processed into information. There is another development area that has been responsible for researching the opportunities, for identifying and shaping customer demand, and for evolving the IT organization into the value-generating engine that continues to change the way we work, play, and build relationships.
That other critical process area is called business development (BD). It is BD that manages the broader context of IT projects positioned into a business processing cycle that enables the company to grow and evolve. If IT professionals are the "chefs" in the kitchen, then BD professionals are the rest of the restaurant staff who bring in the guests, design the menus, advertise the bargains, serve and satisfy customers, manage the profits, and turn leftovers into tomorrow's featured specials.
Business developers are much more than a part-time team of proposal writers who beat the bushes for prospects and brag about the company to as many people as possible in hopes of hooking onto someone in need. The BD process -- from research and innovation through product marketing and operations to post-sales management -- is the mechanism that enriches the IT delivery process. BD manages customer expectations, monitors the product delivery, and evaluates product and service effectiveness.
Increasing the cohesiveness between the BD and IT PM process is a best practice enabling effective delivery of IT products and services. In fact, without a balance between these two development processes, IT product creation and delivery would likely be based on fads or disruptive technology insertions that fail to return business value or even a short-term competitive advantage. It is the BD process that provides the context for an effective IT insertion. To understand how to make this balance happen let's examine the steps of the BD process cycle.
From Innovations to Operations
Where would the company innovation process be if not for business developers who research the market forces, directions, and opportunities as well as gather competitive intelligence? Hunting and gathering are more of a sustainment necessity than purchasing supplies in an information economy. Business developers identify new markets, find ways to expand existing markets, assess the risks and rewards of business scenarios, update goals and strategies based on the findings, and lay out a business-case justification from the available business intelligence.
This research plants the seeds for innovation, but it also enables decision-makers to identify the products and services that may soon be in demand. Business developers work with management to develop the responses to proposals that fit into the company's strategic plans and resource capabilities. Also, business developers support product and services definition and ensure that tactical IT plans align with business needs. Preparing and negotiating proposals is how business developers turn customer demands into delivery plans for IT project managers.
Lessons in Business Development Planning
1. Without risk there's little gain, but that doesn't mean taking the most risk is the most profitable approach. Knowing your company's risk tolerance is important when considering new ventures.
2. A well-defined IT architecture is an effective basis for aligning business development efforts.
3. Some proposals read like the sellers think that the best way to impress the purchaser is to talk about themselves. A good proposal discusses what the purchaser needs and how the seller can deliver the right products and services. That's an entirely different approach than trying to impress them.
BD operations (e.g., marketing, bidding, sales) and IT PM activities (e.g., build, test, implement) work best in parallel. While the IT organization manages IT product and services creation and delivery, the BD organization leverages existing artifacts in marketing and sales, and shapes new capabilities by repackaging capabilities. Both development teams simultaneously work on managing relationships of various stakeholders (e.g., prospects, clients, customers, suppliers, employees, and subcontractors).
As new products and services are developed, the BD team cultivates the IT developers to capture and present new capabilities with the combined credibility of both development teams' subject-matter experts. IT teams review the product, and BD teams review how customers react to the new deliveries. The lessons learned provide valuable insight for product correction and improvement, and for better customer relationship management.
Lessons in Operations
1. Meet prospects using team members from both IT and BD. This enables both teams to reinforce your company's capabilities while providing two sets of perspectives when analyzing the prospect's needs.
2. Bring business developers in at the testing phase (if not earlier) during IT development projects. This provides them with valuable up-front insight and utilizes their fresh perspective on product features.
3. If you accept the rule that you can't be better, faster, and cheaper simultaneously, then you must focus on one or two of these priorities within your own limits, but that limitation doesn't hold when comparing yourself to competitors. You can be better, faster, and cheaper than your competitors.
From Operations to Post-delivery Services
After the sale, both BD and IT teams consider what worked well (or not) in their processes and look for best practices to adapt and adopt in their operating procedures. However, when IT organizations transition from development to maintenance, the responsibility for the products and/or services usually changes hands to a maintenance team. Meanwhile, the business developers' responsibilities continue. Business developers continue to monitor customer satisfaction and any changes to customer needs. Business teams reposition capabilities and artifacts into the IT portfolio and re-examine the scenarios, strategies, tactics, and performance metrics to begin the process cycle again.
All of the customer-facing processes (contract management, customer service centers, customer surveys, and customer cross-selling) that IT teams may or may not be comfortable or capable of managing are performed by business developers.
Lessons in Post-Sales
1. Don't overburden all customers with detailed satisfaction surveys. A high-level and informal survey is better (even better is a face-to-face luncheon). Save the detailed investigation and analysis for the few targeted customers who need the closer scrutiny.
2. For each encounter (e.g., satisfaction survey, delivery, prospect meeting, conference, bid negotiation, product review, etc.) be sure to provide a follow-up response to reinforce the trust and express your appreciation for the input others provided. This appreciation separates the leading competitors from the average service providers.
3. Remember that trust once lost is difficult to regain, and it's almost always more expensive to find a new customer than it is to go that extra mile to keep an existing one.
Food for Thought
IT teams may look at BD teams as "all sizzle and no steak," but the next time you go to congratulate the cooks who just created a new recipe and finally took a dish out of the oven, also give some consideration to those who researched the demand, found the venture capital, rolled out the targeted announcements, whipped up the appetites, served the meal in elegant courses, collected the revenue, analyzed the receipts, interviewed the food critics, advertised the ongoing performance, and can now tell you how much to charge and how best to sell the new products and services to other customers. Without the sizzle, few customers would know about or desire to taste the steak.
It is your business developers who should manage the IT portfolio of company assets not the IT department. The BD teams have the insight, the context and the incentive to leverage the value of IT.
Bottom Line: Business development doesn't create the IT product or service, but a cohesive collaboration among BD and IT PM teams is essential to effectively and convincingly deliver IT value to customers and sustain a level of company growth from that value delivery.
Dr. Donn DiNunno is quality director at EM&I, whose consultants specialize in the areas of strategy, governance, and engineering. You can contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.