How Is FedBizOpps Useful in Business Development?

Anyone in the know in business development doesn’t get too excited if they happen to see something that looks exactly like what they are trying to bid on when searching FedBizOpps.gov (FBO). The Federal Government is supposed to post all unclassified opportunities over $25,000 on FBO. It is safe to say, however, that FBO is pretty much useless to you for bidding purposes because most of the opportunities that appear there have been discovered already by your competitors.

Your competitors may have been planning for these opportunities for a while, throughout the entire acquisition process from when the opportunity was created to the point of its culmination in a Request for Proposal (RFP) or Quote (RFQ). Rarely do you stand a chance of winning if you pick an opportunity off a website as public and popular as FBO late in the game, once a draft RFP, and especially the final RFP, has been issued. It has probably been “spoken for” or “wired” by some company that has taken its time to prepare.

Why would FBO be useful in business development, then?

It is actually useful for many purposes. Let’s take market research, for example, that every business developer should do periodically to figure out how the market is behaving, and if the company needs to adjust its course. You could use FBO to figure out which agencies buy what you sell. For example, you could search for “marketing communications.” Remember to use quotation marks if you use multiple keywords. See what contracts show up in the results. Make note of the contract titles and numbers that look especially interesting.

You will also see what companies are winning these contracts, and what companies may be issued sole source awards. Make a note of them, because these are your potential competitors or teammates. Look at the details about the contracts’ scope to zoom into the kinds of work you might be interested in bidding on.

FBO is a perfect place to learn about upcoming opportunities for educational and planning purposes and figure out what types of opportunities exist for a company like yours, and what are their key characteristics. You may not be using FBO for something to bid on, but the information on the solicitations is representative of the patterns of your potential customer agencies. You can see who buys what, how they do it, and how much and how frequently they buy.

Of course, you may indeed find some good opportunities in the early stages of procurement that don’t yet require proposals. All is not lost when the government issues a Request for Information, announces “Sources Sought,” or notifies of a “Presolicitation.” You may still have a fair shot at the opportunity if you start preparing right away.

On FBO, you can see what companies are registered to receive notifications about the RFPs and amendments. This will help you with your competitive analysis and teaming strategies. Some contracting officers may even require that your company register on FBO.

You may also use FBO for marketing yourself as an interested vendor to the government and partners.

Another great use of FBO is to find information about vendor outreach events, with its “Search Small Business Events” and “Vendor Collaboration” buttons.

As you can see, FBO has many uses – but all of them should be appropriate to your goals.

Watching a Business Develop Around You Is a Gift

Are you wasting time getting your business off the ground? The time we spending on building a business is never wasted. Entrepreneurs are consistent in their business efforts. So why does it take some of us longer to see the results? Is there something we’ve missed? No, it is not a race, you will see others there before you and that’s okay. Be happy for them, ask them how they did it. They are happy to share and you maybe surprised at what they tell you.

Everyone can start with the same opportunity, the way you approach it is different. Some of us have a wider learn curve then others. Training is your part of the equation. You have to take what you have learned and act on it. Learning is not a waste of time unless, you think it is. If you feel that it is,your letting your emotions over ride your thinking process. You have to stop giving your emotions power over your decisions. If you are having a negative emotional reaction, it is because your not getting what you want without doing the work that it takes to get there. If you are busy worrying about someone else you will never see what you have in front of you.

People that feel like they are wasting their time are busy complaining. They are not doing what they need to do to get the results they want. They are still hoping that someone will come in and do it for them. Building a business is work. When you feel discouraged, you are not feeling the rewards for your efforts. What are you thinking, you can’t complain and have a positive out look at the same time. Whining is a negative act fuel by emotions. If your personal business development is lacking momentum you are the only one who can change it.

Adding a new training task to your list that will benefit you and make it easier. You can start building up your tool box with positive acts. Volunteer or go out and do an act of random kindness if you want to feel good about something. Only you can move forward, I can’t push you or hold your hand to success. You are the secret to the success of your business or your career. Fitting in to the role as a success person developes as you act on the training and the informed decisions you make. Exercising positive thinking because if you are only putting your toe in to test the water, you may never get in. What I learn today I can use to help someone do what I do. It is part of my business model.

Be too busy to dwell on negativity. Everyone is different so their challenges are different, Waiting for your light bulb moment will keep you in limbo. Everyone that sticks to the training long enough is going to see results. When your moment happens you will be ready because you invested on it. People, you have to carry out the training or it will not work. Entrepreneurs do not get paid for time. They get paid for results. Entrepreneurs really are too busy to worry about your negativity, they focus on whats important.

Watching a business develop around you is a gift. You will see it if you stay positive through the experience, you are the secret to your success so don’t give up. When my business changed, it was when I realised that I am the business. I have to take this to the next level and treat this like a business not a hobby. I am responsible for the decision I made. Most entrepreneurs can tell you when things stared turning around for them. Now when an opportunity comes they are ready. The reason they can do this is because they are positive thinkers that are successful because the took advantage of the opportunity in front of them. They look at it with an open mind and then zoom in on the facts taking emotion out of the decision-making.

Training your mind to take action is the way an entrepreneur’s mind works. You can teach your mind to leave emotion out of your decision-making. You start by training it to take action on facts, so it doesn’t react to emotion. You want it, doesn’t mean you need it. Take some time, up to a day if you need it to make decisions. Give your brain time to wrap around it. Listen to your gut as the facts unfold and you will make the right decision. A business mind will zoom in and out putting their focus on what is the best decision for the business and the people the business supports. Leave the emotions at the door and look at all the ways you can make a positive impact versus a negative one. Celebrate small milestones as much as the big ones, because they keep your momentum growing. Be positive take one day at a time and keep the future where you can see it.

How to Take the Pressure Out of Business Development

One of the main reasons why salespeople fail in sales is their lack of attention to business development. Business development is integral to sales success yet many salespeople I have spoken to avoid or put minimal effort into prospecting activities. This in my opinion borders on sales call reluctance.

What is business development?

• Business development is about developing new business with both potential and existing clients
• A sale rarely happens on the first meeting. It requires multiple and varying touch points such as the phone, social media and email over a period of time
• Business development needs to be consistently implemented to maximize new sales opportunities and to create sales growth.

Creating new sales opportunities

The less you know about a potential client the more difficult it is to succeed in getting a meeting. Your targeted clients can be divided into:

• No Information – you know nothing about the organization and have no contacts
• Limited Information – you have some information about the organization but haven’t developed any contacts.

Strategies to connect with potential clients you have never contacted

• Use social media to gain information that you could use
• Phone direct once you have developed your value statement
• Use 6 degrees of separation – who knows who within your circle of influence who knows the potential client?

The ‘cold’ call

The term ‘cold’ has been used in sales for decades and conjures false thoughts and feelings. There is nothing cold about contacting a prospective client for the first time. It’s new but not cold so could I suggest you replace ‘cold’ with ‘new?’ Words impact on how we feel.

Words impact on how we feel

Salespeople often struggle and can become mentally immobilized when calling a potential client because:

• They put too much pressure on themselves to make the appointment
• They become self-centered instead of focusing on the client
• They become fearful of saying the wrong thing
• They have a push instead of a pull mindset
• They start selling when the client isn’t in the process of buying
• They use words and phrases commonly used by most salespeople
• They try to take short cuts.

Salespeople often start by talking about themselves and their company. For example, “The reason for calling is I’d like to set up an appointment to introduce myself and tell you about our new product/service”.

The attention needs to be on what is in it for the potential client. This is done by stating value from their perspective and can be measured. A value statement can be tangible and/or intangible that lets the potential client know what they can expect when using your product/service. Intangible value is not easy to measure, for example lower risk, sense of well-being and trust. Measures can be expressed as a percentage, timeframe, or in financial terms.

Measures can be expressed as a percentage, timeframe, or in financial terms.

For example, “We completed a project recently with a company of your size and reduced their overheads by 20% without losing one employee. Would you be interested in how we did this?”

Words that communicate value are and not limited to:

Improve, increase, reduce, downtime, productivity, operating cost, turnaround, maximize, minimize, downtime, save, eliminate, enhance, cut, gain and profit.

Success in business development requires persistence and consistency using a variety of touch points whilst focusing on stating value from the client’s perspective. This will provide you with the greatest opportunity to secure an initial meaningful conversation and a meeting.

The Taxonomy of Business Development

What is business development? This is a frequently asked question with as many answers as there are people calling themselves business development professionals. What unifies the discipline of business development is not so much the activities that comprise it, as these are immensely diverse ranging across a myriad of subfields. It is rather the goal or the objective: In one way or another, business development is about implementing business growth opportunities.

Business development involves all tasks and processes concerning both the analytical preparation, monitoring and support of growth opportunities. Of course, growth can be achieved in many ways. There are a plethora of activities, conceptualizations, methodologies, tools, frameworks, models, subfields, and buzzwords employed across industries and geographies when implementing growth opportunities for firms. Thus, it is often difficult to make out what is what with respect to business development.

This paper will discuss and distinguish key concepts of contemporary business development for a more comprehensive and translucent picture of this important yet ambiguous field. A particular interest will be taken into how business development activities differ across company sizes and growth stages, from early-stage startups to fully-grown companies, and the various institutions that can support companies on their paths to growth. Lastly, the value of business development services is discussed from the perspective of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs).

1. The people of business development

“I do biz dev”, you hear people say frequently. But yes, business development is indeed something that one can do, and the actors of business development are called Business Developers. Business developers can be internal employees hired to identify and expand a company´s business, and their strength lies in their deep insight into the organization they work for. On the other hand, there are external professional service providers, such as management consultants, who leverage their experience from helping other companies develop, identify, and execute growth opportunities. Whether internal or external, individuals of this professional breed are usually generalists by nature with the skills and know-how to collaborate and integrate knowledge and feedback from a company´s functional units such as sales, marketing, R&D, operations, and finance, and in turn synthetize that information into actionable roadmaps, also called business plans. The business plan can be thought of as a formal statement of a set of organizational goals, including the motivations and criteria for why they are attainable, and a plan for reaching the goals. The tools and methods utilized by business developers are countless, yet the objective remains to answer one fundamental question: “How do we make money?”

While business developers work to address how firms can sell more of their products or services and make more money both today and tomorrow, business development activities are typically skewed towards forthcoming business opportunities and strategy. Many sales representatives claim to be business development professionals, but this does not fully capture what business development is. One of the principal activities a business developer does is identify new opportunities. To do so, the business developer must have insight into a range of business related fields, and have access to key information that can allow new parallels to be drawn. First of all, he/she must hold a fundamental understanding of the company in question, stay abreast of industry trends, and monitor the competition. Secondly, but perhaps more importantly, the business developer must be able to take a holistic perspective, use his/her intuition when analyzing results, and show proof of creativity and ingenuity when synthetizing information in order to conclude which next steps the business should take.

Working in business development is an excellent way to develop skills in strategy, negotiations, and managing partner and client relationships. Moreover, the job of a business developer is highly cross functional, as it requires collaboration with various internal and partner-company teams such as sales, engineering, and marketing to ensure that a deal is consummated. Last but not least, if done well, business development can have an incredible impact on the success of a business.

2. The institutions of business development

A common problem facing many firms, regardless of where they are in the company lifecycle, is that they get stuck in the trenches of daily operations, at the cost of conducting business development activities. When strategy and competitive advantage are no longer on top of the agenda, focus is lost and to the detriment of sustainable growth. The balance between running day-to-day operations and continuously developing the business further to hone the competitive advantage a firm holds is indeed difficult to manage. For that reason, there are a multitude of professional service providers in the field of business development. From the birth of ideas to early startups, to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) who seek second stage growth, and all they way to strategy implementation for corporate giants, many institutions exist to support firms in their business development efforts.

There are both niche specialists targeting specific business needs and generalists taking a 360° view of the firm and its strategy and objectives. They come in the form of governmental institutions providing funding and support to entrepreneurs, and private institutions in the form of business angels and venture capitalists, business incubators and seed accelerators, second stage business accelerators, boutique consultancy firms, and large management consulting houses. One way or another, these institutions interact with companies on their growth journey and provide all kinds of resources to support them, including funding and physical work spaces (offices), professional support, advice and mentoring, tools and frameworks, strategy development and operations efficiency, and access to important networks in the business ecosystem.

In the table below a classification of business development institutions are plotted out, based on the various stages in the company life cycle. While there of course exist much overlap between of these fields, it gives an idea of who, how, when and for whom various actors interact with firms on their path to growth.

Business Incubator

The idea of the business incubator is to provide support for the successful development of companies by means of an array of support resources and services, offering a nurturing environment where entrepreneurs can bring their ideas to life. Incubator services often include one or several of the following:

  • Shared office space
  • Marketing assistance
  • Accounting/financial management
  • Access to bank loans, loan funds and guarantee programs
  • Help with presentation skills
  • Business networks and links to strategic partners
  • Access to angel investors, venture capital and debt financing
  • Comprehensive business training programs
  • Advisory boards and mentors
  • Management team identification
  • Technology commercialization assistance
  • Help with regulatory compliance
  • Intellectual property management

The idea is to allow entrepreneurs and start-up teams to focus on their core value proposition and leverage key resources that a growing start-up needs. Incubators often employ a selective screening process assessing the feasibility and workability of the business plan of incubatee prospects before letting hem join the program. While many incubator programs are industry agnostic, 39% of incubators in the United States work only with the high-tech sector. A company spends varying amounts of time in an incubation program depending the type of business and the entrepreneur’s level of business expertise. For example, life science and other firms with R&D cycles require more time in an incubation program service companies. On average, incubator clients spend 33 months in a program.1 Oftentimes, graduation requirements are set by development benchmarks rather than time, such as revenues or number of employees. The successful graduation from a business incubation program typically increases the likelihood that a startup company will stay in business for the long term.

Seed Accelerators / Startup Accelerator Programs

The Seed Accelerator derives much of its characteristics from the business incubator; their services often include pre-seed investments (usually in exchange for equity) and the focus is on business model innovation. In contrast to an incubator, the seed accelerator views the startup period as short, and startups are often supported in cohort batches or ‘classes’ during a seed acceleration program. But accelerators are not considered “protected” nurturing environments, like the business incubator. They bring together entrepreneurs, mentors, and advisors and leave it to the entrepreneurs to figure out how to best take advantage of the opportunity that emerges. Being selected by a seed accelerator often brings notoriety to a firm, and it is a way to quickly create momentum in a startup, as long as the participants have the experience and drive necessary. Often, participants in seed accelerator programs are experienced startup professionals who are accustomed to the process.The assets provided by the seed accelerator come in the form of mentoring, funding and a strong network effect, but there are few or no internal resources, such as back office support functions, internal marketing or legal advisory experts or legal. It is a sink or swim environment.

Second Stage Business Accelerator

Second stage business accelerator services are very different from those of both incubators and seed accelerators. A second stage business accelerator can be thought of a management consulting firm targeting established SMEs looking to boost performance and ensure a continuous and sustainable growth path. Whether young or old, many companies sooner or later plateau in terms of revenue, and the growth bottlenecks vary greatly between organizations. One classic hold-up is the entrepreneur / founder who insists on having a finger in the pie across all decision and actions taken by the company – a sign that the company since long has outgrown the governance structure still in place.

A second stage business acceleration program typically lasts between 3-6 months and it is aimed to assess and improve the entire “business machinery” that a growing organization needs to have in place to succeed. Strategic focus, institutional strengthening, human resource training and financial strategy, are some of the dimensions that a second stage business accelerator may offer. The business accelerator’s emphasis is on accelerated and sustainable growth, and to eliminate organizational, operational, and strategic bottlenecks that prevent the client firm from growing. In essence, a second stage accelerator bears a strong resemblance to traditional management consulting firms, but adjusted to fulfill the needs of SME’s.

Boutique Consulting Firms

Boutique consulting firms offer organizations highly specialized advice that addresses specific problems or aspects of a business. The overall objective is to improve efficiency and increase profits, and the term “boutique” has more to do with the firm’s focus than with its actual size. One firm may consist of a single advisor, while another may have 200+ consultants employed. More specifically, “boutique” most often refers to the niches in which it offers its services. Examples of niches in which boutique consulting firms operate include human resources and staffing, IT, healthcare, business process outsourcing, and accounting. These firms tend to work with private sector companies but also with governmental institutions and nonprofits.

Overall, boutique consulting firms focus on a limited scope of industries, and resolve business issues quicker than large management consulting firms that require more time for a specific project. The solutions that boutique consultants offer also have more immediate impact.

Large Management Consulting Firms

Large management consulting firms offer a more diverse set of services compared to boutique consulting firms and are often international in scope. They target publicly held or large private companies, international conglomerates, international nonprofits, and governmental bodies. Large management consulting firms are able to draw from massive reservoirs of overlapping knowledge and expertise in contrast to the more narrowly focused boutique consulting firms, and can offer a single client support on IT, strategy, operational, human capital, and financial issues. Moreover, they create industry “best practices” by working across a wide range of industries and firms (though it is debatable to what extent such practices are transferable from one organization to another). Yet, management consulting has long been a booming market with numerous players, both large and small, offering their advice to firms.

3. The value of business development services for SMEs

It might be hard to decide if and when to use various business development services. What is the actual value that these services provide? Is it worth the investment in time and money? Given the growth stage in which your company finds itself it can indeed be worthwhile considering employing business development services in one way or another.

Early Stage

If your company is an early startup, the decision for joining an incubator or seed accelerator comes down to your personal confidence in your business model, the strength of your team, your capacity to execute, and not the least your fundraising skills. If you have a credible story, a business that is nicely progressing on its own and access to both finance and the right talent, you are probably just as well off on your own. In fact, entering any of these programs might just become a distraction. These environments can act to divert your attention by lots of related meetings and events with mentors and investors, getting in the way of focusing on your projects. Moreover they can be confusing, having ten mentors provide their own piece of advice; filtering advice can be a daunting task. But if you need help refining your business model or if you are a first-time CEO seeking guidance from proven peers and entrepreneurs, these types of services can be perfect. The likelihood of raising capital is vastly improved through the tight screening process many of these programs employ and the access to a strong investor network that these programs provide access to.

Second Stage

Similarly, if you run a small or medium sized company the determining factor for seeking external help lies more in the assessment of particular needs and issues facing the business and the overall growth ambition of decision makers / the owner. As is often the case, companies reach a certain size and then plateau for months or years, not sure how boost growth and reach the next level. Other companies achieve growth, but then face challenges to manage it as they run into the hurdles of balancing daily operations with business development. Be it a young company recently graduated from an incubator, or an established firm who seek to renew itself, the transformation of an organization into a solid business organization that can make way for sustained growth, involves many challenges:

1. Ensure relevance in the market place

2. Implement a sound governance structure

3. Identify, operate and deliver according to a core competitive advantage,

4. Build the right institutional capabilities and business processes

5. Continuous innovation

These are some of the most common challenges facing small and medium sized companies who seek to the reach to the next level. At this stage in the company life cycle business risk is beginning to decrease and the opportunity for true value creation presents its self, yet the path to that second level can be a long and tricky walk. Using the help from a second stage business accelerator can be one way to overcome these challenges; to (re)establish the entire “business machinery” required to allow growth to take place.

Later Stage

Firms of all sizes will sometimes find that they lack a particular skill or area of expertise, and seek the advice of a specialist. In such instances boutique consultancy firms come in handy to for example support a particular project or give advice on matters related to a specific topic such as law, finance or HR. Larger corporations often make use of larger management consultancy firms to identify existing organizational problems and development of plans for improvement. Management consultants often bring proprietary methodologies or frameworks to guide the identification of problems, and to serve as the basis for recommendations for more effective or efficient ways of performing work tasks. While most large organizations have their own business development staff in-house, external advice is thought to bring a more objective perspective to the table. Moreover, no company can house all expertise internally, thus the advice from external business professionals may at times come in handy.

Concluding Remarks

Just as when buying any service, when contracting for professional business development services it is important to have clear deliverables. A common mistake made by many business developers is to guarantee X% increase in sales or revenue. But we all know that growing a business involves a lot of risk, for which one cannot control. The deliverables should instead be based on activity: actions, engagement, meetings, introductions, opportunities, networks, events etc. Make sure to always discuss details of the engagement process and the scope of the services to be delivered. It is equally important that the paying party commits to the engagement and set out deliverables it needs to comply with. One should bear in mind that outsourced business developers put their relationships on the line to help grow your business and their future is dependent on the success of every client interaction. For that reason it is important for you as a contractor to do your part: come prepared, deliver on your end and be service-minded towards any business developer. Moreover, make sure to match your expectations with the price you pay. If not, the results of the service you are buying will most likely be disappointing.

As we can see, business development comes in many forms and is practiced by a broad set of actors. From the birth of firms through incubators and seed accelerators, to boosting growth for small and medium firms by means of second stage business accelerators, to advising corporate giants through management consulting firms, business development constitute an important element any phase of the company life cycle. Undeniably, business development is a crucial component of a firm’s success – the opportunities forged today will define what the company is doing on tomorrow.

[1, 2] 2006 State of the Business Incubation Industry – National Business Incubation Association (NBIA)