What makes a great Business Development Director? What takes up their day to day? What keeps them going and what makes them want to throw in the towel? If you’re thinking of making a big hire, then this interview will give you an insight into what you should be looking for.

After having this chat, the Business Development Director and her agency asked to be anonymous. Yep, she’s too excellent and the poaching offers would come thick and fast if her name was published.

Accept & Proceed

The Future Factory: I’d love to get an understanding of what the day to day of your role includes.

Anon: In theory, my job is focused on building the agency brand. Through marketing initiatives and also through converting new business. But in terms of day to day I wear many, many hats. I can be a counsellor, a strategist, a creative, a coordinator and a doer. But I guess for me, that’s one of the reasons why I really do relish and enjoy the job.


How many people are in the team here?

About 85 in London


And what’s the structure of your team?

So essentially it’s all me and then I draw on expertise around the business.

I have an Executive Assistant who is my absolute rock. She supports some of the other directors and helps me with marketing and new business too. I would actually never go to another agency without having another person like her. There is so much work to tear through in a day that unless you’ve got somebody underneath to quickly make sure that stuff gets done, it just doesn’t work. I’ve tried to do it before and you just end up being a pro administrator because you can never get to the stuff where you actually add value.


How often when you look back over a year, have you not implemented all of your marketing plan? Do you struggle to actually get it all off the ground?

The truth is I write the plan and then I would say that 80% of that gets delivered, but to get that 80% delivered there is blood, sweat and tears.


That’s pretty good going. What’s your advice for ring fencing the time?

Luckily I work with people who absolutely see the benefit of marketing, and really do prioritise it.

That said, everyone has got their own personal agenda to get through so you have to make it clear right from the get go what can flex and what can’t. I think if you are able to create an environment where you’re all respectful of each other and everyone understands the priorities, it works. You have to build good relationships!

Tenacity does come into it because you have to be the person that makes sure things go back in the diary, because if you don’t, they will absolutely just slide.


Is there anything you do to get the team understanding the value of marketing for the agency?

One of the most important things I think is getting everyone on the boat. And that only comes through not keeping your plan on a server that doesn’t ever see the light of day. I make sure that it lives and breathes in the agency and that everyone knows it. Whether that’s top line or the granular detail, everyone is aware of what we’re shooting for.

You’ve got to find that time to explain and share what your strategies and tactics are with the whole team. When you’re looking at the priorities of what you’ve got to get through each day, you’ve got to make sure that you also prioritise those comms because it reaps benefits.

Also ensuring that it’s a two-way thing. That people feel that they can say, “I saw this” or “what about that”. That they know they can come and help shape parts of the plan. I think that is really important.


In your opinion what are the skills and attributes needed to be a great business development director?

You’ve got to be commercially savvy. There’s no point just being a people person. You’ve got to absolutely have an eye on the end game – what is going to shift the dial financially.

The other thing that I really do feel you need in this role is a high level of curiosity. You’ve got to be interested in people. You’ve got to be interested in brands. You’ve got to be interested in your industry. You’ve got to be interested in culture. If you haven’t got that, you’re just a project manager and not adding much value.


On the commercial point, what do you do if you’d get three quarters through the year and you can see you’re not going to hit your target?

Well, I would never get to three quarters of the way through the year for a start! Do not sleepwalk through your plan! Know when to escalate. Don’t go down a rabbit hole hoping there’s going to be a magic solution. If you anticipate that there is going to be a problem, for example if you see that organic growth is dropping off or a market has dried up because of Brexit or whatever, you’ve got to be responsive and you’ve got to be on the front foot.


So when is the role most challenging for you? When does it work well? When less so?

It works best when there is alignment. When everyone is clear on what the client wants, on what the brief is asking us to do, on the deadlines. That is happy days.

My science is that the pitch team who are going to actually do the presentation need to get together five times. They have to get together to get that alignment piece. And if I’m in that meeting, that’s when I can pick up on when there isn’t alignment and nobody else wants to call it out. You’ve got to be the person who goes, “hang on a minute” and address it.

Something else you cannot underestimate, no matter how good you are at your job, if you don’t have these two things, it’s miserable. The first is supportive colleagues. The second is an agency leader that believes in what you’re doing and is on your side and will have your back when you need it. That is gold dust.

I think it could be a lonely abrasive role unless you’ve got those two things.


Are you able to identify what has been the agency’s most successful route to attracting and winning new clients?

I’ve got a couple of points on this.

1 – There is never a situation when you’ve only got one shot to fire. It is literally about getting the ammunition to make the sparks. And that means doing lots and lots of smaller things that create the bigger picture. That’s absolutely what I believe. Sometimes agencies don’t want to hear that. They want to buy a solution. They want to know what is that magic thing and then I will invest in it. It doesn’t work like that. There’s no point just spending all your money on one big sponsorship and thinking you can put your feet up for the rest of the year. I wish it was that easy! The route to success is keeping on keeping on. Consistency.

2 – Win the pitch before the pitch. That should be your number one rule!


How?! Are you happy to share any tips?

Well it’s absolutely stuff that any agency worth their salt will be doing anyway, but it’s just about the rigor of making sure it happens.

It’s about finding the time to have the client call, have the face to face time. It’s moving yourself beyond a piece of paper brief and trying to influence before the pitch.

I’ve heard this a million times, but it’s still true – people buy people. So you need to make sure you are building the right team. There are many factors you have to build in, including how busy people are, when they’re on holiday etc. But the most important one is working back from what type of person you think the client is looking for, and you only know that by asking them.

If they want people that have got the best media contacts in the industry, then you know you need three really shit hot sector vertical trade media experts who can then basically shine in that pitch and show all of their knowledge. The client might literally not care about that. They might need a shoulder to shoulder person they can ring on Friday at 5pm and go, right, we’ve got a drama and I need support.

Being a business development director is being that one person who is able to cut through everyone’s own agenda and go, right, okay, I know you’ve got capacity and time and interest, but actually we need this person. Those are tricky conversations.


What advice would you give to someone who was interested in becoming a business development director?

It goes back to just immersing yourself in the industry. I want to know that I’m adding value and if I don’t really understand the market I’m in and what we’re selling, it’s really, really hard to advise or consult.

I feel like if I went into a different type of agency, I wouldn’t know the market, I wouldn’t be able to go “well I think actually we should be splitting that brief up into two because of xyz”. Whereas, because I’ve client handled and I’ve worked client side in PR, I know what clients are looking for.

If you know your industry, you can do that. And so I think be curious, read all the trade press, see what other brands are doing. What’s happening in manufacturing. What’s going on with the superpowers.


Do you keep an eye on your competitors?

Always. Yeah. It’s a super competitive environment but I’m a big supporter of my industry. If other agencies are doing well, then we’re all doing well, because it’s our own fight within the whole marketing mix isn’t it? We’ve got to fight the corner for earned media.

I think there’s room enough for everyone and if they’ve done a cracking piece of work, absolutely hats off to them. I’m as admiring of their work as the work that we do here.


Do you have tools in place to track your pipeline?

Yes, but I think for me, less is more.

A lot of mine goes on my gut and on my instinct, but of course like any role I have to report upwards. I make sure I know what my conversions are, where my source of leads are. To use a cliché, you’ve got to fish where the fish are. If you know that 45% of your leads come from ex-colleagues because they’ve really enjoyed their time here, then let’s do some marketing around people who’ve left the agency, or if you know it’s through your website, then spend more time updating your website.


Your role is incredibly broad, and potentially very stressful!

I don’t find it stressful, but you’ve got to have a lot of energy for it.

If you asked me what’s the most stressful thing, it isn’t people crying in the toilets when a pitch is happening. It’s not having a pipeline. And so I absolutely see outbound marketing as instrumental in ensuring that the pipeline stays full.


What advice would you give to another agency looking to invest in outbound lead generation?

Some agencies are very knee jerk about it. “We’ve had a couple of client losses. We need to do marketing. We need to go on a new business drive.” But we’re in a long, long game here. Briefs for a couple of hundred grand, don’t just fall out of a couple of coffees in Coal Drops Yard.

I feel agency leaders should be honest with themselves. What are they trying to achieve? Do they really want to grow? Do they want to break into new sectors? If they do, have they got the people who can do that work?

I think really being honest with yourself about what you’ve got to sell against the absolute top end competition is the first thing.

Quite often there is a desire to go on a new business drive that doesn’t really translate because you’ve got to want to do those meetings. You got to want to go for those coffees. Have those lunches. And sometimes that’s actually not what someone wants to do. Sometimes agency leaders just send people off to make it happen but actually there wasn’t any real focus and that’s when it doesn’t deliver ROI.


Tell me about the agency’s approach to organic growth.

It’s all about those small human interactions. You don’t have to chuck a load of cash going to Sexy Fish once a month. You can literally go and have a coffee or fit into their schedule. We have clients work here in our office. We make sure that we recognise all their important milestones. Our team go and work in their offices regularly.

It’s about a client feeling valued. It’s introducing our digital guy who has just done a really interesting piece of work and letting them know he can talk them through it.

You’ve got to remember that clients want to learn and need to look good internally as well. So if we can do 20 minutes talking about how we did this thing for another client, that they can then share internally, then that in itself is a tick. If they then want to buy that offer, that’s a double tick, but it doesn’t have to be a sales opportunity. It can be a knowledge sharing opportunity as well.

As an agency, make sure that you’re adding value outside of the program you’re delivering.


And finally, what’s been your biggest learning over the last three to five years in this role?

I believe differentiation is not about the words on your website or the words in your creds. I now firmly believe that, having spent 20 years crafting semiotics and nuance, that differentiation only comes through two things: The people and the quality of your work.

And that is it.

I think 10 years ago, I was still thinking, we can find a space, we can carve our own little niche that’s what we really stand for. And that’s why we’re different and that’s why you should buy us. But it isn’t really about that. It’s about the people you hire, the talent you have and then as a result of that, the great work that you do for clients.


Thank you for all of the advice and invaluable tips! For all those agency owners who are thinking of hiring someone into this role or someone newly in this role and trying to find their feet, that’s amazing guidance.