What are the key ingredients to becoming a BD superstar?

Propeller Group’s Director of Growth and Co-Founder of The BD100, Jody Osman, recently chatted to Dean Rowland – Board Director and Head of Growth & Culture at Receptional – about his journey to becoming the BD100 Business Developer of the Year 2023, and what he believes it takes to succeed in the ever-evolving world of business development.

You cited in your celebratory LinkedIn post that your focus on people and culture has been a catalyst for growth. Why is this your mantra?

People are my passion. For some it may be technology, others like sports – but for me, I get the most value interacting and working with different people. I’ve always been involved in building organisational culture, even at an entry level. And although Receptional had a brilliant culture when I joined – there wasn’t much structure.

I took it upon myself to take the lead in guiding the agency’s culture, as well as focussing on growth and marketing. If you have a happy, healthy team – they’re going to be better equipped to support you in delivering growth across the business.

Culture takes a long time to build. It doesn’t happen overnight and it can be quite frustrating – so you have to be patient and bring people on the journey. Make sure you’re listening to them, take their ideas on board – show them they’re influencing the culture you’re creating.

At Receptional, we haven’t just been winning awards for our growth and our campaigns – but also for best employer and for best culture. And I think that’s a pat on the back for everyone across the agency. Culture is shared by everyone – it’s not just one person.

This isn’t the first time you’ve made it onto the BD100. You obviously have the necessary skills – but do you think the requirements of BD have changed over the years?

The core skills have remained the same – bring people on the journey and engage them. But although the archetypal BD used to be considered an extrovert, introverts now have the opportunity to play a core part. It’s important we don’t overlook the understated roles such as those involving database-type skills. That adds a lot of value to what we do.

New BD pitching is a relentless disciple – it’s not always recognised how it should. I think where the industry has evolved is that there are so many more touchpoints to be aware of. And I think that technology is playing a bigger part in our day-to-day lives.

Before we may have used spreadsheets to keep track of targets. Now, it is powerful CRM systems like HubSpot that we rely on – sophisticated networking technology that can help build a marketing and prospecting strategy and deliver insights faster than we previously could.

Let’s take a step backwards – how did you initially get into the world of BD? What drew you towards this type of role?

I think that like most BD people, I fell into this industry. I studied architecture and design at university – and in my final year I interned with a creative PR agency, helping design their pitch decks and proposals.

When I finished university the same agency offered me a summer placement. Initially I was supporting on the creative design side, then when things got busy I ended up writing the pitch decks and proposals – and this opened the door to a business development role. I’ve never looked back since, as I found my knack for it.

I absolutely love BD. I love the energy you can put into it, the relationship-building aspect, how strategic it is. I believe you should be as happy in your work life as you are in your personal life – whilst there’s always going to be an element of stress, being passionate about your role will drive you to invest more focus and time into it. And from my perspective, that’s the culture side of things.

Heading into 2022 your motivation was for Receptional to “become relentless winners across pitches and awards.” How do you balance this desire to win against nurturing an inclusive environment?

We regularly do motivational mapping at Receptional. One of the personas is the ‘star’, which is meant to celebrate success. When I joined the agency there were around 35 people in the team – and I was the only one to rank ‘star’ in their top three. This showed me that nobody felt they had permission to celebrate their success.

Let’s be honest – winning a pitch is a great feeling. ‘Relentless winning’ isn’t just about being a hard-hitting boss that only cares about numbers; it’s about succeeding as a group. And that starts with taking our people on a journey.

New BD can be stressful, difficult and tiresome at times – especially if you’re heavily prospecting. You can be doing everything right and still not getting the results. And that’s why BD should revolve around making your team feel rewarded and recognised, ensuring they can shout-out their own accomplishments.

Do you believe that successful BD traits can be honed outside of the workplace?

Definitely. I think if we go back to that ‘traditional’ BD personal – a lot of it is based on relationship building. Exposing yourself to situations where you can interact with people more often can be a stepping stone to improving.

The one thing I always talk about, and something I added as a BD when I joined Receptional, is curiosity. We can learn and take inspiration from anywhere in the world – not just from the workplace, reading thought leadership pieces or taking part in a new pitch. Going to exhibitions and sampling different cultures empowers us to learn – and that all stems from a curious mindset.

Finally, but what words of wisdom would you have for aspiring BD superstars?

Stick to your passions. If you believe in a certain strategy or way of thinking – don’t be afraid to stand your ground. I was criticised for my attention to detail early in my career. But whilst one director tried to change me, another inspired me to keep going down the same path. And it was this approach – and this passion – that will carry you through.