Characteristics I look for in business development people

Mar 11, 2016

Subscribe to The Zweig Letter for free to receive business management advice from industry experts to your inbox every week!

If you’re hiring people without these traits you’re doing a disservice to your firm.

Business development people. In A/E firms, there’s a love/hate relationship with them. Many don’t make it (they have the life expectancy of a tire on Kyle Petty’s car running the Daytona 500 race), and if they do, they demand their pound of flesh. But either way, one thing is for certain – they aren’t going away. Hiring BD people is not easy. Sometimes we pull them from the technical ranks. Sometimes we get them from government or regulatory agencies – or from a client. And other times we hire them away from a competitor’s firm. But no matter where they come from, or what their background is, there are certain qualities I look for:

  • Intelligence. There’s just no substitute for intelligence. Intelligent people are more resourceful. They are easier to get along with. They’re even more emotionally stable. It’s a mandate for success as a business development person.
  • Work ethic. You’ll get a lot more done – build more relationships – find more leads – and sell more if you have a good work ethic. There’s little worse than lazy business development people.
  • Self-discipline. Since we don’t typically have real sales management functions in A/E and environmental consulting firms with managers who ride herd on their sales people, we need business development professionals with a lot of self-discipline who will make the calls they need to make, and do everything else they have to do, without being reminded.
  • Self-confidence. Sales and business development people have to have confidence so they can meet and interact with people who may be older or higher status or more successful than they are themselves. A lack of confidence can be interpreted by a client as a lack of confidence in the firm and its abilities.
  • Excellent verbal and written communication skills. It’s hard to teach these skills to a BD person who doesn’t come into the job with them. You just cannot go around saying things like “we had went to the store” or “me and John had really liked the way you did that” to a client without it reflecting really poorly on the firm.
  • Looks/dress. This is another area that is touchy but has to be addressed. If you don’t know what a decent fitting sport coat looks like or think everyone should be cool with the third eye tattoo on your forehead you may not have the social awareness skills necessary to function in a BD role.
  • We used to have a guy who worked for us who would grab his fork with his entire hand and shovel in whatever he was eating like some kind of animal. It was embarrassing and really held him back from being allowed to interface with clients.
  • Ability to be a bit of a chameleon. I’m talking about being able to see both sides of any issue and being able to adapt to the culture or environment one finds themselves in. This can be a useful skill when working in business development!
  • Not pushing a particular religious or political ideology. The problem is no matter how “right” your position is you could alienate someone you don’t want to alienate.
  • Good listener and observer. If you are going to succeed in BD, you have to be both a good listener and good observer. It’s how you pick up on the signals that allows you to adapt your pitch if needed.
  • Wide ranging general knowledge base. This enables the BD person to talk about anything – staying up on current events and many other areas of interest – so as to facilitate relationship building. Without a relationship you will not make the sale.
  • Business development people need to be likable. If they aren’t, they won’t be considered trustworthy. No trust, no buy.
  • Honest/trustworthy. If you aren’t trustworthy, no client will buy services from you. So this has to be a requirement for all business development people.

I’m sure this list could be longer – but these are “MUST HAVES” in my book for all BD people. Time for me to go sell another job!

MARK ZWEIG is Zweig Group’s founder and CEO. Contact him at

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.