Many commercial real estate firms are changing the way they do business, as the last five years have forced them to examine how they attract and retain clients. One of the greatest take-aways of the Great Recession is business development—the approach commercial real estate-related firms are taking to expand their client base and engage their staff as a whole to bring in work and attract more customers to fill the pipeline.

The difficult aspect to the “everyone does business development” mentality is that most employees really do not know what that means, what’s required and what success looks like when trying to participate.

As I reflected on this, it came to me that there is no degree you can get in Business Development and, actually, few courses you can take to formally learn this career. This leaves people with no choice but to “just get the hang of it” or recognize that they do or do not have “a knack for it.” Business development is not a particularly complicated process but it does require some essential qualities to succeed. Let’s review a few of the most critical:

  • Knowing What Differentiates Your Firm—When staff members are asked to participate in “selling” and they are not normally in the front line of this process, it can be a quite intimidating and frustrating request. A good place to start is agreeing on what makes your firm unique. Why are clients loyal to you? What does your firm do best? Why are you different from the rest? Once this is clear, make sure everyone who is charged with business development understands the message and how to deliver it.
  • Clarity—What do you mean when you ask a team member to participate in bringing in work? Are they only required to engage in acquiring repeat work with an existing client or are they charged with finding new client prospects? Also, should they represent the firm by attending associations and networking events in the evening, or are they focused on one-on-one activities? These are the details that hang up technical and non-business development staff and limit their success. Develop a specific plan for the team members and give them some measurable goals to achieve and then meet with them monthly to assist them in measuring their success.
  • Listening—What separates an ineffective business developer from an excellent one? Listening. Active listening means you are taking the time to get to know the client or prospect, applying that information to better understand them and how to meet their needs. It means establishing trust and a building a rapport. What are a few things that go a long way to prove this? Remember names of new prospects and master the art of conversation. Most people I speak with who are hesitant about their role in business development are unsure of what to talk about, so take them with you to model some tips you might take for granted when it comes to conversing with a stranger.
  • Timing—Successful business development is 40 percent strategy and 60 percent timing and persistence. You need to be targeted with whom to meet and establish opportunities with, but your list can be perfect and yet be unsuccessful if your timing is not right. Maintain a list of notes from every interaction and follow up appropriately. If they do not call you back, that does not mean the deal is dead; it most likely means they are busy. Conversely, you do not want them to regret meeting you because you are contacting them far too much. There is a pace to every deal and it is beneficial to get a feel for that quickly to succeed.
  • Documenting—All leads/deals should go through an opportunity filter on your firm’s end and likely require several steps to close the deal. If you are managing business development in an organized fashion as a firm, you have a formal Client Relationship Management (CRM) system and every individual responsible for business development is using it. They are tracking opportunities, connecting the dots of other companies who are influencing the deal and tracking personal information and preferences of their contacts.
  • Be Personal—People do business with people they like—it’s simple. They need to know more then that your firm is capable. They need to trust you, value your input and enjoy the process of doing business with you and your firm. Take the time to really get to know them on a personal level and as well as their buying preferences and management style.
  • Follow Up—So as you follow all of the advice above, you are establishing connections, documenting your meetings and gaining valuable information about the prospects and opportunities. Every contact and meeting needs to have a follow up item. It is the business development professional’s responsibility to create a reason for follow up and to understand the business well enough to know the natural timing of follow ups. As an example, if someone tells you that the project is starting the re-zoning process, you would not call them back at the end of the week to see if that is complete, it’s a process and you want to set your follow ups appropriately. But what can you be doing in the meantime to stay in front of them? Constantly think of the next step to follow up.

Business development can be the most rewarding part of your position, even if you are not a trained professional. As professionals grow in their firm and their career, business development is a natural progression of requirements and following these simple steps can assist you in succeeding and actually enjoying the process.


If you have any questions about this article or any of the topics Danielle has covered in previous articles, contact her at