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While some firms use the term "business development" strictly to refer to sales or to high-revenue sales, the field is generally considered to be a combination of sales, marketing and strategy. To gain business development experience, therefore, you will want to gain experience in each of these areas and learn how to combine them effectively. You can probably accomplish this most effectively through a combination of education and real-world experience, but remember that you might be able to acquire experience in a variety of non-traditional ways as well.
Education and training programs show future employers that you have been exposed to a range of business concepts and functions. They can also provide valuable business development experience. Work-study programs, internships and even class projects associated with business schools can give you opportunities to learn more about business development in real-world settings. If you choose to attend a formal business school or training program, it may be wise to take advantage of as many such opportunities as you can, as you will learn a lot and the experience will help build your resume.
After graduation, or if you decide formal education is not for you, you will want to gain experience in the areas related to business development. Sales experience is often the easiest to obtain, as many such positions are entry-level and require little or no experience. Remember, however, that most true business development jobs are in the business-to-business sector, so try to gain some experience selling to other businesses if you can. When possible, look for sales roles that allow you to sell customized solutions based on a client's needs rather than a stock product. This allows you to learn and demonstrate strategy skills that are a key part of business development experience.
Marketing also is a critical part of business development experience and is often more strategy-based than field sales, so try to seize any opportunity you have to work with or in marketing. In many cases, sales positions work closely with the marketing department. Some companies also will allow you to move from a sales role to a marketing role or vice versa.
While education and traditional employment are the most common ways to gain business development experience, you should be on the lookout for non-traditional opportunities as well. For example, project managers often work closely with existing clients and may have a chance to soft sell additional products. If you can do this with a high-impact client or a high-profit product, you can prove that you understand strategy, are able to form good relationships and can sell — all factors important to business development. You might also gain experience by volunteering to raise funds for a local charity, particularly in a role that works with corporate sponsors.
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