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Nobody dabbles at dentistry – and they shouldn’t dabble at business development

Seth Godin usually hits the nail on the head in his micro-posts. One of the things he recently pointed out is that some jobs really do need to be done by accredited professionals, for good reason. But what then of the jobs that are perceived as “fun” or something anyone can do?

“Nobody dabbles at dentistry”

“There are some jobs that are only done by accredited professionals. And then there are most jobs, jobs that some people do for fun, now and then, perhaps in front of the bathroom mirror. It’s difficult to find your footing when you’re a logo designer, a comedian or a project manager. Because these are gigs that many people think they can do, at least a little bit. If you’re doing one of these non-dentist jobs, the best approach is to be extraordinarily good at it. So much better than an amateur that there’s really no room for discussion. You don’t have to justify yourself. Your work justifies you. The alternative is to simply whine about the fact that everyone thinks that they can do what you do. The thing is, it might be true. [Hat tip to Kevin Pollak.]”

Godin refers to graphic design, comedy and project management. But his reasoning also applies to business development (which includes branding, communications, marketing, sales, etc. – the whole process.) So, take this from someone who has been doing business development (BD) for a long time, with reasonable success: I have a bunch of letters behind my name including APMP accreditation. However, more often than not, people who I deal with are firmly convinced they can do their BD themselves, adequately or even better than I could. And certainly at a lower cost.

When I confront them with what it will actually take to make their campaigns succeed or get them from point A to point B, they are horrified or defensive. This can mean two things – firstly, that they really don’t understand BD, and secondly, that they think that I’m just not good enough for the cost, in other words, my work does not justify me. I am not seen as a professional, I am seen as someone doing a non-dentist job, regardless of my years of experience or the letters behind my name.


“Marketing-to-Sales Funnel” graphic courtesy of

This is a no-win situation for both parties.

The client or employer keeps messing about and muddling along, doing things themselves, and the resulting income and market growth do not allow them to pay someone who really knows their stuff to get the job done properly. This, in companies that actually have revenue and money to spend, is peculiar to say the least. Professionals like lawyers, engineers and architects should not be planning or executing campaigns for any part of the in-bound or out-bound marketing-to-sales funnel (example above) of their business – they should stick to their profession, which is what they’re good at and qualified for.

And as for the BD consultants who are faced with this situation, in stead of demonstrating their value and expertise, they compete for assignments based on their rates, which is a race down to the bottom of the price range – the lowest (im)possible rate. As Godin points out: “The problem with the race to the bottom is that you might win. Even worse, you might come in second.”

Here is what I wish would happen – though as the expression goes, “if wishes were horses, beggars would ride”:

  • I wish that people who want to get into my line of work would stay out of it until they are properly qualified to do so, and that – once qualified – clients or employers understand what it is that justifies their work.
  • I wish that there were barriers to entry, and that BD was not a job, but a science-based profession.
  • I wish that clients and employers would understand that BD people do not occupy themselves exclusively with touchy-feely, wishy-washy, arty-farty stuff.

The next time you, Head Honcho, or you, HR Person, appoint someone in BD, don’t just sign them on because they are available and cheap. Have some form of meaningful accreditation as a prerequisite, give them a proper in-house skills assessment to see what they can do hands-on, test what they know of your business and your market, run them through some industry terminology and see if they recognize any of the words. Then decide if they’re qualified.

The cheapness factor means that they – or you – will end up dabbling in business development, which, in the end, is not as bad as someone dabbling in dentistry, but nevertheless has a bad result all round.

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