12 Most Costly Business Development Mistakes

12 Most Costly Business Development Mistakes

I’ve spent most of my professional life doing some form of business development. I’ve been involved in front-line sales, customer service, account management, sales training, marketing communications and organizational change management (to embed sales-oriented culture and mindset). Fundamentally, everything I have done, and continue to do professionally, revolves around finding and growing sources of revenue and equipping organizations with the knowledge, skills and business development mindset to accelerate profitable growth.

Along the way I’ve made plenty of business development mistakes, and learned from the mistakes of others around me. Here are my 12 most costly business development mistakes.

1. Ignoring existing clients

So much time, energy and money are spent chasing new business with new marketing campaigns, new bid opportunities, new introductions. While new sources of revenue are essential, many forget to tap into the needs and interests of existing clients. Worse yet, existing clients don’t always know about all the other things you, or other members of your team, can do for them. Before targeting unknowns, don’t forget to continue nurturing your existing clients. The old adage (it costs more to win a new client than to win business from an existing client) is definitely worth remembering.

2. Assuming great work means satisfied AND loyal customers

Having customers who pay your bills is great, but don’t mistake a paying customer for a loyal customer. There are many studies that show the gap between service provider and client perceptions of whether the work delivered was high value. In many industries, even if you’re one of the big four, six or whatever number, you are usually still just one of a homogenous group. If there isn’t something standout about your work, your service or your relationship with your client, they are just waiting for something better to come along. What are you going to do to make sure that your clients wouldn’t dream of going to anyone else? When was the last time you asked your clients what else you can do for them, to ensure that you are fully meeting and exceeding their business needs?

3. Assuming your clients will refer you

Your clients have their own business to run. They don’t automatically think of you when opportunities arise. Unless you ask them…. Anytime your client says thank you for something you’ve done, ask them if they know anyone else who might need similar help. If your client mentions they have a connection with an organization you’d love to work for, ask if they would be able to facilitate an introduction.

4. Thinking your client contact will always be there

Sticking with the existing client theme – don’t get caught on the wrong side of a spring clean. When new people come into a leadership position they inevitably want to make their mark. As part of your client relationship planning, consider the tenure of your contacts, their political acumen, the likelihood of them being promoted, headhunted or terminated. Try to identify the other movers and shakers in the business who may be earmarked for new responsibilities. Who’s being copied on messages? Who’s being invited to meetings? If your contact was to go, who else in the sphere of influence do you have a relationship with?
P.S. If your contact does leave, you obviously should follow them too….support them in transition, congratulate them on a new role, show an interest in the changes they are
living through and you may just get 2 accounts for the price of 1.

5. Assuming you KNOW what the client needs

When you know your area really well, it’s easy believe that you know what the client needs – better than they know themselves. If only they would listen! What you offer may well be a better solution than the one the client is looking for, but unless you focus on understanding and meeting their needs first – before demonstrating how what you do will exceed their expectations, you are wasting your time and potentially losing a sale.

6. Not understanding the client’s business decision making process/budgetary constraints

Your contact may love what you are offering. They may even be convinced that it’s exactly what they need to solve their business issues, but that still doesn’t guarantee a sale. Once you have convinced them, who do THEY now have to convince? Where does this project fit within the wider organizational initiatives? Where do they sit in the investment pecking order? What can you do to help your client secure the funding to deliver on your project.How can you help them make the internal business case/influence their decision makers to secure closure to your deal?

7. Not bringing MORE to the table

I get it, your service, value proposition or product offering is the best available. That’s a given! You wouldn’t even be AT the table unless you had something good to offer. That’s why they call it “table stakes”. Only offering whats expected is isn’t going to secure the work. Now bring them that one little thing that no one else thought of. What’s something you can do to help them in their business? Who are you able to introduce them to?

8. Assuming that people you meet will think of YOU next time they need something

Some seem to believe that networking is about accumulating contacts, adding more names into a database and handing out business cards. Some go so far as to occasionally send out a newsletter or an annual greetings card. Seriously, is this all it takes to secure your referral? So why would you think it’s enough to ensure that people will consider you the next time someone asks them “do you know someone….”?

9. Not factoring in probability of winning before time is invested

I’ve been asked to work on way too many requests for proposal (RFPs) where the probability of failing dismally could be predicted with confidence. No pre-existing relationship, no advance warning that an RFP was coming, very little defendable expertise in the required areas, the list goes on. Why do people insist on using time, energy and resources to pitch for a piece of low probability work. Instead of viewing an RFP as potential work, it should be viewed as an opportunity cost. How much more productive and profitable could you be if you were to invest that same time and resources in face to face meetings with existing clients. Before putting in a bid on an RFP, quantify the probability of return on investment.

10. Discounting too quickly/without cause

Giving it away isn’t selling! With all the time and effort invested in setting rates and prices, why feel the need to drop your price in order to secure the work? If your prices are competitive, and you are offering value, your clients will be interested in negotiating. If you offer a deep discount right off the bat, they will wonder how much further you might be prepared to go. Instead, if clients request a discount and you are willing to deal, keep the reduction slight and provide a reason why you are willing to shift ( i.e. investment in relationship, Existing knowledge reducing your learning curve etc. It should be a goodwill gesture at best, not an indication that you lack confidence in your pricing structure.

11. Believing you have to have a specific ‘hook’ or reason to call

I hear this all the time as a reason why people don’t follow up with the people they meet. They don’t have a good reason to call, they don’t want to waste the contacts time, they don’t want to feel awkward. Business is about relationships. Relationships are built on contact and exchange. If the only time you ever contact someone is when you are trying to ‘sell’ them, the relationship will be very stilted. Instead, find excuses to call. Read the news, follow their industry, monitor their business, see what their competitors are doing. Make up excuses to call them e.g. “I was just going back through old messages and I wondered how you are doing…”

12. Thinking BD is something you’re born good at

If we limited what we do to only those things we are instantly great at, without pain of experience and practice, we would never cook, dance, play music, cycle, swim, read, and the list goes on…. Yes, business development can feel awkward, uncomfortable, requires effort, requires discipline, requires practice, requires failure so we can learn from mistakes. But then again, doesn’t anything worth doing…..

What do you think? What are some of the most expensive business development mistakes you have made?

Featured image courtesy of Alex E. Proimos licensed via creative commons.

Gabriella O'Rourke


Gabriella O’Rourke is Director of Business Development for a highly reputable and well established Law Firm in Toronto and the Founder/Principal of The Wallace Effect. A thinker, idea generator, writer, wife, mother, dog lover and Canadian resident sister to 4 fantastic adult siblings living their lives across the world, from Australia to the UK.

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Excellent post, Gaby. I see #5 a lot, especially from brilliant engineers who try and figure out how to bring their cool inventions and technologies to market. They often make too many assumptions about their customers (adoption, usage, experience) without having spoken to and LISTENED to their feedback. If businesses listened more to their customers, they'd be far more successful! Thanks.


This is a great post Gabriella...thanks for sharing your experiences / tips.

It is loud and clear that 'listening' and 'engaging' with your contacts, and perhaps multiple contacts in one organisation is key. I like the idea of 'finding an excuse' to get in touch...I have to admit that I have fallen foul to this mistake in the past.

I very much agree that building a 'useful' network is not about 'collecting contacts'. Unfortunately, I think this is a trait born out of the ease of forming connections through Social Media (which is a plus as well). LinkedIn almost rewards you for having made more than 500 connections, as you feel you've joined an exclusive club with their badge.

In my organisation, I use Miller Heiman Blue Sheets to clarify the prize (and the size), the key buying influences and the actions required to win the sale. It is an engaging iterative process that along with a team allows you to cover most of the points above at the point of knowing there is an opportunity to win a sell. Likewise, at the account management stage I use the Miller Heiman Gold Sheets to ensure that we are engaged with our existing clients and overturning new opportunities. Prior to that, for new relationships putting in the ground work as you say is useful to help you build that initial relationship.

A key aspect of being successful in business development, is to become friends with your contacts and wherever possible provide them with the 'right advice' even if it means your product is 'not' the right product for them...the only way to build a lasting and productive relationship.

Easier said then done!

Once again thanks for a great post.


Love it, Gabby! Right on the money with each of these. I find that most businesses fall into one of two traps: ignoring those you've already got on your client roster (#1), or not developing and maintaining enough of a pipeline of prospective new business (aversion to prospecting and building new relationships based in part on #12). Every one of your 12 points is spot, on, though. Your article is a great resource and a must-read. I hope you post here again soon!



Excellent post. Clearly one of the best I've read in a long while. You could put each and every one of these topics in any order you want - they're equally important. These hold especially true for a small business like mine.

Nicely done.


Gaby, I love this post and I can directly relate with so many of your topics. More than any of them, #10. I struggle with this almost every day. Why is it that everyone feels that price is the "Only" consideration. Often it is because we fail to properly sell the entire value of our offering.

Above all else, we love having you on 12most - hope to have you back again soon!


@danperezfilms thank you Dan! I really am touched by your comments, knowing that you don't give such praise lightly! Honoured! (blown away actually :)) Made my day!


@danielnewmanUV danielnewmanUV Thanks Dan. I still struggle regularly with that one too (I think anyone who has to price 'themselves' and their service value has this eternal struggle). There will always be clients who seek to bottom out the price. If they select a service provider by lowest cost only, there is no basis for client loyalty. They will be gone as soon as a cheaper offer comes along and there are always others willing to undercut to score a deal. The real question becomes 'can you meet and exceed their service level expectations at the price they are willing to pay, else there is a very real opportunity cost to you - both for the reputation of your business and your ability to better service other clients who are willing to pay for demonstrable value. To quote a very different source, "don't waste the pretty" (Greg Behrendt). Figure out what the market will bear for your service, add your unique value and then have confidence in your worth.


It appears that many "social media consultants" have confused online "engagement" with doing business. Your post illustrates the importance of "the basics" in keeping a business moving forward. By far, the best of the "12 Most" posts and one of the better posts I've come across in some time. Cheers... @GabyORourke


@danielnewmanUV hehe - I know, that last response was longer than the post itself!

Hope other readers jump in with their reactions though too - despite Dan telling us we've said enough on the topic :)

Which of these is the biggest cost to your business development efforts? Got any others you would add? Any other tips you like to follow?


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