What Is A Business Development Manager Position And How PhDs Can Get Hired Into It

PhDs think that they are not cut out for business, that academia didn’t teach them any business acumen, and that they can only access business-related positions once they have gained industry experience.

This misconception comes from the academic idea that our most valuable assets are our technical or speciality skills.

In reality, our tranferable skills are our biggest assets, and if you think about it in industry terms, you will notice that as PhDs, we have a lot of business skills.

So, you shouldn’t limit yourself to positions that value your technical skills when planning your transition.

PhDs can get hired in career tracks like business development where they can have a big impact and be compensated according to their value, and you can transition into business development no matter your research background.

This is what one of our members had to say after transitioning into a business development role:

Dear Cheekies, hope you are all doing well. I started my new role 3 months ago. It is a pre-sales and business development role in a fast-growing analytical instruments company. A big part of my work focuses on finding clients and developing business.

I love it so far because I interact with many scientists across different companies and learn about breakthrough technology. Understanding the business landscape and converting the client calls to a business is like a cherry on the cake.

What Is Business Development

Business development focuses on the creation of long term value for a business. To achieve that, business developers focus on identifying new business opportunities and maintaining a good working relationship with new contacts.

The steps involved in business development differ from organization to organization. In the simplest terms, business development can be summarized as the ideas, initiatives, and activities aimed towards improving a business. 

This includes increasing revenues, growth in terms of business expansion, increasing profitability by building strategic partnerships, and making strategic business decisions.

Business development professionals work in cross functional teams and they interact with different departments of a company, such as R&D, sales and marketing, operations, and finances among others.

They also communicate directly with stakeholders and clients, and represent the voice of the client within their organization.

This is an exciting career path for PhDs who want to work at the intersection between research and business. 
As a PhD, you already have most of the transferable skills necessary to excel at this role. The ability to plan studies and make strategic decisions that you developed during grad school will come in very handy when it comes to transitioning into business development.

6 Things PhDs Should Know About Business Development Manager Positions

There are many roles in the business development department, but PhDs mostly transition into business development development manager positions.

PhDs are highly-trained professionals that possess the technical and transferable skills needed to solve any kind of problems. Therefore, they possess most of the necessary skills and characteristics to become successful business developers.

And the best thing about transitioning into business development is that these are management positions. So, you can bypass the entry-level roles that might delay your career progression between 5 and 8 years.

However, many PhDs fail to apply to this exciting career track because they are intimidated by it or they don’t understand it. 
Today, I want to talk about 6 things most PhDs don’t know about business development. Hopefully this will convince you to consider these positions once you start focusing on your transition plan.

1. You don’t need previous industry experience to transition into business development

As with most business-related positions, most PhDs think that they have no chances of getting hired into business development positions because they lack industry experience. This is a myth.

Hiring managers for business development positions want to hire PhDs because of their transferable skills. I have seen dozens of PhDs getting hired into business development without previous industry experience.

Business developers need to be field experts, understand the technology and how things are designed, and know how to solve problems. This is something that PhDs already excel at.

The only thing that might be missing is business acumen, which as a PhD, you already have, you just need to learn how to communicate it in a way that resonates with industry professionals.

2. You will make strategic connections

Business development professionals work in cross-functional teams, interact with different departments, and develop relationships with stakeholders and customers.

They represent the company they work for in the eyes of their customers. They act as a liaison between various departments of the company and their clients.

This means that, as a business developer, you will be in a privileged position to expand your network.

Never forget that your network doesn’t lose its value once you get your first industry positions. Having a healthy professional network will increase your chances of career success, no matter where you are in your career.

And by working in business development, even if it’s just for a couple of years, you will expand your network at a higher rate than by working at most other PhD-level industry positions.

3. You will have many options for career progression

Being exposed to different departments within a company and different stakeholders is not only a great opportunity to expand your network, it will also give you many opportunities for career progression.

Once you get into a business development manager position, you can get promoted to a director position within a year or two, and within a couple more years, you can get into an executive position, such as chief commercial officer (CCO) or chief scientific officer (CSO). 

Once you gain experience in business development, you can also decide to go to another department, such as product development, project management, and strategic planning/corporate development, among others.

This is a position that will open many doors to leverage once you start thinking about your next career move.

4. It’s not a sales position

Many PhDs think that business developers and sales representatives have similar functions, but these are very different positions.

Both sales representatives and business developers need to have a strong understanding of the technical aspect of their company’s products, but while sales positions are transactional, business development positions are strategic.

As a business developer, you will have to create plans to ensure that sales and revenue increase, but you will not be a sales person. Your job will deal with aspects that go much deeper than securing a specific sale.

You will be involved in the development of the business itself. You will interact with different departments to ensure that the company archives its short and long term goals. 

This includes dealing with product pipelines, deciding on what product to launch next and when is the right time to launch, exploring new markets, among others.

5. You can work for different types of institutions

Companies that produce all kinds of products and operate in a wide array of industries need outstanding business developers. 

Therefore, PhDs from any background (life science, engineering, physical sciences, humanities, social sciences etc) can find exciting job opportunities in this career track.

Big and small companies in the private and public sectors need business developers because business development ensures that a company stays in the market, grows over time, and archives its goals. 

The versatility of the role will ensure that you find a company whose culture fits your values and where you can have a big impact. 

Keep in mind that the goals for business development vary depending on the size, sector, and specific goals of the company.

6. You will work at the forefront of innovation

In academia, you have to publish or perish. In industry, you have to innovate or die.

Companies have to innovate constantly if they want to stay in the market. Innovation includes, considering new technologies, launching products that adapt to new needs of their clients, or taking advantage of new customer niches.

Business developers are in charge of creating the strategies to achieve all of these goals and more.

This means that as a business developer, you will get to stay up to date with the new technologies emerging in your field, which is very exciting for most PhDs.

This role is especially suitable for those who want to pursue a business-oriented role while staying in close proximity to new scientific breakthroughs.

Concluding Remarks

Many PhDs mistakenly believe that they are not cut out for business positions, which prevents them from applying to exciting career paths such as business development. Business development focuses on creating long term value for businesses of all kinds. As such, it is an exciting career path for PhDs who want to work at the intersection between research and business. Here are some facts about business development you probably didn’t know and might convenience you of giving this career path a closer look: you don’t need previous industry experience to get hired as a business developer. Gaining some years of experience as a business developer will help you expand your networks and open different doors for career progression. Business developers are not salespeople, while sales is transactional, business development is strategic. You can work for companies of different sizes and in different sectors, which will ensure you find the right position for you, no matter your background or target company culture. You will work at the forefront of innovation and will get to see your impact in real time.

If you’re ready to start your transition into industry, you can apply to book a free Transition Call with our founder Isaiah Hankel, PhD or one of our Transition Specialists. Apply to book a Transition Call here.

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Isaiah Hankel, PhD
Isaiah Hankel, PhD Chief Executive Officer at Cheeky Scientist

Dr. Isaiah Hankel is the Founder and CEO of the largest career training platform for PhDs in the world - Cheeky Scientist. His articles, podcasts and trainings are consumed annually by 3 million PhDs in 152 different countries. He has helped PhDs transition into top companies like Amazon, Google, Apple, Intel, Dow Chemical, BASF, Merck, Genentech, Home Depot, Nestle, Hilton, SpaceX, Tesla, Syngenta, the CDC, UN and Ford Foundation.

Dr. Hankel has published two bestselling books with Wiley and his methods for getting PhDs hired have been featured in the Harvard Business Review, Nature, Forbes, The Guardian, Fast Company, Entrepreneur Magazine and Success Magazine.

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