What is business development? Actually, it's both a little bit simpler than it sounds and more complex at the same time. It's a sales position, basically, except that if you're in business development, the "transaction" is long-term, while in sales, usually the transaction is short term and immediate, then over.
When you're in business development, you look for sales that you can take action on over the long-term, not the short-term. In general, this is something that happens over a period of about six months to two years into the future. What you want to do in business development is to build knowledge and relationships within given agencies to develop budgets, determine requirements, and shape programs to a given company's benefits.
There may also be a difference between inside and outside business development. If you're on the "inside," you're doing research and giving information to another person on the outside who was building relationships. With small organizations, you may be doing both of these tasks.
For example, if you are an inside business development person, you'll be conducting research to find buyers, agencies, and users who want to buy a particular company's products or services.
If the organization you work with has complex services or products, or very many of them, as an inside development person you will be working in tandem with someone on the "outside," and begin to build relationships to facilitate sales of those products and services. What you're doing is basically laying the groundwork for the short-term sales force to be able to take over and sell products and services.
As a business developer, you are basically helping a company develop sales. For example, if you know someone in a government agency who may very well need your company's products and services, you can set up a casual liaison with your friend to broach the idea of his/her organization using your company's products or services.
Now, this is tricky because you know this person and you're taking advantage of that fact. However, if you keep in mind that you as the liaison, so to speak, may be held responsible for how well your products or services do there, you as the business developer must make sure that those products and services are top-notch. So, this goes two ways. Yes, you want to help your company that you're working with get its products or services known. By the same token, though, because you are the liaison that's setting up the groundwork so that those products and services can be sold to this second organization on agency, they have to be of very good quality so that you're not held responsible, and the person who's your contact at the company on the other end of the sale won't be held responsible for any failures, either.
Once that's taken care of, though, you have a great opportunity here. You are now the go-between to get your company's products and services out to the company you've contacted, and to get them up and running. What you want to do in this respect is to provide relevant information to these people that's really going to help them. This may be different than some other types of "sales" opportunities, wherein the big push is to simply get the short-term sale done. Here, your reputation depends on it, so that you aren't as much concerned about the individual sale as you are about the products or service's actual viability and quality.
As a business developer, you actually help companies develop and sell very high quality products and services, too. In most cases, "sales" are focused on the very short term, and the push is to get the sale done, period, and increase bottom-line profits. Of course, you as a business developer are concerned about that, too, but your picture is much larger. You absolutely have to make sure that the product or service you are selling is quality, because your relationship and intent is much more long term. This type of "sales" activity lasts for much longer than a single point of sale; because the relationship lasts for between six months to two years, your reputation is on the line, too, and of course you don't want it to suffer.
If you want to actually get experience as a business developer, you certainly can start out in sales. This helps you learn about the buying process in the short-term if not the long term. Another good thing to have on your resume as a potential business developer is that you've worked for the government or other agencies. This is because oftentimes, as stated previously, the business development process is long-term and you will understand bureaucracy and how to work around it if you have worked for an agency with these types of challenges.
However, you'll need another thing that a typical salesperson won't have, and that is the ability to look down the road and see things long-term, and to be able to develop long-term relationships. Again, because typical sales people simply focus on the point-of-sale, with a very short-term mindset, this is a different skill set to have. However, if you have this as a skill set, you should be well on your way to becoming a good potential business developer.