So: This “Business Development”…?

14 May 2014

shutterstock_153787781We’re delighted to welcome a new blogger to the team. Larry Schaffer is a Business Development Manager, focusing on ground-based applications in the military – and he’s feeling misunderstood.

A business development guy walks into a bar. The bartender asks: “Why the long face?” The guy sighs and says: “I’m a business development guy and people don’t understand what I do.”

The bartender (now thinking he’s got a good customer on the hook) says: “OK, nice to meet you. So – er – what exactly does a business development guy do?” (By the way, the first lesson at bar tender school is don’t ask a BD guy a leading question. Even a big tip won’t make up for the time it takes for the answer.) This is what the guy told him.

“Business development guys around the world get that question pretty much every day. Everyone thinks they understand what sales guys do. And marketing guys. And PR guys. “

Bartender: “You’re all sales guys, right? You sell stuff. Different names, same job.”

“See? That’s what everybody thinks! That companies employ whole squadrons of people with trendy titles, but one goal; move the product - the old notion that ‘everyone sells.’”

“Urrrgh. That phrase has always rankled with me - because, to my mind, it sounds too much like ‘everyone should be out to take the customer’s money.’ And while some companies really mean that, I’m pleased to say that, here at GE Intelligent Platforms, we don’t.”

(The bartender shrugs and starts to walk away mumbling something about bovine waste.)

“Wait, wait! I mean, I’m not saying that we don’t want the customer’s money! It’s just that we mostly believe we need to earn it. GE Intelligent Platforms makes embedded computers – which are, let’s face it, pretty much very rugged versions of the stuff you see on the shelves at your local Best Buy, so it stands to reason that some customers need to know why they should buy our embedded computers instead of shopping on It’s not about what our products are, it’s more about what they do. And what they do, as Ricki Ricardo would have said, needs some ‘’splainin’’. And that’s why we have business development guys – like me.”

Bartender: “Man, just swannin’ in and talkin’ to people? How do I get a gig like that?”

“Not easy; our guys have decades of experience in sales, marketing and engineering. We work in a tight team with all these groups. At GE Intelligent Platforms, we build the latest technology products, we have great sales people. They are experts in embedded computing, they know the products, they know the customers and they know how to deliver a compelling offer to a requirement.”

Bartender: “So why do they need you? Refill?”

BD guy nods. “Because sometimes the customer doesn’t know what he wants. He needs help; “deep domain knowledge”, we call it. Customers sometimes even have these totally far-out concepts with no idea how to make them work. GE develops brilliant new product concepts that open up new possibilities and disrupt the status quo. How will this guy be able to use that? Well, we business development guys teach and listen and explore the weird, always challenging domain of unfulfilled needs and novel opportunities. We spend our days examining trends, technologies (both inside and outside GE), we visit domain experts in many fields and, mostly, we listen.”

“At some point, an idea, a “solution” (that hackneyed term that we just can’t seem to find a better word for) emerges. At this point, the value of business development emerges; this is the learning part. While business development seeks to promote a solution, the customer works to edit it. The result is a win-win - an ad-hoc partnership that puts capabilities together with needs.”

(The bartender thinks: “Huh. That’s how I get these guys to buy fancy umbrella drinks – business development…!”)

“You may be thinking; “But this is what I do every day. I listen, I seek solutions, I learn and I collaborate.”

“And you would be right. My point is: ‘everyone is (or should be) in business development.’”

The bartender sees a stockbroker walk in and asks him: “You look like the kinda guy who would appreciate my new drink. It’s called a ’Jack Flash Rum Ricki Fizz’. Wanna try it? It comes with an umbrella.”

Larry Schaffer

Larry Schaffer has been with us in a business development role since 2001, and works to create and maintain long-term, strategic relationships with key companies engaged in embedded computing for ground systems applications with a strong emphasis on image processing and distribution. He was born in Pennsylvania and educated as an Electrical Engineer in New Jersey and California (where he now lives). Just don’t ask him to tell you about being a war baby…