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The Top Traits of a Defence Business Development Manager

By Kinexus on 16 November 2017

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The top traits of a defence Business Development Manager (BDM) are evolving as time goes by, and as Defence Industry evolves, BDMs are influencing the considerations of procuring defence capability and services.

There are many ways in which you can solicit and win business in defence and your appreciation of these can help ensure you have the tools to succeed.

The strengths of any BDM are still the generic ones and that will always be the case: empathy, humility, ethics, listening and being a personable person. Your ability to get closer to the people who are shaping the requirements and writing the specifications can often have more of an influence than some people realise.

While it is an advantage to have a pre-existing relationship with the defence customer (through Military or Defence Industry experience), what is more important is the ability to:

  • Understand the demanding and highly technical capability requirements of the customer base
  • Understand the challenging and complex approvals (financial and governance) process implemented by the defence organisation
  • Understand the political drivers, internal and external, to the Department

Most importantly, it is the ability to align your organisation’s offerings with the above pressure points in order to shape requirements, and win business!

The Australian Defence Organisation (CASG, CIOG, ADF, RAN, Army, RAAF etc) is a motivated and driven customer. All capability and sustainment investments are driven by the need to equip, train and support the men and women of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and to enable effective and safe operations. Given the predominantly uniformed customer base, the buyer is personally invested in the process, throughout the entire capability life-cycle.

Interestingly, this can lead to situations that challenge a Defence BDM: Should I continue to attempt to sell a capability that I suspect may not be in the best interest of the customer, in the long term?  This integrity ‘reality-check’ can see a BDM choosing long-term relationships with the customer, over short-term revenue for the employer.

Having worked almost exclusively for the last 10 years in Australia, specialising in the placement of BDMs, Bid Managers and Commercial Managers within Defence Industry, the key traits I look for in high performing individuals are:

  • History of winning projects. These can vary in complexity and size depending on the domain and whether you work for an SME/Consultancy/Prime. We have found that there are still some significant transferable skills between these types of organisations
  • Business development within defence can be a long process. An ability to commit to this process and display structure and staying power is viewed favourably by employers
  • A strong reputation, developed over a period of time amongst peers and competitors (we often qualify this through our networking)
  • What organisation they have worked for and size and scale of opportunities. BD personnel tend to get categorised according to the size of projects they have pursued or won. Increasingly we are seeing value placed on winning several smaller more frequent deals, over pursuing long term complex bids
  • A good BDM will still succeed in a variety of domains, and make up for a lack of technical knowledge by collaborating with Subject Matter Experts

We have found it difficult to move BDMs from outside defence into defence, because of the understanding required around CASG/DSTG/ADF and subsequent contacts. Although it must be said a lack of BD experience isn’t always preclusive, as we have had success in placing highly credible ADF personnel into BD roles, due to their network, and understanding of capability, and how it aligns with ADF requirements.

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