The Leap from Marketing to BD


As a marketer in the AEC industry, there are historically two dominant career paths you have to choose from: marketing or business development. When it comes to the later, we’re often led to believe you either have it, or you don’t. Those of us who get uncomfortable at networking events, or who have trouble remembering names, automatically write off the business development path in favor of an in-house role.

But not all of us have that choice. Many senior marketing roles require a balance of marketing and business development tasks, and at some firms, moving up means moving into a more client-facing role. The good news is, a talent for business development doesn’t have to be something you’re born with. It can be a skill learned over time just like any other.

On this week’s episode, we talk with Melissa Rysak, CPSM, Business Development and Marketing Director with Daroff Design, about her recent transition from marketing to business development, what she’s learned, and how her perspective on the role has changed.

the bottom line is a “close” is an ask of your client to trust you — with their project, with their money, and with THEIR job and success. That’s a scary and intimidating thing still.

CQ: As defined by the SMPS Blueprints Guide, the business development role is “the process of identifying opportunities, developing relationships, and securing profitable work for the firm.” Now that you’re in the role, do you think this description is accurate?

MR: I think it’s accurate. I would certainly supplement relationship development. A huge part of business development and being successful is your network and how maintained it is, and how much reach you have to be able to find out what’s going on and be on the inside of things before they happen. And really, that comes down to relationship development.

CQ: How long have you been in a business development role within your career?

MR: I transitioned into a business role about a year and three months ago. So, it has not been very long in terms of my full career, which has spanned twelve years. I’d like to think that I was doing it the entire time without actually having known I was doing it, which is what I’m finding out now.

CQ: What’s been one of your biggest challenges since transitioning into the business development function?

MR: The single biggest challenge has been the lack of an immediate payoff. When you are in marketing and communications, you have a plan, enact that plan in some type of proactive outreach, and then watch what happens. In business development, incubation takes a LONG time. Payoff is huge, but I am a gratification kind of girl, and it has been a challenge to have to sit back and know that you’re laying the groundwork for future success, but you might not feel that immediate gratification.

CQ: How has your perception of the BD role changed since taking it on?

MR: To be honest, when I was concentrating on marketing and communications and I thought of business development, I really had a negative perception of the sales process and the word sales. And let’s not kid ourselves, at its heart business development is a sales process. I really didn’t realize that business development could be done a plethora of different ways — and that I could do it MY way. So, I think learning that I didn’t have to be that used car salesman stereotype was big. There are ways to do things and I can make it my own, and I’ve gotten much more comfortable in my business development skin that way.

CQ: How do you approach structuring your day?

MR: That is an evolving answer, and I can tell you on a minute-by-minute basis my Type A twitches. I have some serious problems with lack of organization. Not that I’m unorganized, but that the world of business development is an unorganized and chaotic world. I feel confident that I’m figuring things out, but organization has been hard. I definitely suggest that anyone stepping into a business development role find a CRM to use. If your company doesn’t have one, figure it out. If you need to create a CRM out of an Excel spreadsheet, do it. But you’ve got to have some kind of tracking. The lack of being able to be as regimented as I was in the marketing and communications world is definitely a challenge to overcome that I still face every day.

CQ: What intimidated you the most about taking on this role?

MR: The biggest challenge is the close. I feel very comfortable being able to have a conversation. I feel very comfortable being able to be a helper to someone and being able to provide solutions. I feel confident in the company I work for and their ability to get the job done. But the bottom line is a “close” is an ask of your client to trust you — with their project, with their money, and with THEIR job, their success. That’s a scary and intimidating thing still, and something that takes a long time to get comfortable with. I may never get comfortable with it, I’m not sure. But it’s the final ask that’s still intimidating.

CQ: How has your role in strategic planning changed now that you’re on the BD side?

MR: In strategic planning as a marketing and communications professional, you’re often relegated to figuring out how to make the strategic plan move forward and function, versus being part of the decision making process on the plan. So I’ve found as a business developer, it is easier to have some influence over which direction the strategic plan is going to go. Because we’re the ones out there actually trying to bring the business in, and know what the realities of the current market and economy are, we definitely have a more respected opinion at the table in terms of steering which way that plan is going to go.

CQ: So if someone is looking to make that jump to business development from marketing, what can you recommend they do to prepare themselves?

MR: Get out of the office. Get out from behind the desk. Get out to industry organizations and meet everyone that you can. And keep in mind that there is no bad contact ever. You just never know. It’s such an important lesson to learn. So build your network, build your resources, and make sure that when you’re ready to move into a business development role you have a really good rolodex of people you’re going to be able to reach out to for information, connections, and help. No one can do business development in a bubble. It just doesn’t work that way. If you want to make the transition, you need to get out and enhance your network before you’re ready to do that.

Listen to the Podcast

Want to hear more from Melissa? Listen to the podcast to hear our full conversation including her approach to BD, how she engages her technical staff, and what she knows now that she wishes she’d known then.

Music by SONGO 21 – Studio sessions 2003 by SONGO 21 is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 International License.

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Links and Resources


Melissa Rysak, CPSM

Melissa Rysak, CPSM is the Business Development + Marketing Director for Daroff Design. She is an experienced marketing, communications, and PR professional with 12 years of successful experience. Melissa is a member of SMPS and is the current co-chair for the 2016 Build Business national conference to be held in Philadelphia. She is also a member of CREW, ULI, and ICSC. Melissa serves with her husband and son as an Ambassador Family for the March of Dimes. She is a hard-core ice hockey mom with a passion for watching her 12-year old son play left wing for the Delco Phantoms and Springfield Cougars.

Have questions or want to chat more with Melissa? Post your comments below or connect with her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Double Dip with MELISSA

Join us Thursday on the podcast where catch back up with Melissa about the biggest influences on her career, what her biggest failure has taught her about getting things done, and how she continues to challenge herself daily.

“To have someone look you in the eye and tell you that you are extraordinary in your talent and your intellect, but that your people skills suck is a hard pill to swallow. But it’s changed me for the better and I couldn’t possibly be more grateful for that.”

Music by SONGO 21 – Studio sessions 2003 by SONGO 21 is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 International License.

Next on Communiqueso

Next week, we’ll welcome Brian Reilly of Liftoff to talk about the refreshing appeal of the startup mentality and how marketers can be infusing that same mindset into their already established firms.