Business Development Manager: What it is, Salary & Career Paths

Jeff White September 8, 2021

Jeff White

Jeff is a small business expert focused on marketing, finance, sales, business development, and legal work. He's been featured in a number of publications such as USNews, Forbes, The Week, The Street, Investopedia, and CNBC.

The role of a business development manager varies quite a bit from company to company because it’s a very generic job title in a field that is still evolving. Essentially, a BD manager is in charge of creating value for the business through outside partnerships, sales, or other strategic initiatives. This role can be either the only BD person at a business or a mid-career position for professionals in the business development industry. 

In this article, we’ll analyze what a BD manager does, how much they make, and what your career path options could be. 

What a Business Development Manager is

One of the best ways that the role of a business development manager has been put before is that it is like “sales without the money”. This is because a business development manager is responsible for helping businesses grow their revenue in, potentially, a variety of ways. A BDM can find themselves doing everything from prospecting to finding third parties to partner with to even closing customers themselves. Typically, a BDM can be found creating or nurturing opportunities that lead to either short-term or long-term revenue growth. 

That sounds very broad because the title “Business Development Manager” can mean a lot of different things to different people and organizations. The key component that most roles have in common is developing opportunities with the intention of revenue growth. There are two main types of business development managers, which are: 

  1. A generalist role that can be an entry-level point for business development for someone with some experience in other departments.

  2. An actual middle management role that manages individual contributors in addition to other more strategic duties. 

Let’s look at the main responsibilities the typical business development manager may be tasked with. 

Main Responsibilities of a BD Manager

Your responsibilities as a business development manager are going to depend on the role that you take within your organization. This often is dependent on what business function the BD team reports to, but can also depend on the vision the head of the department or the CEO has set for growing the business. 

Your main responsibility is to create value by increasing company revenue. How this is accomplished can vary widely but some of the most common include creating external partnerships with strategically advantageous business partners, closing new customers, or finding creative ways to bring potential customers into the sales cycle. 

Overall, a BD manager is typically successful if they are able to diversify and create long-lasting revenue streams for the business. This helps sustain the future of the business while also increasing short-term revenue. Some of the main responsibilities that a business development manager will be charged with include: 

  1. Generating a sustainable potential customer pipeline.
  2. Work with internal teams such as product, marketing, or sales to create and push new strategic initiatives forward.
  3. Hire, onboard, and manage other BD team members. 
  4. Ideate and execute strategic initiatives to increase long-term revenue.
  5. Explore external partnerships that could bring a high amount of company value.

Some business development managers will work on all of these initiatives while others could be uber-focused on a single one. It’s important to read the job description carefully and make sure you ask enough questions during the interview process so you know what your focus might be in any new role. 

Who Would Enjoy the Business Development Manager Role? 

Any role in business development is going to bring a lot of opportunities for career development and growth. Focusing on growing the business is a vital role in any business and it requires plenty of skills that will keep a life-long learner happy for a very long time. With that said, the majority of people who will enjoy a business development manager role are going to be individuals who enjoy some or all of these activities: 

— Research

— Exploring the industry landscape

— Networking

— Learning the ins and outs of external businesses

— Building relationships with internal and external stakeholders

— Proposing, negotiating and finalizing deals

— Managing partnerships post-agreement

— Managing projects

— Working with internal teams to execute deals

— Teaching, role-playing, and managing other team members

— Presenting to a small group or individuals 

The more things that resonate with this list above, the more likely you are to enjoy working as a business development manager. 

How to Become a Business Development Manager

You can transition into a career in business development in a number of ways. For many businesses, a BDM is the first BD role that is hired for the company. In order to get either the BD entry-level role as a business development manager or the people manager role, you’ll likely need to spend 2-3 years working in some capacity to grow your strategic thinking and revenue-generating abilities. 

Getting a role in BD is similar to any other role within the industry you’re applying for. You’ll need to gain some experience, network with other individuals, and learn some skills that prove you can perform the duties adequately enough to get the job. Many BDMs end up convincing their current company of the need to devote full-time resources to business development because it’s still very much an emerging field. 

A great way to break into the field is to get to know as many people currently working in it as possible. Reaching out to current business development managers or joining a community of people, similar to Firneo, who are learning and sharing information around business development is advantageous to finding your first BD role. 

For tips on how to prepare for a career in BD, check out our article on business development careers

Business Development Manager Salary

The business development manager salary will depend on the job’s responsibilities, where the job is located, and what industry you’ll be working in. Based on some of the most reputable sites across the web, here are what many believe to be the salary range potential for these BDM roles in the U.S.: 

  1. Zippia: $60,000 – $141,000 with an average of $92,000 annually. 
  2. Glassdoor: $37,000 – $130,000 with an average of $69,006 annually.
  3. Salary.com: $82,903 – $176,102 with an average of $130,085 annually.
  4. Indeed: Only reports the average salary of $72,075 annually.
  5. Payscale: $46,000 – $123,000 with an average of $74,450 annually.

Keep in mind that these sites are reporting based on the data they’re able to collect. So the types of jobs you’re going to find most frequently on each site will likely be the types of ranges they are reporting. For example, Glassdoor is widely accepted by tech companies to be a great resource for careers so there’s a good chance they have attracted data from the tech industry. 

Likewise, Firneo has collected salaries for many different types of business development roles that we give our members access to once they join the platform. We can guarantee that this dataset is 100% from business development professionals and we haven’t changed or manipulated that data in any way. To get access, just apply to join Firneo’s community.

Career Path Options For BD Managers

The most natural career progression for a business development manager is to become a BD leader and build out your own team, managing more and more of the strategy behind your company’s external partnerships as you go. However, there are other career options that are available to you after you’ve spent some time in business development. Let’s take a look at all of the most popular types of career paths that you could progress from after working as a business development manager.

  • Business Development Director:
    After working as a BDM for a few years and your BD team starts to grow you could find that your business needs a strategic lead to take over the entire department and manage other team members. This is commonly a business development director, which is a known leader through the industry that is primarily focused on partnerships and internal oversight.
  • Chief Revenue Officer:
    The first executive role that you could progress into is the CRO who is responsible for all revenue growth from business development to sales.
  • Chief Partnerships Officer:
    Another role that is not widely used yet but is the future of business development career progression is the CPO, who is responsible for all partnership activity throughout the business.
  • Operations (GM):
    Switching careers into operations or becoming a general manager of a business unit is a natural step since business development activity is similar to one of the main roles of a CEO. Taking on P&L responsibility and being able to lead the operational direction of a business unit could be interesting to those that enjoy executing partnership deals.
  • Product Management:
    A career in product management is a good change of pace career that many in BD end up transitioning to. In the tech industry, in particular, the BD team works closely with the product team to implement new partnership deals and many end up finding those implementations as their favorite part of the job.
  • Sales:
    A natural step to and from BD is to work on the sales team. It requires similar skills and many businesses deploy their BD team to close customers. 

The sky can be the limit after you spend a few years as a business development manager. The skills you’ll acquire will enable a lot of opportunities to open up for you so it’s important to pave your own path with the things that you want out of your career. 

Bottom Line

Becoming a business development manager is a great way to break into the world of BD. Depending on what industry and company you work with, it can be a very rewarding job that enables you to source, propose, and negotiate your own deals that will bring lasting revenue or opportunity to your business. It’s a vital role that’s becoming more and more popular in today’s economy and the skills you learn from it in a short period of time is a great opportunity to jump-start any career path.