Successful business development (BD) requires staying focused and avoiding the many opportunities for straying off course. Awareness of the potential pitfalls is a great first step toward developing a strategy to steer clear of such problems. My favorite movie, “The Princess Bride,” offers some fun parallels for how to stay on course with business development.

The movie follows Westley, a hired farmhand, and Buttercup, who lives on the farm. Westley’s answer to Buttercup’s requests is always “As you wish,” which she realizes in time means “I love you.” Unable to afford marriage, Westley sets off to earn a better living elsewhere, only to be captured by the Dread Pirate Roberts, who is known for taking no survivors. When she hears the news of Westley’s capture, Buttercup goes into deep mourning and only finds happiness in long horse rides in the country. On one such ride, she is kidnapped by three bandits — Vizzini, Fezzik, and Inigo Montoya, who have been hired by Prince Humperdinck to help him justify starting a war with a neighboring country. What follows is an action-packed chase in which none other than Westley shows up to save the day.

What does this have to do with business development? Business development is a journey that requires clear focus on the goal, perseverance, focus, willingness to do difficult things, and the determination to get up and try again. Here are a few potential BD pitfalls, along with suggestions on how to avoid them.

Pitfall 1: Defining Future BD by Your Current Situation

Westley had a predicament: He wanted to marry Buttercup, but he was a poor farm boy and could not afford marriage. He could have despaired and submitted to a miserable life working on the farm, or he could act, even if that action was the more difficult path in the short term.

It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking it is impossible to improve your BD, particularly if your past efforts left you discouraged. Reasons include “I’ve always been bad at speaking,” “I hate selling” or “I don’t have time.” Regardless of your current situation and experience with BD, improvement is always possible if you focus on incremental improvements and do not sabotage yourself out of the gate by going 1,000%. That pace is difficult to maintain and sets you on a path to disappointment.

Instead, focus on one incremental improvement that you can commit to consistently, perhaps setting aside time weekly to connect with former colleagues on LinkedIn. After that change becomes habit, make the next incremental improvement and then the next. This will set you on a path to long-term improvement, and you will not believe how much your business development will improve.

Pitfall 2: Not Making BD a Priority

When Westley leaves his life as a hired hand on the farm, Buttercup is concerned she may never see him again. To comfort her, Westley commits to returning to her.

Too often, a weak commitment to BD leads to failure. Each of us has the same 24 hours every day, and the only difference is how we prioritize our time. One of BD's unique challenges is prioritizing your efforts. It is easy to look at your email inbox or to-do list and talk yourself into thinking BD is not important because you have plenty of work and your days are full.

Regardless of how busy or successful you are at the moment, things can change unexpectedly. You may be busy with work now, but what do you do if client requests slow down? If you wait until you need work, it is already too late to do BD effectively. Business development is a long game, so schedule a weekly time to focus on your efforts.

Pitfall 3: Failing to Follow Through

Shortly after leaving Buttercup, Westley is captured by the Dread Pirate Roberts, a pirate with a known history of sparing no one he captures. While the story does not give us details regarding how, Westley found favor with Roberts and was kept alive. The reason, we must assume, is his drive to honor his commitment to Buttercup.

The easiest excuse for failing to follow through is, “I’m too busy.” Perhaps you had lunch with a prospect and promised to send them an article you read recently that pertains to an issue they are dealing with. Then you get back to your desk and have three voicemails, 30 new emails and an afternoon of meetings. The next thing you know, it is three weeks later and now you are embarrassed to send the article.

Remedy this by devoting part of your weekly BD time to making sure you follow through on your commitments. If you are worried you might forget something, establish some form of reminder system. One of my favorite tricks for reminding myself is saying “Hey, Siri, remind me on Wednesday at 3 p.m. to do XYZ.” You may prefer a notepad or some other system. Whatever works for you, make sure you have a system to follow through on your commitments.

Pitfall 4: Focusing Only on Short-Term Results

One of the bandits who captures Buttercup is Inigo Montoya, a revenge-obsessed swordsman who has devoted his life to avenging his father’s blood. Inigo played the long game, spending hours a day on improving his sword mastery, devoting his life to eventual revenge. He even recited what he would say when the time of revenge came, and he did not try to achieve overnight success. What would have happened if he had been less committed and only practiced his swordsmanship when he felt like it? He certainly would have never achieved the level of mastery that he did.

With BD, it is easy to want quick, overnight success with an immediate impact on your bottom line. But that rarely happens. More often, success is the result of small things repeated consistently. A few examples:

  • No single post on LinkedIn is going to build you a strong reputation, but lots of posts over many weeks, months and years will.
  • No single speaking engagement will launch you to career success, but a consistent commitment to speaking to your target audience will.
  • No single blog post will have clients calling non-stop; but establish yourself as a thought leader in your target area of practice with frequent, regular posts, and the clients will come.

Nobody is born an expert, and BD is a long game that relies on consistency. Allow yourself to be content where you are with business development, but don’t be content to stay there. Incremental, consistent, and sustained changes in your BD efforts can result in outsized improvements over time.

Pitfall 5: Failing to Establish a Niche

What was Inigo’s rehearsed line for his time of revenge? “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” Absolute clarity and focus on the goal.

Too often in BD, it is easy to commit to tasks (attending conferences and networking events, speaking, writing articles, engaging on LinkedIn, etc.) without understanding the end goal. Without knowing where you want to end up, any road will do, but you will never know whether you have arrived at your goal. It is critical to have a clear idea of what you want to achieve through your BD efforts. To figure that out, ask yourself questions like these:

  • Who is my ideal client?
  • Where can I find them (either online or in person)?
  • Taking my personality into account, what is the most effective way to get in front of my ideal clients?
  • What would these people consider a value-add?

Once you are clear about what you want to achieve from your BD efforts, it will be far easier to develop a plan that will lead to success.

What will happen to Buttercup — will she be reunited with Westley? Will Inigo get revenge? Find out next time as we continue the discussion of how to avoid additional BD pitfalls. Until then, consider which of the pitfalls above are most likely to derail your business development efforts and put a plan in place to avoid them.

If you need help with developing a business development strategy, please contact me, Chris Moyer, at