6 of the Best Business Development Books

1st December 2020Business Development


You can learn a lot by reading the right business development books.

So, I’ve put together 6 short summaries of the best books on this fascinating subject.

Each book addresses a different aspect of business development in a novel and insightful way.

With the year-end fast approaching, now is the perfect time to order your copy of these classics business books. Read on to find out why you should buy.

Blue Ocean Strategy


When this book first came out in 2004 it was nothing short of revolutionary.

The business development message is simple:

You need to stop trying to outcompete rivals in existing markets. Instead, you should create an uncontested market space where you make your competitors irrelevant.

Most companies operate in “red oceans”. These are characterised by a bloody fight to the death in which you compete for a larger share of increasingly competitive marketplaces.

By contrast, “Blue oceans” are new or changed markets characterised by clearer, calmer waters. Hence, you escape the cut throat competition of red oceans and find space to grow profitably and sustainably.

Blue Ocean strategy is more than just a business development theory. It’s a proven business development strategy based on studying 150 real-life examples of what the authors call “value innovation”.

What’s more, the book comes with a toolkit that enables you to formulate and execute your own blue ocean strategies.

As a result, Kim and Mauborgne’s business development book remains relevant even in today’s fast changing environment.

Above all, read it if you want to get ahead by changing the rules of your market, blurring the boundaries of your market, or creating an entirely new market.

The Lean Startup

lean-startup book-cover

The Lean Startup is another business development book that made the world rethink assumptions about how best to find the right market for your new product or service.

Before the Lean Startup was published in 2011, the business development process had been almost entirely linear.

The starting point was usually an elaborate business plan with detailed market assumptions and full financial modelling. In the end, the process culminated in the launch of a fully-featured, market-ready product.

Unfortunately, this approach often led to delay, additional expense and sometimes costly failure as the new product or business venture failed to impress its targeted customers.

Enter the learnings from the tech start-up boom around the turn of the millennium. And the Agile movement that followed it.

Add the lean manufacturing philosophy first pioneered by Toyota and you get the lean startup framework set-out in this book.

What’s interesting is that Eric Ries defines a startup as “an organisation dedicated to creating something new under conditions of extreme uncertainty”.

This could be a new firm starting up or a new business development within an established company.

The lean business development process at the core of the book is a cycle which contains 3 elements: 

1. Build (i.e. turn ideas into minimum viable products)

2. Measure (i.e. see how customers respond to your MVPs)

3. Learn (i.e. pivot to another approach or persevere with a further iteration)

Today, the terminology and methodology of the lean start-up are everywhere you look.

So, if you’ve not yet read this business development book, now might be the right time to do so.

Beyond the Core


Growth is not a choice. It’s an imperative. And yet, most business development initiatives fail.

In this book, published in 2003, Chris Zook explores how companies can minimise the risk of failure as they move beyond their core activities in search of growth.

Based on research, he demonstrates how the best companies achieve the holy grail of sustained profitable growth through carefully planned “adjacency moves”.

What do adjacency moves look like?

Here are 4 examples:

1. Adding services to product-based businesses

2. Adding new product lines to a distribution network

3. Acquiring distribution in new geographies

4. Leveraging a core asset to create a totally new business

In the excitement of pursuing entirely new business, this business development book is a timely reminder that most organisations create and deliver value by building on what they already do well.

The Sumo Advantage


These days, regardless of the size and scale of your organisation, you can’t afford to ignore the power of partnerships as a winning business development strategy.

Back in 2014, Bernie Brenner wrote The Sumo Advantage.

In it he examines strategic alliances from the perspective of small firms looking to partner with larger companies (i.e. the “sumos” of their industry) to accelerate revenue generation and rapidly grow market share.

Of course, the logic of partnerships can also apply equally to larger organisations looking to leverage the capabilities of smaller organisations. The key is that these relationships must be mutually beneficial.

The Sumo Advantage explains how to identify, negotiate, and manage strategic partnerships for growth and competitive advantage.

However, this is not an easy task. To be successful you need a clear understanding of what business development is. And, crucially, how business development is different from sales.

Given the muddle and confusion over the role of business development, this book is worth a read for its clarity and pragmatism.

Customer Success


When Customer Success hit the bookshelves in 2016, the “subscription Tsunami” had already engulfed the software industry.

In fact, pay-as-you-go was fast becoming the go-to business development model for many of the world’s most successful companies.

The premise was simple.

Rather than endlessly seeking new customers to purchase or repeat purchase your products and services, you develop a recurring revenue model.

In this business model, customers pay to use and upgrade in a controlled process that captures customer-centric metrics to drive long-term value.

In this way, your success becomes intimately linked to your customer’s success in finding value in your products.

The authors of Customer Success explore the recurring revenue model through the lens of SaaS (software as a service).

In so doing, they explain the organisational structure, customer KPIs and critical technology that enable you to decrease churn, increase upselling, and transform your existing customers into advocates.

Read this book if you want to learn how to create predictable, repeatable, and expandable revenue steams.

However, do bear in mind that Customer Success is more than SaaS, subscription sales and recurring revenue.

Above all, it’s a movement based on placing customer at the heart of your organisation to earn long-term customer loyalty.

Value-Added Selling


Business development is the pursuit of value creation.

However, have you ever pondered these 2 fundamental questions:

  1. What is value?

2. How do you add it?

Tom Reilly’s book answers these questions.

In addition, it also sets out 5 core beliefs that will serve you well whether you are in sales or business development. These are:

1. Trust is the currency of great relationships

2. Great relationships demand win/win outcomes

3. The customer always defines value

4. Adding value means making a difference

5. You deliver value through the combination of your product or service, your company, and yourself.

As an aside, I first got my hands on the book way back in 2003 when I attended a week-long value-added selling course in Chicago.

Before then I hated sales training courses which were all about pitching products and closing techniques. To me, this training ran counter to my experience that people hate to be sold.

However, value-added selling completely changed the game.

Although the book is aimed primarily at salespeople, I still count it among my favourite business development books.

After all, its central message about value, relationships, empathy and integrity apply equally to sales and business development.

Read this book to learn more about the art of building client relationships based on value creation and win/win outcomes.

In Summary

The lock down has led to a resurgence in reading. Many people are turning to the classics.

So, if you’ve not yet read all the classic business development books summarised in this article, now may be the perfect time to catch up and set up for success in 2021.

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