How to progress your BD & Marketing career to Senior Management and beyond

How to progress your BD & Marketing career to Senior Management and beyond

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A common question I often get asked by BD & Marketing professionals working in Assistant, Executive and middle management positions, is ‘how do you best position yourself to progress quickly?’.

I thought the best way to find out the answer to this question would be to discuss this with individuals who have already progressed their careers and ask them to share their top tips. Here's what they said:

Seek out development opportunities

Start with a good foundation. Zara Ismail, Senior Business Development Manager at RPC, remarks that when starting out in her career, she took on broad roles that gave her a flavour of different things. Not only did this give her the opportunity to develop a variety of skills and understand what she enjoyed and was good at, but it gave her a great footing. Now at senior management level, she has knowledge of exactly what goes into each element of marketing and can be realistic about deadlines, and the workload of those she manages.

She suggests that you get good at the basics, developing a strong reputation for doing your job, doing it well and excelling at that. Then you can expand outside of that, read, do your CIM training, put your hand up for internal initiatives, maybe secondments. You might even consider contracting or doing a number of shorter-term project-based roles to give you a breadth of experience

Develop a reputation for yourself

Although excelling at the basics is a great start, Zara comments you shouldn’t be afraid to put your paw up. Many of the great successes she has had, have been new initiatives that she’s been able to pilot.

Don’t be afraid if something doesn’t go to plan. Fail fast, fail early, fail often – maybe not often but if you do fail, ensure it’s early on and that you learn from it. Sean Graham, Head of Marketing at Seddons states‘Mistakes will no doubt be made, it’s how you deal with them that defines you.’

Whether it be in a particular area of knowledge, a rare skill or becoming the go-to guru for a specific piece of software used across the firm, it’s always good to be known for something.

Take some risks and embrace opportunities, especially ones outside of your comfort zone. Experience really matters.

Relationships matter

Develop good, long-lasting relationships both internally and externally. People work with people; people advocate those they know. Don’t worry if you’re not the most naturally sociable or charismatic – good working relationships are built on trust, respect and reliability – so set expectations, deliver on what you say you will, express enthusiasm and above all, communicate.

When working with lawyers Zara explains “think about how they operate, try to understand them and what they are selling and talk to them about their business, about deals and money – don’t just talk click-through rates and expect them to understand how that relates to how they want to grow their business.”

Ultimately be prepared for your meetings with Partners, go to them with solutions (not problems), researching, not blagging will mean that you gain their respect and trust. Developing true relationships with your colleagues in BD & Marketing, but also your partners and clients can lead to them recommending you for a promotion or even new external opportunities.

Reflect often on your career goals

One noticeable thing about everyone that I spoke with about their progression was how often they reflected on their career goals.

Rory Grant, Senior BD Manager at Ashurst notes ‘I don’t believe that you should have to wait your turn to progress in any business, rather you should progress by setting your own long-term goals, mid-term objectives and short-term action points to reach those goals and your career progressions should be measured by a combination of whether you’ve met objectives that are impactful for the business you work in and the industry you work in’

Thinking about your accomplishments on a regular basis can help you position yourself for a more senior role. You become more aware of your own success and worth, but also able to give tangible examples in appraisals of why you should be promoted.

When it comes to that all-important appraisal, be careful. Rory suggests, ‘don’t start your cause with how many hours you’re putting in or how hard you work’, it’s about your success. And be mindful of your timing – you have to know that you’re ready for the next step – it shows a lot about your own self-awareness, and an ill-timed, pre-emptive attempt at a promotion can often do more damage if you’re really not ready.

Rory concludes ‘I have my own personal development plan that I review at the end of each month. It maps out everything I've described above, and I request regular feedback from those in the business (at all levels including partners, my bosses, other business functions and those that report into me) to determine the objectives and action points to further my own development towards my own goals.’

Write it down!

The idea of writing everything down is something Sean is incredibly passionate about. “From the notes taken during a meeting, to the lightbulb moment you had when you woke up at 3am, write it all down.

As you progress further down the career path, you come to realise that no detail is too small, and while we’d all like to think that we have perfect recall, especially when it comes to important ideas, we don’t. Whether you use sticky notes, a real notepad, an iPad or an app on your phone, it doesn’t matter, you’ll be able to look back and draw on those ideas for future projects.”

Whilst we’re at it – to do lists seem to be the order of the day. Rory suggests using a covey matrix to make sure you’re focused on the important things.

When in meetings do be careful, Zara warns, don’t just become the note taker. 

Work with good people

Choose your manager and your team wisely, make sure they’re the kind of people that will progress you and nurture your talents. Sean states that it can be incredibly powerful to ‘find a mentor who can help you…make use of their knowledge, expertise and experience’ especially when you’re joining a new organisation, use their guidance to help you integrate quickly.

Moving on sometimes can be advantageous, it allows you to be seen in a new light, by new people. You won’t be seen as the Assistant or Executive who was promoted. Whilst you’re at it, Rory suggests even in the early days try and act up where you can – act and respond as the business would expect an employee the level above you to do – this will get you noticed quickly and hopefully stand you out as the one to be promoted when the time comes.

When you are given an opportunity, grasp it with both hands. Zara worked with one particularly innovative thinker who gave her the budget to drive and pilot lots of different ideas to great success.


It’s difficult to know how successful you are unless you look outside your organisation. Whether this is keeping in touch with old colleagues, or attending networking events such as PM Forum, it’s important to understand industry-wide challenges and how others are reacting to them in order to develop your own skills.

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