Seth Godin recently wrote about the role of business development and what it means to do it effectively within an organization. Seth’s post couldn’t have come at a better time for me having just left a role in Business Development with the New York Post. I thought I’d take a few moments to add to the conversation and talk about my experience in that role.
The job was my first after completing school and built a wonderful foundation for a career in digital. Before starting the role I wasn’t sure what I’d be doing and though I quickly learned the ropes it was always difficult to explain to others, even to those within my organization, what exactly someone in bizdev does. But I’ll do my best to put it as simply as possible.
Business Development forges partnerships that are beneficial to an organizational objective yet often ancillary to its core mission.
Seth provides a few examples of this, such as Starbucks licensing its brand and flavors to an ice cream maker or Best Buy partnering with an insurance company to provide extended warranty programs. Ferrari too has mastered business development by practically supporting their entire operation not through the sales of their cars but with licensing deals with companies like Puma and video game creators. The examples could go on forever.
Business Development in the digital world I imagine is much like adventuring into the Wild Wild West. There are no rules, no business models, and no guarantees. Furthermore, you’ll have to align yourself with others in a relationship that is mutually beneficial to ensure survival.
Business Development is all about finding the right partners and striking the right deals but it’s not easy. So many companies do not have the confidence or the know-how to successfully execute bizdev deals. However, those that do have some common traits and characteristics.
As I mentioned before, there are no rules in business development, which means that companies have to trust their BizDev managers. Many of these deals will feel uncomfortable and make even the most daring of companies uneasy which is why it’s important to stay flexible and nimble – good opportunities often come unexpected and won’t last forever.
2. This Isn’t Selling
It’s true, a good pitch and many qualities of a good salesperson are required for business development. However, business development is more than selling.
The deals brokered by bizdev managers didn’t exist yesterday and won’t be duplicated tomorrow. You sell a product – a rigid product whose benefit and configurations are all predetermined. You enter a partnership – a fluid partnership that requires understanding, creativity, and compromise from both parties.
More importantly, in traditional sales the relationship is most engaged before both parties agree to the terms of the sale. Once the sale is complete, the relationship is dwindled down to pure maintenance and ensuring customer satisfaction. In business development, the sale is only the beginning and both parties should be more engaged after the relationship is solidified. Involvement should be on optimizing results and achieving the maximum benefit for everyone.
3. All Hands On Deck
One of the biggest pitfalls of business development is that the nature of our deals could effect any number of other departments within the company. That’s why it is important to take the time to educate everyone from product development to legal and achieve buy-in on your goals. (Sidenote: This was very difficult in the newspaper industry where editors, journalists, designers, and sales all have a different understanding of what’s ultimately most beneficial)
4. Be Decisive
There’s a lot of noise out there, especially in the digital industry where everyone thinks they’ve come up with the next best idea, so its important to be decisive so as to not waste time and resources. The role is plagued with chicken and egg syndrome, where every vendor promises a golden egg if they could only find a chicken who will mate with them.
Once you’ve made your decision it is also important to be direct with the other party. There is no point in wasting someone else’s time and if you don’t make it clear that you’re not interested they’ll only continue to waste more of yours. What is even worse is going into a deal because you simply could not get rid of someone – it sounds stupid but it can happen.
5. Low Hanging Fruit
There’s nothing wrong with deals that produce marginal revenue streams as long as they are easy to execute. Unfortunately, back-and-forth along with a long legal process can often make the simplest of deals take months. Hopefully companies will dedicate more resources towards business development programs so that there are enough people to manage each type of deal.
6. Meet Your New Best Friend, Data
Collect as much data as possible and use it to make calculated decisions.
That doesn’t mean that your gut instinct isn’t important, it’s just that it is not infallible.
6. Learn the Ecosystem
The most important lesson I learned while being involved in bizdev was to learn as much as possible. It’s an obvious approach but try to learn everything you can about how your business and industry works. Sit down with members of each department and understand their strengths and weaknesses. Subscribe to newsletters and meet up with others in your field to stay on top of your industry and are able to recognize the trends.
Also, audit your vendors and make sure that they are the perfect fit. They should be people that you feel comfortable working with for years to come and they should also be able to deliver on their promises.
Business development isn’t just for the veterans of our industry. It was a great way for me to start my career in digital and provided unlimited exposure to a number of companies and introduced me to some very smart and innovative individuals. I’m certain that bizdev professionals will be at the front of the digital future as long as they stay sharp, take calculated risks, and continue to be students of our industry.