Business Development means different things to different people in different industries. Even though the title itself is used in almost every industry – more than 3.5 Million people listed in Linkedin alone(!) – the job description, goals and responsibilities of a Business Development person are dramatically different from company to company.
I used to dislike this title because it feels too generic, sort of a cookie-cutter business position. With time, I came to realize that this title is more of a form of communication between professionals than an actual job description. It means that the person carrying this title is responsible for engaging other companies and creating a lasting and meaningful mutual value.
People with this title are doing everything from sourcing partners, closing distribution deals, hunting advertisers, M&A, classic sales gigs of all kinds, portfolio management, affiliates management, merchandising, promotions… It’s endless.
Putting aside the actual day-to-day responsibilities of the specific position, every business development person can relate to this sentence:
“Business Development is always about connecting with the right people who will engage with you in a meaningful and mutually beneficial business relationship”.
In my current position, I’m the VP Business Development for a growing tech startup called SimilarWeb. My main goal is to find new business partners who can help us stay ahead and provide the best market intelligence product in the world. I joined SimilarWeb after they acquired my company, Tapdog.
After a few people asked me recently what I do to build successful and lasting business relationships and find new opportunities, I decided to try and portray what I do today that is still working for me as a Business Development executive and was working as well in my previous position as CEO.
Hope I can add you value. Please comment below if you have anything to say or want to add your own ideas.
Here we go!
It all starts here. This is the most important part and if you can improve or focus on only one thing, this will be it. Make sure your pipeline is healthy – balanced, transparent, reflecting your business goals, realistic and updated. If you’ll keep these 5 principles and rigorously manage your pipeline, your chances of success will dramatically increase. Let’s dive into each of the 5 principals:
Don’t put your all your eggs in one basket and don’t count on one deal to help you hit your goals. You never know which contract is going to fall through at the last minute and which of the complications you never imagined can happen are going to bite you in the ass. We’re human, which means we’re generally emotional, opinionated and biased creatures who tend to focus on what we find most compelling. Being self-conscious about this is key to keep your dealflow alive for the long run. You need to make sure you diversify. Get your leads from different sources and never focus on the same type of leads. Hedge everything. Start with your own biases.
Consistency and Transparency
Be open internally about the way you do business, how you prioritize, what are your business assumptions, how do you define success, how do you choose who to engage and what you are trying to achieve at the end of the day. By being transparent about your system, you are actually forcing yourself to be persistent and avoid cutting corners which as well, may bite you in the ass. By doing that, you’re also helping your colleagues to help you stay on track and not lose sight of the bigger picture. Sometimes it’s easy to get lost in the details of a specific opportunity and if other people, employees, managers or colleagues know what you’re up to and what considered to be a success in your book – they’ll be able to help when they can.
Reflecting management goals
You’re hired to do a job. Even if you’re the CEO. You hired yourself to do a job. You need to execute the company’s short and long-term strategy by getting deals done and moving negotiations forward. Remember what I wrote earlier on biases? Surprisingly we tend to focus on what’s easy and convenient. Shocking, I know. But sometimes, and more often than not, the easy stuff is not what we need to actually be doing right now. It’s important to always perform a reality check and make sure the pipeline i.e. the deals you’re working on actually reflect the goals of the company and the management strategy.
One bias that many BD people share is being too optimistic. They just add companies to their pipeline, guestimate a closing probability and hope for the best. This is always fun when you’re building your pipeline and always frustrating in the end of the quarter. Most deals won’t close, no matter what you do or who you are. It’s just the way business works. So while building and maintaining your pipeline, I suggest you’ll have very clear guidelines for what can fit in your pipeline, what to move to the next stage and what is getting pushed away. Screen your opportunities and make sure to invest your time realistically.
Groomed and Updated
Use a CRM and keep it updated. I prefer the combination of Salesforce as a database and ONDiGO for making sure the leads and communication logs are always up to date and fresh. Understanding where you stand at all times, what’s working for you and what’s not such as specific patterns of communication, can make a real a difference in your bottom line. Trust me. Also, make sure you can always easily access the recent details of the deal and visualize your funnel to the rest of your team.
Network and your brand
People don’t think of themselves as a business that needs to be developed. People don’t come to conferences to become leads. Your network is made out of people like you. They think of themselves exactly as you think of yourself – Someone who has a job to do and wants to have fun while doing it. Treat them like you would like them to treat you.
Be Nice To People
You are as good as your network. It’s not what you know it’s who you know. Cliché, indeed. But nonetheless true. Try sending 100 people a cold email or a cold Linkedin InMail. Now get 100 introductions, even from a distant connection. You can guess what will happen, right? But that’s easy. Everyone knows that intros are better. But how do you get an intro? Fanatically increasing your Linkedin network and collecting as many business cards as possible in every conference will not help you in the long run. The way you build a relationship is by trying to take your interests out of the equation and genuinely being interested in what the person you meet has to say or trying to achieve. It’s not a Dale Carnegie play, it’s just about being a nice person. Keep the people in your network in mind even when you don’t need them. Think how you can be helpful regardless of an immediate gain. Be a connector who connects connectors. Be the person people turn to when they need something. Be genuinely generous with your time and network. It will be worthwhile. The people in your network are your brand.
Your Online Presence
Learn how to make a killer first impression when you’re not in the room. Let’s think about that moment you’re getting an email from someone you don’t know. What’s the first thing you do? Google them or look them up on Linkedin, right? Whatever comes up in this 5 seconds research in addition to what triggered your interest will define your impression and it’s a very hard thing to change. Take this into account and make sure your first online impression is a killer one.
Make sure your Linkedin profile looks good and updated. Use your best headshot. If you don’t have any public references such as an article you wrote, an interview you gave, a blog or something you can credit to your name – try and make one. Put an effort on your online looks at least as much as you put on your actual appearance. It will be worth it. BTW – Can I ask a quick favor? What do you think of mine?
Negotiate in good faith
Don’t lie, misrepresent or try to “win” at all cause. A good deal is a deal where everybody wins in the long run. Getting a deal to close is not everything. Ignore the Bro talk about closing no matter what. Making sure the win is mutual and lasting, is way more important than closing something for the sake of closing.
Be a Super Human
There are things you can learn over time like accounting, legal terms and negotiation techniques that can make you better at what you do. There are things you need to work on your entire life like your energy levels, character and eloquence.
And then there are things you can optimize without working too hard. Use technology to make sure you’re optimizing yourself to the max. Use tools like Grammarly to avoid grammar mistakes, Rapportive and Zirra to make your research faster, Boomerang for remembering to follow up or YesWare for the heavy lifting, use HelloSign to get your documents sign as quickly as possible and avoid wasting time. Automate. Be the best you can do and don’t let small daily mistakes and chores slow you down.
Get Internal Support
Legal, finance, R&D, management – whatever you need. Have the right team to support your deals. Make sure to involve everyone who needs to sign off as early as possible. There is nothing more frustrating that having all terms agreed between the sides and then watching other people tearing it apart because you forgot to ask for their opinion earlier. Before you invest yourself in a deal make sure you have the support of your team. Without it, you can negotiate and talk for years, but nothing will actually happen at the end. Make sure the general direction of the deal and the basic terms fit your company’s culture and way of doing things. This one is easy to do and by not doing it, you are increasing your chances of failing.
The less formal the better and platform counts. People associate the app they use to communicate with a person to the degree of familiarity with the person they are communicating with. You probably won’t email your best friend, you’ll text him. You won’t text your professor, you’ll send an email. Same in business – Try to move day-to-day communication away from emails and scheduled meetings. Make communication less formal and more spontaneous. Think of your business partner as a person and connect with her on a personal level. Thinking of your potential business partner like that and not as a “counterparty”, will make everything easier.
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