According to the Grand Unified Theory of Business Development, Biz Dev is simply about pursuing opportunities for long-term growth. Sounds simple enough, but what, exactly, does a “Biz Dev Person” do? Too often, Business Development has been considered the “junk drawer” of the business world – an ambiguous, unstructured job title for people who do a little bit of everything.
But at it’s core, I believe a Biz Dev job is focused on 3 activities:
- Customers: Find new ones and extract more value from current ones.
- Markets: Figure out where new customers “live” and find a way to reach them.
- Relationships: Build and leverage relationships founded on trust and integrity to facilitate opportunities.
“Well,” you might say. “That sounds pretty straightforward.”
Yes, it does sound that way. In the simplest of terms, business development may be about figuring out how to sell more to customers, or finding new customers to whom to sell. But to suggest that “that’s all there is to it” is to suggest that running a marathon just requires putting one foot in front of the other for 26.2 miles. Of course, training for and running a marathon requires a unique approach to making sure you don’t peter out before the finish line. Similarly, business development requires a unique combination of skills to ensure that the value you derive from an opportunity persists for the long haul:
The Biz Dev Skillsets: Strategy, Sales, and Relationship Management
- Strategy: How should you go about pursuing an opportunity? How do you know which path is best? Just because an opportunity is in front of you, doesn’t mean it’s a good one. Understanding the fundamental drivers of your business, and the business of your customers, partners, and competitors, is critical to being able to make wise decisions in the pursuit of long-term value. Being able to assess an opportunity for its potential to create long-term value, determine the paths available to you to pursue it, and understand the trade-offs and risks of one path vs. another, are core Biz Dev functions.
- Sales: On the one hand, the sales function within a business development role is relatively clear – you may be in front of a customer, trying to convince them that your product is the best one they can buy. You’ve worked your way through the organization, found your way to the decision-maker, and after painstaking months of preparation and work, you are in position to close the deal. But what if what you’re selling is not a product, but a partnership? Or a licensing arrangement? Or even an agreement that may eventually lead to the sale of your company? Every business development job has some form of sales in it, albeit some more than others. Navigating through organization to find a decision-maker, understanding the unmet needs of a customer, providing a real solution to solve that need – those are core sales functions that every business development person needs to play well.
- Relationship Management: From How to Win Friends and Influence People to Never Eat Alone, much ink has been spilled on the importance and value of strong, respect-based relationships. Business development requires not only having a strong and expansive network to help you facilitate a deal, but also a deep understanding of how to build and maintain new relationships to leverage them when needed. Relationships with partners, customers, colleagues, and even the media, can all be crucial factors in not only getting in the door to a biz dev opportunity, but keeping it open.
“Wait a second,” you’re asking. “You forgot about partnerships? Isn’t biz dev all about partnerships?”
I assure you, I did not forget.
Although a partnership is only one route that a company may take to pursue a business development opportunity, it is a common and well-traveled path that uniquely blends many of the core skills a business development person requires. A partnership is when two or more companies work together for mutual benefit, and can often be the best (or fastest, or cheapest, or only) way to create value for customers and enter new markets. Whether it’s a distribution partnership (where one partner provides access to a customer group that the other doesn’t), a product partnership (wherein the partners join forces to create a new product or enhance an existing one), or a brand partnership (wherein products, services, or overall brands are promoted to jointly improve a business opportunity), being able to forge and succeed in a strong partnership is a core function require by Biz Dev folks.
But really, partnerships are the amalgam of all other Biz Dev skills – forging a partnership and leveraging it successfully requires a mix of sales, relationship management, and strategy skills. Partnerships are one potential outcome of Biz Dev done right.
“Pure Biz Dev”
In my view, a “pure” BD job will have some combination of all of the above – identifying and strategically assessing an opportunity to create long-term value and then executing on a path to pursue that value. Of course not every person in a Biz Dev role will be focused on everything above. In some companies, the Biz Dev team may own one or more pieces of the strategy to evaluate the path to long-term value and the execution to pursue it. But in others, the role of BD may be distributed broadly — the Sales team may scout opportunities to sell in a new product to their customers, Finance may run the numbers to determine if it’s a big enough opportunity to even pursue, Operations will weigh in on whether the capabilities exist to make the product, etc.
But whether it’s a solo effort or a team sport, business development is a function that is varied, complex, and exciting. The nature of Biz Dev may be ambiguous to some, but the importance of the role should be clear to all.