A few weeks ago I went apple picking with my family at a local orchard. I’d never been apple picking before, so my gadget-loving inner child was delighted to find that the orchard rents out 10′ poles with nets at the end to pluck apples from the upper branches. While I fumbled around swinging the heavy pole at the treetops, my 4-year old daughter Sasha ran around picking apples off the branches of small trees that she could reach on her own.
“Ha,” I chuckled to my wife. “She’s literally ‘going for the low-hanging fruit.” Sasha quickly filled up our bag, and we went home to make a pie.
In Business Development, few people pride themselves on going after the figurative low-hanging fruit. Instead, we look for the Big, Sexy Deals. Those are the deals that we can easily brag about. It’s usually easy to see the value of a Big Sexy Deal, whether it’s the brand value of having a household name attached or the economic value of a major payday. Big Sexy Deals make it easy to impress a boss or build a resume. Who wouldn’t want that?
The Utility of Small Unsexy Deals
The challenge, of course, is that Big Sexy Deals are big and sexy because they are rare and hard to come by. If they were easy-to-pick low-hanging fruit, then no one would be impressed.
It’s easy to overlook the value of low-hanging fruit, but sometimes that’s exactly the best place to focus your attention. Scoring a deal that is smaller, yet easier to land, may provide you with momentum to trade up to larger opportunities in the future that are out of reach right now.
Sometimes Big Sexy Deals will be out of reach no matter how much time or effort you put into them. Perhaps that’s because your product is not mature enough to provide value to a prospective partner’s customers, or because your brand is not well known enough to be attractive. Big Sexy Deals require a mutual exchange of value and sometimes you’re just not there yet.
Small Unsexy Deals may provide less long-term value than you’d normally think to pursue as a superstar business developer, but racking up small wins helps to build momentum that can accelerate your journey down the path to larger opportunities. Pursuing smaller deals may requires less organizational buy-in from a prospective partner in order to move forward, and accordingly may have a lower hurdle to leap to get them interested.
Small Deals Have Option Value
The key to turning a Small Unsexy Deal into a Big Sexy Deal is to think of your initial deal as an MVP. Inviting someone from a company to speak at an event provides an opportunity to build a direct relationship with an advocate within the company. Scoring an opportunity to syndicate a blog article you’ve already written onto their own blog establishes a connection between your content and their audience. Securing a discount on their product to offer to your own customers can demonstrate the potential an ongoing distribution partnership.
Individually, these may all seem like relatively small deals with little fruit to bear, but each provides more than what’s on their face. They can provide option value: the time for your own audience to develop into a size that they would want to reach; The resources to build a more customizable product that would appeal to their customer base; an initial contact within the organization to learn about how their business is structured and to establish relationships that can lead to bigger and better things. None of those opportunities may be an exciting destination, but they are all valuable steps on a longer path.
It may be hard to realize it when you’re standing in the orchard, but sometimes the lowest hanging fruit can become a most-satisfying pie.