The Grand Unified Theory of Business Development

“I do biz dev.”

Few times in history have more ambiguous words been spoken. Ask ten “VPs of Business Development” or similarly business card-ed folks what, exactly, is business development, and you’re like to get just as many answers.

“Business development is sales,” some will say, concisely.
“Business development is partnerships,” others will say, vaguely.
“Business development is hustling,” the startup folks will say, annoyingly.


The amalgam of varied and often contradictory responses to the basic question of “what is business development” reminds me of the way physicists seek to explain what, exactly, is the universe. With conflicting theories on the nature of black holes and bosons, the ultimate goal for those scientists is a Grand Unified Theory, a single definition that can elegantly explain how the universe itself operates at every level.


Lacking any concise explanation of what business development is all about, I sought to unite the varied forces of business development into one comprehensive framework. And eureka, for I have found it – the Grand Unified Theory of business development:

Business development is the creation of long-term value for an organization from customers, markets, and relationships.

There is elegance in simplicity, but perhaps this definition leaves you wanting more. At its heart, business development is all about figuring out how the interactions of those forces combine together to create opportunities for growth. But a theorem requires a proper proof, so let’s break that statement down: first, what do I mean by “long-term value?”

In its simplest form, “value” is cash, money, the lifeblood of any business (but it can also be access, prestige, or anything else a company seeks in order to grow).  And there are plenty of ways to make a quick buck for you or your company. But business development is not about get-rich-quick schemes and I-win-you-lose tactics that create value that’s gone tomorrow as easily as it came today. It’s about creating opportunities for that value to persist over the long-term, to keep the floodgates open so that value can flow indefinitely. Thinking about business development as a means to creating long-term value is the only true way to succeed in consistently growing an organization.

The “customers” portion of the definition may be slightly more obvious – customers pay the bills. They are the people who pay you for your products and services, and without them you won’t have any business to develop. But not everyone is a natural customer for your business. Maybe your product doesn’t have the features I’m looking for. Maybe your product is perfect, but I don’t even know your company sells it. Or maybe you’re not reaching me because you’re not knocking on my door.

That’s because customers “live” in specific markets. For example, take the Pet Owners market. The customers who live there, of course, are people who own cats, dogs, fish, etc. Petco is a company that clearly sells to customers who live in the Pet Owners market. I, on the other hand, do not have a pet. I don’t live in the Pet Owner market. So what if Petco wanted to sell something to me? Then they’d need to find a way to enter into a market where I do live.

For example, I have red-hair and pale skin and as such, one of the markets in which I have the misfortune of living in is the “Prone to Spontaneously Combusting When Exposed to the Sun” market. If Petco wanted to sell something to me, perhaps they can find a way to enter into that market by offering sunscreen, hats, or sun-reflecting aluminum foil suits. Now, determining whether that’s a good idea or not for Petco to do so is a job for the business development team – and another story for another blog post.

And then there were “relationships.” Just as the planets and stars rely on gravity to keep them in orbit, any successful business development effort relies on the underlying foundation of strong relationships. Relationships with partners, customers, employees, the press, etc. are all critical to the success of any business development effort and as such they demand a bolded spot in any comprehensive definition of the term.

So, is business development actually sales? Is it partnerships? Is it all about hustling? Well, frankly, yes. It’s all of the above and as we’ll see in future blog posts, it’s much more. It’s a complicated and fascinating discipline that deserves a clear understanding, so that we can marvel at the beauty of a well-done deal as much as the stars.

16 Responses to The Grand Unified Theory of Business Development
  1. […] I plan to write for both Forbes and this site, so stay tuned to both as I pump out new thoughts to c...
  2. […] my definition of Business Development I say that the role of business development is to create value...

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