Choose Your Own Biz Dev Adventure

When I was a kid, I loved Choose Your Own Adventure books. Do you hike up the mountain or take the shortcut through the cave? Every page had a decision to make, and every decision had a consequence that impacted how the story played out.
In Business Development as with those books, every decision you make about how to pursue an opportunity to create long-term value will determine the fate of your journey. Do you train your sales force to sell a new product, or do you find a distribution partner to take it to market? Every decision has a consequence.

Whether it’s selling into a new market, or creating a whole new product to offer our customers, recognizing where there is an opportunity to create long-term value from customers, markets, and relationships is only the beginning – a fork in the road that prompts a series of decisions about how you will execute against the idea. Once you’ve decided to move forward comes the next important question: which path should you take?

Perhaps one of the most valuable tools for assessing the best path to pursue a Biz Dev opportunity is to ask a simple question: Build, Buy, or Partner? Understanding the pros, cons, and tradeoffs in pursuing an opportunity by one means vs. another is a necessity for Business Development success.

The “Build” Option

The “Build” option in a Build vs. Buy vs. Partner decision means that you will use your company’s own resources to pursue an opportunity. Perhaps that means a software company uses their own developers to write the code for a new product, or a company extends their current salesforce into a new territory.

Going down the “Build” path necessarily requires a certain investment of time, energy, and commitment, and that requires understanding the tradeoffs. Do you have the resources to pursue this opportunity in-house? Is it the best use of your company’s time, money, and people? Will pursuing this opportunity cannibalize your focus from other higher priorities? Can “building” your way to this opportunity allow us to realize its value faster/better/more cheaply?

Pursuing a “Build” approach may enable a company to maximize certain benefits: maintaining the most control over execution, or capturing the “biggest piece of the pie” by holding on to all of the revenue that the opportunity can create. But opposite is also true: when you “Build” your path to an opportunity, the potential risk of failure is entirely your own to bear.

The “Buy” Option

The “Buy” option means that a company acquires the necessary resources to pursue an opportunity. For example, an architecture firm may outsource the development of their website to a web design firm, or a Fortune 500 company may manage their customer relationships via a third-party CRM tool like

Knowing when a “Buy” decision makes the most sense for a given opportunity comes down to an assessment of your company’s core competencies and priorities. Is this opportunity out-of-scope for what you do best? Would utilizing another company’s solution enable us to retain your focus on higher priorities? Do you trust that the solution someone else can provide will be good enough for your needs?

The “Buy” option often enables the fastest and easiest path to pursuing an opportunity: by utilizing another company’s off-the-shelf solution or outsourcing the heavy lifting to a specialist, you can gain the advantage of others’ experience and avoid the mistakes from which they’ve already learned (though there are exceptions to every rule, as the challenges of integrating another company’s product or relying on someone else’s timing can have the potential to create more hassles than if you were to have opted for the “do-it-yourself” Build route). But that convenience comes at a cost as buying your way to the creation of long-term value can often be the most expensive course of the three in a Build vs. Buy vs. Partner decision.

The “Partner” Option

To partner means two or more companies work together to mutually benefit from their relationship. Partnerships come in a variety of forms with a variety of ends in mind, from generating awareness of each others’ brands (brand partnerships), to providing access to a customer group that one partner can’t normally reach (distribution partnerships), to creating or improving products (product partnerships). Many partnerships start with one particular goal in mind – say, a distribution partnership to sell a California company’s products into the European market through the sales channels of a company in London – but result in deals being forged that combine a mix of multiple partnership types.

Why is it that partnerships are so commonly selected as the path of choice for pursuing a given Business Development opportunity? Perhaps because partnerships can often be the best, fastest, cheapest – or only – way to create value for customers and enter new markets. And the idea that partnerships imbue a philosophy of “shared risk, shared reward” provides companies with a comfortable hedge against downside in the pursuit of mutual gain.

But it’s also important to recognize the inherent compromise of a partnership: any deal struck between two companies requires one or more parties to give up some amount of two precious commodities – money and control. All partners in any deal need to be motivated by the potential long-term value that may come from the relationship, and that motivation often comes in the form of financial incentive (be it a revenue share, a bounty payment, or a pay-for-performance bonus). And certainly any time you rely on a partner to help execute against a plan you are relying on their ability to perform to your standards. Control freaks, need not apply.

Understanding the balance of these pros and cons can determine whether a partnership is, in fact, the best path: if your partner serves as a distribution channel, can their sales teams correctly explain your products? If you’re creating a new product together, is it possible to seamlessly blend your assets to create something people want? Does their brand reflect the values you want associated with yours?

By off-loading some element of the pursuit of an opportunity to a partner, you are putting your trust and faith in their ability to secure the value of that opportunity. But at the same time, you may also enable the pursuit of value that is otherwise unavailable to your organization.

Choose Your Own Adventure

Build vs. Buy vs. Partner provides a convenient framework for assessing the options available to you when pursuing a Business Development opportunity, but at the end of the day the decision is yours to make. Knowing how to read the signs at the fork in the road will help you choose the best path for your company. Make your decision, and enjoy the adventure.

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