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StartupBD: Master of None

January 18, 2016

One of the interesting challenges I’ve come across is sometimes figuring out exactly what does business development “own”? With other functions, it is more clear. Product owns the product, Sales owns “the number”, Marketing owns the message and so on. What does BD own? A strategy? A partnership? Sometimes maybe a number. And even if its ownership is clear, how BD achieves success often isn’t.

Often to achieve a BD-related goal, you need to partner closely with multiple functions; ie: Product/Engineering to help with an integration, Marketing to promote a partnership, Sales to share leads etc.

That is why BD is as much an internal facing job as it is an external one. To be successful, you have to understand the imperatives not just of the the business as a whole, but of individual functions. I sometimes think of BD an internal corporate diplomat, trying to get agreement and resources from multiple functions towards a single idea.

Here’s some of my guiding principles:

Brief early, brief often: Get your idea out there internally with all the relevant (and even tangentially relevant) functions to get buy-off and feedback. Yes, sometimes it takes a lot of time but it is worth it. If you’re going to be coming back to various functions for help or if you’ll be assigning them work, you better make sure you have their input and they feel invested in your deal.

If they think it, you’ve thunk it: Basically, do your homework and try to understand your colleagues’’ priorities and the potential objections. Know their individual imperatives and how your deal fits into them. Yes, your deal may be fitting into some larger corporate strategy, but how does it also fit into each function’s individual priorities. Don’t just pitch a deal. Pitch the deal internally and highlight the unique relevance to each function (again, Sales, Marketing, Product, Engineering… etc)

You don’t have to do everything, just make sure everything gets done: The two big mistakes in trying to get multiple things done to complete a deal is either trying to do everything yourself, or the opposite, which is just dumping tasks on people and assuming it’ll all get done because of the “strategic importance” of your deal. Neither approach works. Good BD people are always in partnership and working with functions to get things done. Sometimes it is rolling up your sleeves to do something yourself, sometimes it is sitting with a function and helping them prioritize what you need them to do. There’s an art to being flexible all while working diligently to a deadline.

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