7 things every start-up founder should know about business development

I wish someone would have given me these guidelines two years ago.

  1. You're not hiring a sales person, at least not the kind most founders think of. You absolutely need to be able to sell but your work is actually  far closer to a high-end sales professional than those you're most likely accustomed to. And since most of you I'm assuming haven't bought a private jet to know that type of posturing, let's just say for argument's sake that you're not looking for a straight-up sales guy.
  2. You're not as different from a great sales person as you think. The argument about BD people being so vastly different and even better than sales folks is delusional. You're both work horses. Sales people have more focus (as they should) with a pipeline so to speak (if things are going well). Biz dev people at early age start-us enable the organization to hire those very sales people which will now sell the offerings you so ingeniously crafted. Don't knock your fellow soldier; it's foolish and short sighted.
  3. It isn't about being in Mashable, TechCrunch and Fast Company once and then slapping those logos on your website. It's about appearing in the places your clients would expect you to be if you were credible and the when you show up, having something intelligent and compelling to share. This is critical for the long run when you want to continually build steam for your organization.
  4. This isn't a sprint. It's a set of intervals with varying speeds and levels of difficulty. What may feel indirect at the time will be the very thing that gets the deal done in 3 months. Small wins make big conversations go easier. It's a matter of knowing, however, why each of those conversations is taking place. It's easy to get in the habit of closing deals and not questioning the direction of the organization and what needs be done today to build tomorrow. This is another key distinction between sales and business development people.
  5. Take the time to learn what biz dev, marketing/PR and sales actually entail. Intern in those roles if you need to (and I recommend that you do). Inherent to each of these skills is optimism; we always believe the deal is closing, the article will be featured in Forbes and Obama is calling us back. If you've never sold, which is the foundation for all things related to growth, you will find it hard to recognize stagnancy and failure. And your organization, and people,  will suffer as a result.
  6. Invest in your biz dev person: you wouldn't ask your CTO to learn code from scratch, on the job, and yet the world seems to think that biz dev is simply something you just learn as you go. The only pre-requisite is hustle. Let me ask you, would you ask your mechanic to figure out the inner workings of your engine as they go? The very thing that propels your vehicle? The truth is that biz dev is intimidating. Anyone who has done sales or BD can attest to that. Behind the arrogance and youthful cockiness many of us display lays fear and trepidation at one point or another. Your "horse" of the company needs to feel like they can turn to someone who will both respect their opinion, ideally relate to them and listen to them, failures and all. And if you can't guide them, find them resources that can. It's imperative so that they don't hide when things get tough. No shame in this; we've all done it, but if we can avoid it, we should.
  7. You don't always know what you're selling and that's just a part of the gig. Part of this deal is learning what enough people want to buy and feed them that while staying true to innovation and your mission. "Enough" will vary depending on the start-up, but many times a biz dev person will feel frustrated because companies want them to build everything but what they've created. This may be indicative you're in the wrong market, have the wrong product or simply haven't found the right people. Expertise makes this judgment call easier, but at the end of the day, it's a judgement call all the same.


p.s. Happy Independence Day. Be big today in honor and gratitude for the freedom we enjoy on a daily basis.