Delivering on a forever promise, and maximizing an organization’s overall business potential, is often a task too big for one company. So they need partners, and new ways of doing things. But who builds out those relationships? Who jumps in to explore, formalize and potentially run a business opportunity pops up that “feels right” but doesn’t fit neatly into business as usual? Something really strategic, and with long term potential—where you see a hazy outline of possibility but the roadmap isn’t clear?
Business development is about driving growth, mostly by working in an unstructured way to identify new partnerships, categories of customers and lines of business. Let’s say you have a lunch restaurant, and a new office building opens nearby. They have hungry workers—now, your can either simply market your current hours and takeout menu, or you can have a business development conversation with the building management. Maybe they need catering for breakfast meetings, or maybe they want a “to-go” kiosk in the building. And maybe they are even willing to pay a premium for these services. Business development is about looking for win-wins between two organizations.
Once there’s a clear structure, the scope is developed and terms are defined, projects launched in business development can be handed off to operations, sales or marketing. But that first part—building a new relationship, identifying the opportunity, and defining the terms of the agreement—that’s business development.
A business development person often walks into a meeting unsure of any outcome beyond “look for synergies,” and that’s the fun of the role—there’s a lot of freedom and a lot of room for creativity, and of course, there’s the possibility of a big return on your investment.
Business development is the functional area of a company responsible for identifying and fleshing out new areas of business. These new opportunities often require a combination of new technology and/or new products and/or new markets and/or new distribution channels. Generally partnerships are involved, and these partnerships are unlike any other relationship the organization has had up to that point.
If you’re lucky enough to have a sophisticated business development team to explore these “outside the box” possibilities, good for you. But for the rest of us, we need to establish this function in our organization, or maybe build out the capacity ourselves.
I created a course called Business Development Fundamentals on the LinkedIn Learning platform. (That link should give you free access to the course for 24 hours–enjoy!)
I created the course because I wish there had been a course like that when I was learning to put together partnerships myself. I couldn’t find any resources–no books, no conferences, no blogs, no courses.
Since then, I have been searching for additional resources to support the business development professional. My course is hopefully a helpful resource. If you want more, here are some additional resources for you:
Scott Pollack of Firneo has developed an 8-week cohort-based certification course. This course covers topics including gaining buy in, negotiating, and managing partnerships for scale. He also wrote a helpful little book called What Exactly is Business Development?
Many of the other resources below came from Scott–so be sure to thank him!
If you’re looking for a meaty textbook about business development, you might enjoy Hans-Henrik Moe Sørensen‘s Business Development: A Market-Oriented Perspective.
One source of good content is Partner Hacker, which has a daily newsletter and podcast.
Scott also recommended the content created by Crossbeam. Crossbeam is a software company that makes SaaS tools to support partnerships, and has developed a lot of interesting content. The content is mostly for formalizing, scaling and trouble shooting partnerships, and not as focused on pure business development where organizations are sourcing and evaluating potential new partnerships that are not yet clearly defined.
Crossbeam has invested in a network for partnership professionals called Partnership Leaders . Through that group, they have launched a conference for partnership professionals called Catalyst to be held later this month (August 2022) with some interesting speakers, including the following:
- Sofia Tulchinsky, COO, Worldwide Alliances & Channels at Salesforce
- Christopher Klug, Partner Development Senior Associate at Google
- Joni Deus, VP of Strategic Partnerships & App Marketplace at Mailchimp
Finally, it’s always a good sign when academics and industry analysts are applying rigor to your discipline. Here are a few to follow:
- Dimitri Kapelianis, Associate Professor of Marketing, University of New Mexico
- Jay McBain, Analyst first at Forrestor, now at Canalys
- Allan Adler, Creator of the GoToEcosystem
I’m sure there are many business development and partnership resources that I have left off–and many more which will emerge in the coming months. If you have resources you love, please share them with me!
It’s not easy being responsible for envisioning and designing out-of-the box partnerships–but it’s critical to building strong “forever transactions” with the customers we serve.