I “do” bizdev

Practical advice for bizdev interns (from someone who learned the hard way)

I think business development folks face an identity crisis. Example: Technical people introduce themselves as developers or engineers. On the other hand, when people ask me what I do, I say “well, I do BD for x, as opposed to “I’m a business developer” like as if I’m an agent performing a detached function, rather than allowing an identity express itself naturally.

To be fair, business development is inherently ambiguous and there is no set way of doing it, which makes it frustrating to explain. Seth Godin explains that “the best deals have never been done before. There’s no template, no cookie cutter grind it out approach to making it work.” When you don’t have clear precedents, you have to try different things, and maybe that’s where that lack of title comes in. You “doing” bizdev means you’re not confined to a set way of doing things, you can experiment, iterate, hypothesize, test a myriad ways of growing the business. In that sense, you’re almost like an amoeba morphing yourself to fulfill a particular function - sales, marketing, building partnerships, looking for sponsors, PR, running errands, etc.

“You can’t code, so do everything else”.

A pithy explanation of BD from my friend David: “You can’t code, so do everything else to support the business”.This is true in a small early-stage company - you have to be willing to give your time, energy, effort and enthusiasm to any task that demands it. But beyond that, Steve Cho of Kiip explains the essence of BD as always identifying and executing on mutual short term and long term opportunities. For instance, Kiip creates opportunities for all players in a deal to win - brands that work with Kiip win by advertising to active consumers, game developers win by getting a cut of the revenue that Kiip receives from brands, and Kiip wins by making money in the short term and expanding its business in the long term.

Here is some advice on how to be useful as a BD intern:

1. Be your product’s best customer

I’m working at Stitch Labs, an inventory management software for small businesses. At first, I didn’t know how to use Stitch because I wasn’t selling things online. So I created a persona - Emanuel’s Windbreakers, and began adding products on to the platform to see how I could create purchase orders, make payments and sync inventory across different channels. That made me understand why Stitch was so powerful and why others would need it.If you don’t fully understand your product, you can’t convince someone else to buy it.

2. Get creative with your value proposition

First, understand the pain points of your customers. While trying to convince a reseller (consultants that bundle software and resell them) on the merits of Stitch Labs, I would ask if they had customers that were upset because of overselling. If they say yes, I would explain Stitch Labs as a way to prevent overselling for their clients. Instead of rattling the traditional “X is a ____ software, hosted in the cloud with x,y,z features”, you can address your customer’s pain point directly and show how your product addresses it.

3. Learn how to send concise emails

Keep emails short and to the point. This article contains excellent advice on what to include in an email. Additionally Steve Cho has a 3 line rule: 1) Quick introduction, explaining your customer’s pain point for them, 2) Brief explanation of how your product can solve it, 3) Setting up a time to talk. Respect the other person’s time and attention bandwidth.

4. Have a goal before you start your internship

Business development efforts do not yield immediate tangible results and cannot be captured simply in a weekly progress report.But aligning your actions to a goal can prevent you from being discouraged or burnt out. These are some goals to consider: Send out 40 cold emails a day, Make 15 phone calls a week to research, create 2 reports a week to understand a specific customer segment, close 2 deals every month. Be frank and open with your boss about what you want to accomplish.

5. Be willing to do the dirty work

Business development sounds glamorous - “One minute you’re grabbing lunch with Ron Conway and Ashton Kutcher and the next minute you’re closing a deal on the phone while you wait in the lobby at Microsoft to give Steve Ballmer the bad news: “No, we will not accept your acquisition offer of 3 trillion dollars.” From there, you head out for cocktails and swirl single-malt Scotch while discussing why Apple is so badass” (Christopher Steiner).

However, the reality is that you will be doing a lot of grunt work, and you need to be okay with that. From scouring the web for leads to email, to filling up a spreadsheet with emails, to writing copy for the company’s marketing site, to being rejected for phone calls, it takes a lot of perseverance and self-motivation to keep going. But if you are diligent and approach it with a positive attitude, you’ll do well.

Business development can be vague if you leave it that way. The most important way to prevent being paralyzed by confusion is to create a framework for yourself. This can be done through a lot of internal communication, a lot of research, thinking and writing out a course of action towards a specific goal. At the same time, be willing to make wild big bets.

I leave you with this quote from Chade-Meng Tan: “I do the Right Thing for Google and the world, and then I sit back and wait to get fired. If I don’t get fired, I’ve done the Right Thing for everyone. If I do get fired, this is the wrong employer to work for in the first place. So, either way, I win. That is my career strategy.”