Growth Is Not A Yellowbrick Road Fairytale

I think it’s misleading (and I’m being polite) to let startups and early stage companies think that ‘growth’ is a systematic consequence of dispensing some outdated corporate recipes and money to spend on CRM, Lead Generation, T&E and chest thumping roadshow bonanzas. This recurring rhetoric pollutes the air on every imaginable channel online, at rockstar conferences and sadly in most of the exclusive environments that fund small businesses. Why? Because the truth is, it mask’s hard, laborious and extremely stressful work that very few have done and if so, no one wants to talk about it for fear of scaring off the budding founder of the next big thing.

No wonder the burnout ratios are high and there is no recognized PTSD in the entrepreneurial circles for those in charge of business development. People get launched into assuming some miracle will happen when you simply throw all the ingredients into the pan but as any cook knows, you have to constantly keep an eye on the stove, taste frequently and generally adapt by adding to or modifying the recipe – maybe that’s the secret to it all. Growth is a dish that is never the same however you try and standardize it and everyone is not a capable of becoming a chef.

The focus of business development is really on new business and opportunities, as opposed to managing relationships with customers you are already selling to.

People that successfully run business development are a special breed of warriors, they know that it’s working with and through their prospects that their company’s products or services will flourish durably. These are the quiet professionals, the ones that are on the phone, skype or e-mail daily and spend more time at their contacts offices and trade shows than at their HQ creating relationships, teaching and evangelizing, listening patiently and learning constantly but never overpowering and dominating their contacts as one might think. They are the ones that are out there for the long missions, with barely any support from head office staff and traditionally on their own, their success hardly being recognized under the loud acclaim and spotlights traditionally aimed on the product team, marketing or sales. Growth is invariably associated with sales but anyone involved in the latter will quickly point out that the former is ‘all talk and no punch’ which contributes to the longstanding schism between the two functions — nevertheless sales unquestionably benefits from the relentless relationship building of biz dev and reluctantly recognizes it. This is all understandable in the increasingly competitive business environment, but without the grueling groundwork that establishes the vital trust and belief connections in any commercial venture, none of the customary resources of a company can perform.

Giving people in business development the latitude to conduct their diplomacy and expertise while maintaining a relative command and control structure while in phases of intense growth is a convoluted task if not daunting for most. The key resides in finding people that are self-sustaining and autonomous, often speak multiple languages and are slightly older than average, and are able to operate in complex account environments for extended periods. Growth is an unconventional tactic that requires out of the ordinary people and time to produce lasting results and it’s not for everyone, maybe that’s why so many ‘experts’ are telling fairytales instead of the hard truth.