In his Forbes article, Scott Pollack defines business development as the “creation of long-term value for an organization from customers, markets, and relationships”.
That’s a very broad definition.
Personally, I would define business development as the function of developing mutually-beneficial partnerships between organizations.
Still broad, I know… this calls for a round of show, not tell.
I’m going to share here how I got my start in business development along with actionable ways to break in from multiple perspectives. And to give more credit to Scott, he runs Firneo, a community for BD professionals, so he’s an expert in the field (I’m slowly getting there).
It Started With One Conversation
I can still remember that day perfectly.
On a typical fall evening in 2017, I met a former professor of mine in Bryant Park. We sat at a green table to the right of the fountain, near the merry-go-round, and I asked him for career advice.
Having just completed my year-long rotational program, I was one month into my full-time position and questioned if it was for me. While I found that I enjoyed working with my team, I didn’t think a pure client-facing role would be for me, nor did I find the subject matter of custody banking particularly interesting.
Upon hearing that I wanted to use my free time to develop new skills, the professor asked if I’d be interested in helping him with his organization that connected students with consulting opportunities at mission-driven companies, Social Impact Scholars.
Eager to try something new and interesting, I agreed. That fall, I would bring on 8 partner organizations to work with the students during the summer.
Things Sometime Start Off Slow
To best capture the overall process, imagine pushing a boulder up a hill.
Starting on flat ground, you push with significant effort. It’s hard and the boulder barely moves; however, you keep pushing.
As you continue, you develop strength and it gets easier. Eventually, you push the boulder to the top and, with just a flick of your finger, you roll the boulder down the other side.
All this to say that I had a rough start. Fearing rejection, I spent too much time researching who to contact instead of conducting outreach.
Eventually, realizing that I had a deadline to hit, I pulled the trigger and drafted an email to the person I had the closest connection to and hoped for a response. I got a response, we had a quick conversation, and I had my first interested party.
One Thing Leads To Another
Gradually, things got better.
After drafting a few conversation-starter emails, I picked up patterns and developed a template. I also added a slide deck with additional data points. Armed with these materials, I went through the process of research, outreach, and meeting over and over, getting better with each cycle.
Although the stages in the partnerships pipeline remained constant, each deal provided a new learning opportunity and a chance to connect with the founder of a mission-driven business. It was very interesting learning about all of the companies working to create social impact: doing business while doing good – a different model from nonprofits, which are not commercial businesses.
Learning about their businesses, I approached founders with potential project ideas and examples of past projects, working collaboratively to figure out ways for the students to get help out while gaining work experience in consulting.
Over the course of four months, I’d lined up all of the companies for the students to work with during the summer and learned a ton about process, relationship development, and taking things into my own hands.
I approached the opportunity with an open mind and eagerness to help out. By putting in the work, I emerged with the experience to help me to ultimately break into business development.
Multiple Points Of Entry
Business development is a mix of strategy, sales, and relationship management:
- Strategy – researching leads, creating business plans, studying market dynamics
- Sales – conducting outreach, tracking pipelines, pitching
- Relationship Management – tracking KPIs (key performance indicators), checking in with partners, providing relevant introductions
Building partnerships for Social Impact Scholars involved the non-monetary exchange of value. My job was to convey to founders the win-win situation that could play out in a partnership: students gain practical work experience by working on research-based consulting projects for their company. In return, the company gets help in tasks such as competitor analysis or market research.
To conclude: You never know until you try. You don’t know if you don’t ask. Say what you might about these cliches but my journey shows.
A shoutout to Social Impact Scholars for this amazing learning experience.