The biggest challenge today’s burgeoning companies face is understanding the difference between sales and Business Development (BD). Many companies think they are the same, and as a result they struggle with embracing the BD mindset. In fact, corporate executive titles such as VP of Sales and Business Development clearly demonstrate that some companies do not know the difference, as they have salespeople attempting to manage their BD effort. They treat it no differently than a sales effort and build their operations and incentives as though BD was a sales function. That is why their efforts always have failed results. To be successful at BD, keep the following points in mind.
1. In a BD Deal, Everything is Different
The first step is to acknowledge that there is a difference between sales and BD. While BD helps accelerate sales, BD is not sales.
In sales, there is a transaction—goods are exchanged for dollars. There is no transaction in a BD deal. In BD, you are not selling tangible products and services to another company. You are proposing a partnership in pursuit of bigger untapped opportunities. In fact, BD is the polar opposite of sales.
The BD mindset is about selling a vision of the future to an industry giant—your sumo partner—with whom you wish to collaborate. It is about defining what you and your partner can do together that neither of you are doing today in order to better serve your current and future customers. In turn, this means exponential revenue growth for both companies.
The biggest difference between sales and BD is in the dynamics that exist around selling (which is focused for revenue growth today) versus BD (which is focused around growing your revenue through strategic relationships for tomorrow). Since BD is not sales, your interaction with your potential sumo partner is not governed by a sales transaction—you are not fighting for a signature on an invoice because there is no exchange of goods for money.
2. Clarity in a BD Deal Can be Your Biggest Downfall
Marketing communications experts tell you that in business, the clearer you are about your message, product or service, the more successful your company will be. While this may be true in a sales environment, the exact opposite is true in BD.
In BD, the right amount of ambiguity can be your greatest strength. Strategic ambiguity is your goal during the BD pitch process and throughout most of the negotiation phase. As you are presenting your vision for a partnership with your potential sumo company, the last thing you want to do is to be overly specific about what you are proposing. You may think that this contradicts everything you have heard from sales and marketing gurus. Exactly! That’s because BD is the polar opposite of sales.
Remember, in BD it is about identifying how the two companies come together to create the greater opportunity. Ambiguity is critical when positioning the sumo for the deal because it accomplishes two goals. Ambiguity entices your potential sumo to want to learn more, and it protects your BD strategy. By withholding specifics in the courting process, it minimizes the possibility of your potential partner to say “no,” and it protects your company from collateral damage should your potential partner go to your competitor. They cannot use your BD strategy against you if they do not have all the details. That’s why clarity can be your biggest downfall at this stage. Ambiguity, however, holds everyone’s attention. By holding back information, rather than disclosing your coveted BD plan, you keep them engaged.
3. Reel in the Big Fish
Think of the BD process in fishing terms. When reeling in a big fish, you want to attract its attention with some bait—something very attractive. Once the fish decides to take a nibble, your goal is to get it on the line without breaking the line. If the line breaks, you have a “no.”
Keeping the line intact takes sharing bits and pieces of details about your deal’s potential. In fishing terms, this process of drawing the fish near is called “chumming.” You need to let up a little to give your sumo partner (or fish) time to go away and assess what this deal would mean for their organization. Then you check in and drop another detail that piques their interest, all the while driving them toward the boat where you’ll catch them in a net. What you don’t want to do is put some tasty bait on the line and then start reeling in the line as fast as you can before they’ve even come close enough to sink the hook. That’s a sales approach, not a BD strategy.
Partners need enough information about the proposed project to be interested, but if you overwhelm them, they will start swimming in the opposite direction. Then you are left with nothing and the fish is still in the water and is still hungry—and still open to tasting bait dangled by other anglers. The only thing worse than a sumo walking away from your deal is that same sumo deciding to partner with your largest competitor. That is why you need to keep your BD strategy close to your chest. If you unfold the details early in the game, then your sumo can shop around to the competition. So keep the information vague until you have the fish on the line, virtually swimming toward the waiting boat as you lead it along.
Use the BD Effort to Grow Sales
While sales and BD are polar opposites in terms of how each achieves its goals, BD helps grow sales by giving the sales effort a unique and distinct advantage. In BD, there isn’t a transaction that governs the relationship, nor is BD governed by an invoice or a contract. However, the BD deal will monumentally grow the revenue of both companies far beyond that of what any gorilla sales effort alone can achieve.