No Head of Biz Dev? 6 Steps to Get Your Strategic Business Development Effort Up & Running 

August 24, 2015

Building corporate relationships with organizations outside of your own (aside from customers and suppliers) is important — very important — both from a tactical standpoint (for instance, creating non-linear revenue growth opportunities via partnerships) and from a strategic standpoint (aligning with potential acquirers or corporate investors). In fact, one could argue that nearly every company should be investing in some type of business development.

But, not every startup has gotten around to hiring someone dedicated to the cause. Regardless, there are some simple, though not necessarily easy, steps you can take to get things off the ground.

1. Come Up with a Plan

Start with your company’s strategic goals and identify if and how business development can help you achieve each. An important exercise in itself, this first step helps you to clearly lay out your company’s primary strategic objectives.

Next, identify which objectives might benefit from biz dev and how biz dev can augment or extend your functional resources (sales, marketing and product) in pursuit of the objectives. For example, if improving the quality of top-of-the-funnel marketing leads is an initiative, then targeting a referral-based arrangement with the right partner may make sense. Similarly, if entering new markets (geographic, vertical or otherwise) is critical, partnering with someone that has better coverage in those areas can create significant leverage.

You should be able to tie back any business development activity to one or more corporate level priorities. Your time and resources are too precious otherwise.

2. Choose an Executive Sponsor and Get Alignment

One of the most common causes of death for biz dev efforts is somewhat counterintuitive: too many people involved. The problem is, if everyone is doing it, then no one is really doing it. The effort becomes thinned out and there is no real ownership. Assuming your organization has no formal BD function, companies need to identify a sponsor (preferably at the executive level) that can set aside some bandwidth to organize and drive the process forward. Others can (and should) help of course, but there needs to be accountability and a consistent voice, otherwise things will fall through the cracks in between other core functions.

3. Map Out the Landscape and Build Your Target List

Organize a white boarding session to identify the universe of relevant partners. This should incorporate feedback from as many people as possible across sales, marketing, product and the executive team. Create a matrix to categorize the list by important criteria such as current vs. potential relationships, likely to be receptive vs. not likely to be receptive, high impact vs. low impact, potential partnership structure (for example, OEM, co-marketing, reseller, integration, corp dev / M&A discussions) and so forth.

It’s also important to survey your team to uncover any existing relationships, past conversations, known contacts / entry points and any other important context related to these organizations. Then organize this information in a way everyone can view it (see the next step).

4. Get Organized with a Central Repository of Targets, Contacts and Conversations

Build a Google Doc or some other type of shared repository that tracks all of the target relationships. Be sure to include the reasoning or thesis behind each as well as conversation history, status and anything else that might be relevant.

Aside from helping you wrangle relevant information into once place, this central repository will create transparency and enable accountability against your goals, and it will give the chosen BD sponsor a basis off of which to periodically report out to others.

5. Develop the “Pitch” for Specific Partners

Take your rationale for targeting each potential partner and develop it into a pitch, which will form the basis for your initial outreach (whether that’s via email, cold call, LinkedIn or an introduction) and future conversations with their product, BD or sales folks. The pitch should be a succinct message that can be conveyed in a few sentences, and should center around how a relationship with your company would benefit the prospective partner.

It’s also smart to develop email templates that can be customized for each target / entry point. Here is a good post on the topic from David Lee to help get you started.

6. Get Your Corporate One-Pager Together

There are several types of materials that should be developed and used throughout the biz dev process, but one of the first things you’ll want to have handy is a corporate overview. This should include one page with key stats on the company and descriptions of your mission, products, go-to-market strategy and customer base (including marquee customers).

The idea is to educate your counterpart and illustrate your value to your customers and the market. Moreover, it makes it easier for your contact to gain buy in from others within their organization.

While conducting business development might seem time consuming if you don’t have a dedicated resource on your team, it’s worth your while to identify business objectives that can benefit from biz dev, assign a dedicated resource and begin establishing those crucial partner relationships that can take your business to the next level.

John McCullough


John works closely with OpenView’s portfolio companies to help strengthen business and corporate development activities with the aim of driving growth and strategic exits. He focuses on identifying potential strategic acquirers, facilitating engagements that result in alliance partnerships, driving M&A and capital raise outcomes, and building and maintaining relationships with the global investment banking community. Prior to joining OpenView, John was Director of Corporate Development at Rocket Software, a global enterprise software company where he drove inorganic growth initiatives and business development activities; while there he successfully executed 10 acquisitions, including public company carve-outs, stock purchases, and cross-border transactions.