Why Agile Business Development is more effective

http://www.flickr.com/photos/rossbeane/965314248/sizes/n/in/photostream/Ever tried to find a partnership to help grow your customer base? Well, that’s one of the most important tasks for a business developer. This post focuses on that task and how to improve it by using inspiration and tactics from the world of agile software world.
Enter Agile Business Development.

To explain what agile business development is all about I’ll refer to the man that coined the term and presented it during an interview with Mixergy; Harley Finkelstein. He is the Chief Platform Officer at Shopify and has found great ways to use the analogies from the agile movement and apply them to building partnerships and business development.

Agile is about reacting to change and new business needs. Done is better than perfect and focus on collaboration over negotiation. If you haven’t watched/listened to the interview do it after reading this blog post. There is a link at the bottom.

What problem is Agile Biz Dev solving?

Usually partnerships can be a massive project that takes time and resources to come together. What agile does is to work in smaller steps, finding out if a relation works and if two partners have something to gain from each other. It gets something going fast. Finkelstein uses the metaphor “the teenage guy who tries to score on the first date” as the problematic methodology most commonly used in non agile biz dev. Use the following tactics to get more agile.

Stop wasting time. What are the objectives?

Skip the company presentation slides. You can send them in advance or after the meeting. Finkelstein describes a typical agile biz dev meeting as cutting right to the chase and trying to understand each other’s needs – “Here is my objective for this meeting. What is your?” Of course this can seem intrusive or aggressive at first but briefly explaining that this way has worked before (for Shopify) and that you don’t want to waste the other persons time.

Not every partnership is obvious on forehand. By stating the objectives you will develop a deeper understanding for your partners business.

Finding the centerpiece

The centerpiece is the beautiful vase or object that stand in the middle of the living room, which everybody can enjoy and talk about. It’s a common interest that makes us feel comfortable and more eager to work with each other. In Finkelstein’s example Gary Vaynerchuk was publishing his book “The Thank you economy” about the same time as Shopify was launching. As there were many key points in the book that also tied in with entrepreneurship and launching an e-commerce store, there were obvious gains in making Vaynerchuk one of the front heroes for the Shopify vision. This centerpiece was about evangelizing for entrepreneurship and increasing sales on both ends.

Finding the centerpiece is about doing research to find something that is going on right now, but also finding the passion and the driving force behind an individual or a company. It’s about identifying needs/passions, removing pains and increasing growth for others. Good examples are product releases, political stand points or in this case, a book release.

Start small and iterate

By suggesting collaboration around a small test run or a proof of concept, you gain tons of knowledge. It’s a low commit in time and money on both sides which is often key. If you perform well on the test your can use it to back a bigger project. Also, if the test fails or if your partner tries to screw you, you will have lost little compared to a situation of greater volume.

Leverage loyalty

Finkelstein refers to this point as a new type of “Greed”. He means that if you find people that are your fans you should encourage them. An Australian blogger that were sending Shopify lot’s of paying customers got a call from Finkelstein and a paycheck. They paid him retrospectively in cash according to their affiliate agreement to make him a loyal follower for the coming decade.

I don’t agree with Finkelstein on the payment reward. I think just the fact that he got noticed and contacted was worth so much more. By paying your contributors you turn them into employees and changing their incentive on why they want to help. Make sure to build partnerships with fans that last by making them feel special.

Don’t forget about timing

If you try to sell yourself on the same day as your potential partner is stressed out over a product launch, is leaving on vacation or just having a crappy day you are less likely to succeed. Your timing can be improved by simply following the news, monitoring when companies are likely to release new products or when authors are about to release books.

Relations, rejections and rebounds

This ties in with the Timing issue. If you catch your potential partner at a bad time it is likely that your will be rejected with no way to comeback. By offering a way out of your proposal without the partner loosing face, you can come back at a later time and be more successful.

The basic layup:
”I know you are super busy. I’m in town beginning next week. It would be great to meet you, but if you can’t that’s fine too”.

This works well for media relations too. You might have a strong PR message that you want to reach out with that is not a 100% relevant for one certain news site. Just offer a way out without destroying the possibility of future talks.

“I hope this is relevant. If not, I still hope I can buy you a beer on conference X this fall. “

That’s it. That’s the basics of agile biz dev. Please comment and add more discussion to this subject.

Mixergy link: http://mixergy.com/harley-finkelstein-shopify-interview-2
It’s probably behind a paywall but it’s worth paying for mixergy!

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