People always ask me how come I have done well in events and party planning and I am always the first to admit it comes down to two things:
1. I love people.
2. I am a business development manager first and an event planner second.
So I thought for 2014 I would share with you my all I know on how to be a business development manager and ask others in this position the same question.
But before I started I thought perhaps there should be a blog on getting the job, so let us begin.
How to Land a Business Development Job
So you want to be a business development professional? The job title has certainly become a coveted one of late, especially in the tech sector where the business guys and gals are the ones forging newsworthy partnerships.
The question is, do you know what the job entails? Even then, do you know how and where to start on this newfound career path? Or better yet, do you have the qualities that make for success in these always-on positions?
Mashable interviewed six experts in the field at various stages in their careers to get their tips on what it takes to become a business development professional at technology companies and startups.
Biz Dev Pros – Here is some background information on these six seasoned business development professionals.
Charles Hudson: Newly turned entrepreneur Charles Hudson was the vice president of business development at Serious Business, a top social game developer acquired by Zynga in February. Previous engagements include senior business development positions at Gaia Online and Google. Hudson also produces two conferences focused on gaming: Virtual Goods Summit and Social Gaming Summit. Hudson is now co-founder of Bionic Panda Games.
Jesse Hertzberg: Hertzberg is the former vice president of operations and business development at Etsy, the immensely popular social commerce site for handmade and vintage items now valued at close to $300 million. Hertzberg currently advises a number of startups, including Squarespace, and is the founder of BigSoccer.
Matt Van Horn: Van Horn is the vice president of business development at the super stealth startup Path. His past jobs include more than three years working in business development for Digg, as well as a four-year stint with Apple while attending college.
Tristan Walker: Walker is the up-and-coming investment-banker-turned-tech-star heading Foursquare’s business development efforts. Walker is directly responsible for coordinating a majority of the trendy startup’s biggest strategic partnerships. This role has also brought considerable visibility to Walker, who’s been featured in Vibe Magazine, as well as named in The Hollywood Reporter’s Digital Power 50 list, Black Enterprise’s 40 Next list and Mediaweek’s 50:20 to Watch list.
Jason Oberfest: Oberfest is the vice president of social applications at game developer Ngmoco, which was recently acquired by DeNA for $300 million with a potential $100 million more in post-acquisition bonuses. Prior to joining to Ngmoco, Oberfest was the senior vice president of business development at MySpace, and before that the managing director of business development at Los Angeles Times Interactive.
Cortlandt Johnson: Johnson is the chief evangelist at SCVNGR and actively works to recruit businesses to participate in the startup’s rewards program. Johnson also co-founded DartBoston, an event-centric community designed to connect entrepreneurs and professionals in the Boston area.
And Me: As you know by know I am an international events consultant and business development manager currently based at Urban Caprice. Thriving in a high pressured business development environment within Urban Caprice, the event-production arm of the Caprice Holdings Group. Urban Caprice delivers the food and atmosphere of any of the Caprice Holdings restaurants (Scott’s, The Ivy, J Sheekey, Le Caprice, The Club at The Ivy, Daphe’s, Bam-Bou, Rivington Shoreditch&Greenwich, The Mount Street Deli, 34 and Life ) to an external venue or can conceive and produce entirely unique events.
Now that you know the players, lets begin…
Education and Internships
What undergraduate school should I attend? Do I need to go to grad school? What about internships? These are all questions you’re likely to face as you explore a future in business development. The esteemed professionals we interviewed all have backgrounds of varying degrees, so we asked for their input on these subject matters.
Walker’s own personal story is perhaps the most unique example of how to come by a business development position. While certainly making his mark in business development now, Walker initially pursued a career on Wall Street before packing it up and heading to Stanford Graduate School of Business, a shift that pushed him in the tech direction.
All things considered, does Walker recommend internships? “Certainly depends,” he says. However, based on his own internship experiences, “if you want to work in tech long term, interning at an investment bank may not make the most sense,” he jokes.
Hertzberg is a big proponent of internships. “Interning is the best job interview you can ever get, and is critical to beginning to build your professional network. Some of my favorite professional relationships are with folks who once interned for me,” he says.
Johnson suggests going after internships that push you outside your comfort zone. “The goal of my internships was to learn how to interact with all kinds of people. I always went after positions that forced me into different types of situations, whether they be social or otherwise,” says Johnson.
Grad school is something Walker has a bit more conviction about. In his words, “B-school” is “very important … not only for the skills (i.e. accounting, finance, operations, etc.) that could be beneficial for all managers to comprehend long term, but also for the softer skills of ‘people management.'”
Oberfest found an immediate opening in the biz dev field right as he was starting out. “I was fortunate to get my career started at the beginning of the first Internet boom, so for me it was trial by fire,” he explains.
If you’re on the fence about grad school, consider the following statement from Oberfest. “Grad school can help, but [it] is not a requirement. Good knowledge of the mechanics of deals — how to structure and negotiate deals — is an important component of the job and an MBA or JD can certainly help there, but I think the single most important attribute of an exceptional business development person is good product intuition.”
Van Horn is also proof that graduate degrees aren’t absolute requirements. “I’ve never attended graduate school, but if you’re able to attend a top tier school, I hear you build an incredible network for life,” he says.
Instead, Van Horn spent his undergraduate college years working for Apple. “It’s very powerful to have a big brand behind your resume,” Van Horn shares. “I worked for Apple for four years doing campus marketing while in college and it helped a lot.”
For Hertzberg, his MBA, “was worth half of what I paid for it, as I already had a business background.” But, he says, “The network is why you go and, yes, that has been worth its weight in gold.”
For me, I got my first *bus dev position at 16 ( *that’s what the kids are calling it now) helping my father bring in Irish Whiskey to Cape Town with a vision to grow this into a regional sales area. Sales was one thing but looking after the clients and understanding the needs of each one, and their clients was another thing altogether. I learned a lot in those years and I would agree with the gents above that it created great foundations for my later career.
All of the professionals we talked to strongly advocate that those aspiring to work in the field read up on mentors past.
Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time, by Keith Ferrazzi is Van Horn’s personal favorite read.
Johnson, who also recommends Never Eat Alone, finds Tim Sanders’s Love is the Killer App: How to Win Business and Influence to be an important read as well.
Walker suggests that business development professionals-in-training pick up a copy of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini.
Unfortunately, it takes more than a few good books to read your way to success. Hertzberg recommends an aggressive approach to ongoing education that entails consuming as much information as possible.
“Read industry rags voraciously and know who is starting up, who is funded, who is growing, who is cutting what deals, etc.” he says. “Have a deep and holistic understanding of the industry and marketplace beyond just your company’s focus.”
Hudson strongly advises that, “all BD people, especially start-up BD people, should read Steve Blank’s work on customer discovery. That’s a big part of your job.” You might also want to start by reading Hudson’s own in-depth article on what being the “business guy” at a startup entails.
I am currently reading, The Psychology of Selling: The Art of Closing Sales by Brian Tracy and loving it.
If you want to work in business development, and do so successfully, these experts agree that there’s one thing you absolutely need — a tangible passion for product.
In actionable terms, Walker describes this as a “tireless hustle.” Van Horn agrees. “I think you need to be passionate and have hustle,” he says.
Van Horn also recommends being an “early adopter of interesting products. If you’re looking for a technology job, make sure you use every awesome sounding new product you read on Mashable.”
Those best suited for business development roles are the make-it-work types, says Johnson. “The most successful people I’ve met are those who know how to quickly adapt and hustle to find ways to overcome any obstacles put in their way,” he advises.
Oberfest believes these three qualities are key: the ability to “quickly read people,” innate negotiation sensibilities and an appreciation for long-term relationships.
Hertzberg reminds that “you have to like people,” if you want to do well in a biz dev role.
Hudson agrees and points to human-to-human interaction as a huge part of the job. “If you want to go into business development, I think you have to be good at dealing with and understanding people. If you’re not comfortable with interpersonal communications and relationship management, it probably isn’t the right job for you,” he says.
On the flip side, Walker says that those possessing a “lack of humility” are least suited for biz dev positions. In a similar vein, Hertzberg says, “Be humble. Always represent your company’s brand faithfully. Constantly work to enhance and preserve that brand. Remember that your personal brand will never be bigger than your company’s.”
I remind myself of this daily, especially for me as I work for such an iconic brand.
Getting Your First Biz Dev Job
For those just looking to get their foot in the door somewhere, knowing the answer to the question, “How does one get a biz dev job?” is of the utmost importance. We posed this particular question to our professionals, who all have slightly different, but uniquely encouraging takes on how and where to get started.
“For me it started with just recognizing the pretty significant business opportunity at a startup that I was already passionate about,” says Walker. “It always starts with product, then recognizing the opportunity on top of that.”
If you’re still an entry-level professional, Oberfest recommends not taking a job in business development at first, but rather in product management.
“I would first go work as a product manager in the industry you are passionate about, or perhaps even work as an engineer if you are technically inclined. Develop skills that help you understand how to build the kind of products you want to represent as a business developer. That experience will enable you to conceive of deals that create real value for both sides,” he says.
As a hiring manager, Oberfest also shares that, “In interviewing BD candidates, I look for good product intuition first. Everything else follows.”
Oberfest’s words on pursuing non-business development positions at first, ring true in Johnson’s history. “Looking back, I think the one job that has helped me the most from a business development standpoint was working in the bag room at a country club during high school. I was forced to learn how to remember names, build rapport, and develop long-term relationships,” recalls Johnson.
If you’re still young, Hertzberg encourages you to go work for a startup. “Go to a startup and be a jack of all trades, learning as you go. Build mentoring relationships to get up to speed as quickly as possible, and be sure to acknowledge what you don’t know.”
Hertzberg, too, recommends the product route. “I came up through the product ranks and I highly recommend that because you’ll have both the internal credibility you need to get stuff done and the experience to know what’s doable and how quickly,” he explains.
Getting the biz dev job you want might not be as complicated as it seems — though it will require some very aggressive behavior. “Business development is all about relationship building,” says Johnson. “So get out from behind your computer and start talking to people in positions that you’d like to have one day.”
Van Horn concurs. “The best way to get an internship (or a job) is to target individuals and tell them why they can’t live without you,” says Van Horn.
In fact, this is exactly what he did to secure his previous position at Digg. “When I graduated college in 2006, it was a crazy dream to move to the Bay Area and join a tech start-up. So I took it upon myself to stalk Kevin [Rose] and crew repeatedly,” he wrote in a note to his former co-workers.
Van Horn tells Mashable, more specifically, “When I decided I wanted to join Digg, they were only hiring engineers and I was a recent marketing major graduate. I strategically would show up at events where I knew the CEO was going to be just to introduce myself. From that point on, I would not leave the CEO alone until they created a position for me.”
Hudson has some more tactical advice on the subject matter. “I think that the best way to find a business development job is to find a company where licensing or distribution is key to the strategy,” he says. “If you’re new to the function, starting at a larger company where you get to see (as opposed to lead) lots of deals is a good way to get a handle for what the job requires.”
Lead Gen, Motivation and Networking
There don’t seem to be any cheap and easy strategies for success on the business development career track. In fact, quite the opposite appears to the case. The consensus among the experts we talked to seems to be that you’ll need to put the time and energy into becoming a masterful networker.
Thankfully, networking is “a skill that can be learned,” according to Hudson. “A lot of good networking is the ability to listen and ask good questions. The other thing that’s critical is a good memory — the ability to remember names, where you met, and what you talked about last time is actually a great skill.”
When it comes to finding and/or contacting leads, Oberfest had this to say: “Build credibility one relationship at a time, then ask those contacts to make introductions for you. It may feel like a long process, but it will serve you well long-term.”
Walker concurs. He says the right way to approach someone is through a referral.
Hudson recommends you “meet people where they are” and actually pick up the phone. “I think the phone is underutilized by most people — you can get a lot of clues on the phone that you don’t get on e-mail. And it’s really easy to be misunderstood in written communication,” he says.
Just don’t force the issue. “If someone is not a phone person, don’t continue to call them — go with whatever works best for the other person,” advises Hudson.
The notion of putting in the work now for pay-off moments later was also a recurring theme in these interviews.
Hertzberg echoes the others with this statement: “Get to know lots and lots of folks up and down the food chain. This means drinking a lot of coffee and always genuinely offering advice, introductions, whatever, without thought of personal gain. Similarly, know the influencers, inside and outside your organization. All of this will come to bear when you need an intro somewhere.”
These day-to-day tasks can be daunting and tiresome in repetition. If your motivation ever wanes, Johnson suggests you stop and “celebrate the small victories. The end goal is definitely the big win, but get excited when you overcome the small hurdles along the way.”
Of course, rejection is to be expected, but Hudson encouragingly reminds us that, “it hurts a lot less with each no.” He also has some practical advice for how to troubleshoot continual “no” responses.
“Ask yourself some questions. Are people saying no to you or what you’re pitching? Is there a consistent pattern of rejections? If so, can you change the pitch or offering in response? Continuing to do the same thing in the face of repeated no answers can mean that your strategy or pitch isn’t resonating with the audience. Take a few calls to try something different to see if that works,” advises Hudson.
On the subject of networking at events, Van Horn has some very specific advice.
“At every event, your goal should be to meet as many people as possible, leave with at least their name (so you can look them up) and one unique thing you spoke about. Then the magic is all in the follow-up. If there’s meaning behind the relationship, follow-up with a three sentence e-mail and mention the unique thing you spoke about that will spark their memory of the conversation. If there’s reason to deepen the relationship, then follow-up with a beer, coffee or meal meeting,” he recommends.
Van Horn also suggests using, “What’s your story?” as an opening line — it’s a tip he picked up from Brian Wong, CEO of Kiip. “This question opens the person you’re talking to to have the freedom to come up with a clever explanation of themselves,” he says.
Johnson’s event networking strategy is very much in the same vein. “Ask as many questions about the person you’re talking to as possible,” he advises. “People love talking about themselves and if you can get them talking about themselves a lot, they’ll love you!”
Well I hope you learned a lot from that, I know I did and I have to thank Jennifer Van Grove for the above article and Google for helping me find it.
Goodbye and good luck, and remember, “Lifes a Pitch and then you BUY!”