Hearing “No” is a big part of biz dev, partnerships, and sales. Early on you will have a desire to HATE when someone tells you no. The hate will not only be because you received a no, but you’ll also be angry at that person that gave you the no. You’ll think or say things like, “what an asshole” or “they just don’t get it.” But this is the wrong way to think and could ruin the opportunity to build a meaningful relationship with the other side.
Anytime you get a no, the absolute best thing you can do is find out why! Most people, in my experience, will tell you why it didn’t make sense for them (but you need to ask! they are not going to just tell you). It could be everything from your pricing is out of their range to they aren’t focused on X (X is whatever you are offering) right now (i.e. you are going to help them grow their userbase and they are focused on monetizing). I’ve even heard a company (happened to be a later stage startup) that didn’t do a deal because the founder’s girlfriend worked at a competing company so they worked with founders girlfriend startup instead (I was told this. It wasn’t a deal I was a part of this deal). You just don’t know until you ask.
Anyways, the point is that getting a no is an opportunity to ask why and understand what the shortcoming is. Sometimes it is something you can control, other times it is out of your control. But whatever the reason is, don’t hate when someone tells you no. It isn’t the time to lose focus on what’s important. And that is improving your offering so that you can turn them into a yes.
At every company I’ve worked for, about once a month, there has been someone who reaches out in a spray and pray way. What I mean by this is that the individual emails the same message to about 3-5 people at the company (the spray) and hopes one person will respond (the pray). While one might think that hitting up a bunch of people at a company would have a higher return of hearing back, that person would be wrong.
The spray and pray reach-out strategy is a terrible one that will immediately label you in 1 of 3 categories: 1) spammy 2) annoying 3) someone who doesn’t do proper research.
People at companies talk. They forward each other emails. Usually, the people in charge of things get emails meant for them. If a spray and pray email comes in to a bunch of people at a company, the email will be fwd’d to the correct person multiple times. Spammy + Annoying for the right person. The person is either going to ignore your email or go into your conversation with negative feelings.
If you are thinking of spraying and praying, forget about it. Do some research on who you really need to be connecting with, write a creative and concise email, and send it to one person! If you don’t hear back in a week or so, hit that person again with a nice and concise follow up. If you don’t hear back a week later, try someone else. One at a time.
On Tuesday May 21st, Union Square Ventures hosted a Business Development Summit for portfolio companies. Organized by USV’s General Manager, Brittany Laughlin, the event was from 9am to 5pm. Companies like Etsy, Foursquare, Shapeways, Sift Science, Disqus and more were in attendance. Unfortunately, I only participated from 12:30pm till 5pm, but I’d love to share some of what was discussed and learned at the event.
1) I missed the morning part of the summit, but on the agenda was breakfast, Lessons Learned, and lunch. Lessons Learned, from what I heard after, was different BD people sharing stories (ie lessons learned). This ranged from topics like staying focused, winning the deals you want, setting up a partnership decision-making framework, changing internal work policy to encourage uninterrupted work, building a partnership case study, closing future deals and more.
2) The afternoon had sessions on various topics like Deals, Customers, Partnerships, Team, Pricing, and Product. There were three 45 minute sessions, and three options per session, each session with 1 or 2 topics discussed. After the sessions there was a tools demo and wrap up. The tools demo was pretty awesome and everyone shared their favorite BD/Sales tools (I discuss some of them below).
3) Here are some of topics discussed in the sessions. Each one deserves its own blog post, but I’ve included a high level on each one.
a) How to determine best way to segment/size market (customers).
b) New Hires. How to find and onboard new team members (team).
c) Setting expectations with clients and internally (partnerships).
d) Pitch Decks. How to best tell a story to potential partners (pitching/sales).
e) How to determine optimal pricing model (pricing).
f) How to balance requests from key partners/accounts with the larger goals for the company and product (partnerships).
g) Aligning business goals to product goals, and vice versa (product).
h) Innovative deal structure design. Simple sustainable ones vs. custom deals for big partners (deals).
i) App Store Relations. What is important? (partnerships)
j) Speed of Deals. How do you quick start with iterative wins vs. shooting for big deals? (deals)
This is just a taste of the conversations had during the summit.
4) Before the summit ended the group spent about 30 minutes going around the room with control of the computer to show which tools they use the most. Here are my favorites (I’ve written or spoken about many of them before):
5) All in all the event was great. I had the opportunity to meet some new BD people in the USV portfolio, catch up with old friends and potential partners, and learn some new methods I can begin to incorporate into my daily routine.
I get many inbound questions about first time BD jobs. The questions range from salary to if one should take the job or not.
The most important thing one should know about first time BD jobs is that if you are (or are going to be) the person responsible for closing deals and scaling the business, you need to either reject the offer (if you haven’t started yet) or quit your job (if you are currently that person). I honestly don’t care about how much you believe in the company. There is a 99% chance you will fail at your job.
The problem here is that without someone showing you the ropes, you will make mistakes. Sure, there will be some wins, but for the most part it will be trial by error. In the startup world and with a company that depends on partnerships, you can’t make elementary mistakes. They will kill you. You may even be dead without knowing it.
To combat this, in your first BD job you need a boss who will help you avoid these mistakes. I always tell people that if there are two first-time BD offers on the table: one from a startup where you are the chief of deals and the other where you work with someone who has done it before. You need to choose the one where you will work for the person who knows what they are doing. Even if it is less money. This is single-handedly the most important thing you can do to start your career off right.
I’ve learned the hard way, when attempting to do a product partnership with another company (i.e. wanting them to integrate your offering) it is best to avoid people in business development roles. Business development can be great in many aspects, but in this area they will slow you down.
What I like to do is map out what an integration would look like. Who is needed to make the integration happen? It is usually a combo of product and engineering folks. If you have a strong offering that directly helps your prospective partner, you will go from zero to integration much faster by going directly through them.
Bottom line: In terms of product integrations, it’s a lot better for the product/engineering team to recommend something to the business side of company than the other way around.
I received an email last week from a friend. She wanted my feedback on the best way to ask someone she knows if they would be open to accepting an introduction. Her friend, Steven, had asked her for an introduction to Rachel. This is what I shared with her.
First Step: Ask Steven for a fresh email with the ask so you can forward it along to Rachel and add a note.
Second Step: Once Steven sends the email to you, forward it along to Rachel with a note in the body saying something like (obviously depends on context):
I hope all is well! My friend Steven from Company X sent me the below note. He would love to connect with someone at Company Y for his brother. See the note and let me know if you are interested in connecting with him.
The context here is my friend was looking to connect Steven’s brother with Rachel and her company for a job. Sometimes the context is introducing someone to investors, press, partnership opportunities. Just tweak the note.
Third Step: Tell Steven you asked Rachel and to stay tuned. Rachel will either respond or not. If she responds and says yes then respond and cc Steven on the email saying:
“Thanks Rachel. Meet Steven!
Keep it short and keep moving.
Fourth Step: If Rachel doesn’t respond within four business days, hit her again asking if she saw the email.
If she says no (in a nice way obviously) to the original email or the follow up- say thanks.
And this is the proper way to ask if you can make an introduction.
At a certain point in business development and partnerships you have more meetings than you can remember. Each meeting should have some specific follow up. It is impossible to remember them all. This is why it is imperative to take diligent notes at every meeting.
I use a basic structure: random notes, roadblocks, and next steps. The random notes section allows me to add anything that jumps out to me, key metrics, etc. The roadblocks reminds me of any issues that would hold up the deal. Lastly, next steps gives me clear action items of what to do after the call/meeting.
I see a very big difference between when I take notes and when I don’t. My advice: always take notes.
When working in business development and partnerships at a startup, with a product integration solution, you are always looking to the next deal. There is never time to rest. You typically have an API and you need to hand hold the next partner to get their integration up and running.
This is not to say you can’t enjoy the wins as they come. Enjoy them. But remember with every new deal the expectations get higher, the numbers need to continue to go up, etc.
For all the glamour and sexiness that comes with working on the business side of a startup, the reality is that you are only good as your last deal and there is very little time to rest and enjoy current success.
I’ve cut down on how many networking events I attend. The past 3+ years I have been to at least 1-2 events a week, ranging from events I organized (BD Meetup, Digital Learning Series, Speaker Series for VCs, etc.) to just enjoyable events in NY startup scene.
I am not recommending that everyone cut down on how many networking events they go to. On the contrary, when you are looking to break into the startup world, attending networking events is your lifeblood. For me, though, I have found other ways to network without attending meetups and spending 2-3 hours after work running around NYC.
At this point I am very selective with the events I attend, and try to make up the networking by doing a few things:
1) Writing four times a week and contributing to Forbes
2) Being active on social media (Twitter being the biggest one)
3) Skillshare classes: I haven’t taught one since the end of 2012, but Skillshare is a great networking tool to meet like-minded individuals. I will be releasing a hybrid online skillshare class fairly soon. So stay tuned.
I have found that doing these instead is giving me more time to spend with my wife and focus on the business at hand. Networking is great, but spending a few hours at events after a long and exhausting workday can take a toll. This plan helps me balance my life.
Do you have any tools on building your network that doesn’t consist of physical networking?
There are lots of pieces to the startup world that are affected by forcing something that doesn’t work. This could be a product that isn’t gaining enough traction, it could be a plan of business development action that isn’t working, or something else.
I’ve been there before. I’ve tried to force products and offerings that didn’t make sense. It never works. The best bet is to build or offer something you truly believe in. Something that you sincerely know will help your users or partners. If you do that, you will then have all the success in the world, because sincerity sells and people can see through the bullshit. If you don’t, you’ll just be spinning your wheels, wasting everyone’s time.
A bright spot in the New York tech business development scene has been Scott Britton, from SinglePlatform. Scott loves to teach and learn. He has a great blog that’s a must-read.
A few weeks ago Scott started a BD Newsletter. I must say, it is awesome. He sends a few articles on Sales/BD/Partnership topics, as well as some helpful tips. The one about a cool tool called Falcon this past week was great.
If you don’t subscribe already, you can find it here.
Here is my latest Forbes piece: http://onforb.es/13I7xUX.
Let me know your thoughts!