Julian Lewis, Shiru’s VP of Business Development, is a food industry veteran who has led innovation focused commercial teams in Europe and the US. At Shiru, Julian has recently brokered collaborative B2B partnerships with some of the biggest names in the food industry, including CP Kelco and Puratos, with the aim of rapidly bringing more delicious and sustainable ingredients to market shelves everywhere. In this post, Julian shares how he brings the same kind of precision approach to business development that Shiru scientists bring to precision fermentation.
Business development is another word for sales, and it’s easy, right?
Well, yes and no. In the simplest sense, business development (BD) is about profitability and sustainable revenue growth. If you do everything right, then it is easy.
A more nuanced view of business development might involve “driving success” through concepts like strategic opportunity, commercial relationships, and market development. Again, this is more or less correct, but it’s starting to get a bit more complex. When you throw in the more abstract target customer base of a B2B environment, then it becomes clear that this requires a different skillset from selling used cars (which is complex in its own right!).
I have spent many years in B2B business development, with wins and fails aplenty. My experiences have culminated in these ten pearls of wisdom that I share here with you. A few are textbook lessons that I have fundamentally validated for myself, and others are my own empirical learnings. The common theme: with the right blend of people, processes, and technology, B2B business development yields extraordinary rewards.
#1 — “Time spent on reconnaissance is seldom wasted”
Early in my career, I spent some time working in and with the military, where a grizzly and battle-hardened Sergeant Major gave me this advice — which I have never forgotten. He was not an academic intelligence officer or a remote pencil-pushing general. He was an infantryman whose job was to apply extreme violence at the sharp end of war. He learned the hard way that success came from ensuring at least 90% of his job was “recon.” If he got his research right, then executing his objectives would be quicker, easier, and less risky for everyone.
As we will see in later pearls, B2B business development requires the full range of personnel from across all business functions. If you want to maximize success and reduce risk, then “recon” means research, strategic option evaluation, customer prioritization, clarity on product objectives, 4-box models, etc., etc. It’s never time wasted. If you get it right, you will be certain that this is the right customer for you, and you will do very little selling.
#2 — Diamonds not bow-ties
As BD lead, you are in front when it comes to customer engagement. But behind you are many others, including R&D, customer service, logistics, finance, and marketing. Similarly, behind your key contact are many others with similar roles. Traditionally, all communication and activity is focused through you and your contact, an approach known as the Bow-tie Model (see diagram). But imagine flipping that around — so that you trust and enable your functional teams to talk to their counterparts on the customer side. The bow-tie becomes a diamond, where you lead from the rear and let the experts do their thing. It’s liberating, it’s an accelerator, and it requires pro-level coordination from the BD leader…you.
#3 — No half-measures!
Now that you’ve done your research, completed your strategic exercises, and aligned your senior leadership, CEO, board members, and department heads, it’s time to engage your customer. Resist any temptation or internal pressure to “test the waters and see how it goes” or otherwise engage with limited resources because everyone else is busy. The single-hero Rambo approach only exists in movies. When it is time to engage a customer, there are no half measures. Full success requires full customer engagement across your organization. You should have decided in rule #1 that your customer prospect WILL BE be a major customer of the future. So make sure NOTHING will stop you from making it happen by applying all of the available resources from your organization.
#4 — Experts trust experts
As a BD professional, your promises and pitches will always be viewed with healthy suspicion. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that no one trusts a BD person, but no one trusts an expert like another expert. Only your customer’s quality manager can fully recognize and appreciate the processes of your own quality manager. If you have an epic R&D team, one-to-one discussions with your customer’s R&D team is the only way to really convey that. That’s also the reason why the previous lesson is so powerful – experts are most likely to trust their own expert counterparts. So let them do their thing.
#5 — You are a project manager
Now we are into the real nuts and bolts of what being a BD leader is all about. And you thought you were a salesperson! You have unleashed your functional teams to connect with the functional teams of the customer (Diamond Model), so you had better be sure that everyone knows what they are doing, are clear on the rules of engagement, and that you are keeping your senior leadership team aligned. It’s a full time job.And if you thought that negotiating with customers was hard, get this: 90% of your influencing and negotiating effort is internal. Frustrating? Get over it. That’s your job.
#6 — Quills not coffee
Are you sure you are actually talking to the decision maker (called the DMU, or decision making unit) on the customer’s side? You may be speaking to the person who likes to talk or who will always give you a “cup of coffee meeting.” The real question is: Who will put quill to paper and sign the deal? Challenge yourself on this one — you may not like the answer.
#7 — Depth not breadth
Your biggest source of incremental projects and revenue is your existing customer base. Through lots of heavy lifting, you have built relationships and trust with your current customers. It is natural for them to trust you with their next problem, which you may be able to solve. It’s also great to get more customers and diversify your customer base, but your current customers are a rich opportunity to be explored. So go deep – it’s in both of your interests.
#8 — Benefits not features
B2B products tend to be complex, and you will be offering lots of features. But customers don’t want features — they want benefits. This is patently obvious and taught in Marketing 101, but EVERYONE is guilty of talking about features — including myself. Take the example of the bike industry: everything you learn about bikes is about features. Savvy riders want the best new carbon fiber frames (a feature), but what is the benefit? Well, carbon fiber bikes are really light (sorry, that’s still a feature!).
In B2B, you’re usually solving customer problems. Your innovative and disruptive product will only resonate with your customer if it solves their problem (a benefit). Check yourself, your pitch, and the pitch deck provided to you by your marketing team. Make sure you’re talking in terms of benefits, not features.
#9 — Planes, trains and automobiles
I’ve worked in old skool legacy corporations, and now I work for a cutting edge, AI-enabled Silicon Valley biotech startup. Interestingly, in my experience, major customer traction only occurs when you meet face-to-face. Some laws of the universe seem….universal.
#10 — It takes a year
Major B2B contracts always seem to take a year, give or take. Simple “slam dunk” projects take a year. Long, complex projects take a year. I often have to explain this rule, and I often refuse to accept this rule myself. However, for no logical reason it is another universal truth. It’s true whether I’ve been a member of the BD team, or the boss challenging my team with high-pressure sprints and a “this time will be different” approach. The result = 1 year. Please do not accept this rule or else it will be 2 years. Go for it and challenge yourself to 3-4 months. I am just being Yoda and saying: it will take a year.
Business development — and business itself — is about people, processes, and technology. We have processes to ensure disciplined execution and technology to accelerate and enhance productivity. Yet, even in today’s data-driven world, there is still a need for effective people skills. This means listening and adapting to the people inside and outside your organization at lightning speeds.
That’s what makes B2B business development so exciting and demanding. It blends knowledge, experience, processes, and discipline into a cocktail that only becomes potent with the application of effective people skills.
Secondhand car anyone? It has a lovely textbook on the back seat…
We’re curious to hear your insights about successful B2B collaboration. If you’d like to share your own lessons learned, or if you’re interested in speaking with Julian, please drop us a note!