Business development is undefined by nature. Someone hired into business development will need to do whatever it takes to make the business succeed, whether that means customer development, selling a product or managing a marketing partnership.
When someone says “Business development is sales without a quota”, they’re often referring to the fact that business development roles can have intangible results. People in BD are rarely held to partnership or revenue quotas like comparable sales positions are. However, I find this not to be a function of the role itself, but most often due to the fact that companies are unsure of what they need from someone in this role.
A company that doesn’t have product-market fit hasn’t figured out exactly how to sell their product so they don’t think they need a sales team. Investors and advisors may suggest that the company hire a business development person without knowing what that person will do. The person hired has non-existent or low expectations and the rest of the team wonders, “What does that business guy do, exactly?”. To prevent that, I’ve found it helps to:
Create Clear Expectations: While quotas may not be a good fit at the start, it should be clear what the company expects from a business development employee over time. It helps to define the role: will this person be working on e-commerce partnerships or user-growth partnerships? More often than not, if you tell someone to “Go out there and get us some partnerships!” you’ll have a business development person with a calendar full of meetings and no idea where to take things.
Determine From the Outset What Partnerships Are Off the Table: Some companies are willing to take part in one-off partnerships that require engineering, product and marketing resources. Other companies only strike standard partnerships that are fairly cookie-cutter time after time. Determining what your company is and is not willing to do for a deal will save time and headaches.
I’ve spoken to more than a few people that dislike the functions of business development, PR, sales, recruiting and host of other non-technical roles. It’s difficult to find the right people for these roles, but it makes it much harder when you don’t know what you’re looking for.