Business development is a phrase that can be difficult to define, largely because companies tend to modify the scope of that role based on their unique needs. Sometimes, business development is code for sales - but more often, it's a lead generation role designed to fill the pipeline for the salespeople.

Partnership development is one of the best ways for a biz dev person to impact that pipeline. Effective strategic partnerships create faucets of future leads, meaning that time invested in developing the partnership pays off in spades over time.

This is often expressed through the analogy of hunting with a net (pursuing a partnership that captures multiple prospects) rather than hunting with a spear (going after individual prospects one-by-one). There may be a place in your business for both, but the partnership side is where you can scale your lead generation efforts.

How do you build and maintain these strategic partnerships? Here are four tips to get started.

1. Help Them Help You.

Just as in any relationship, if only one side is positioned to win, your partnership won't progress very far. A solid partnership has mutual benefits.

Think about the pitch you're making to the partner from their perspective. What is the win for them? Perhaps your partnership brings them a new service to offer their customers, or a referral fee bonus, or the opportunity to market to your list. Start with what's in it for them and make it irresistible.

2. Prioritize.

Narrowing down partnership opportunities to find the ones with the most potential impact can be a daunting task. Begin by identifying the partners who serve the same core buyer as you.

As a simple example, someone with a pool cleaning business could pursue a strategic partnership with a swimming pool supplies store. The two serve the same buyer and can send each other business while also solving a problem for that core customer.

3. Nurture the Relationship and Don't Compete.

Unlike the "close the deal or close the file" world of sales, developing business through strategic partnerships is heavy on long-term relationship building. These partnerships can take some time to get moving, so setting that expectation on the front end while developing a strong personal connection is important to mitigate disappointment or impatience during the ramp-up period.

Also consider the importance of not competing with your strategic partner in cases where your business offerings do overlap. It's best to develop a process to flag clients who were referred by strategic partners so they can be managed appropriately. Taking business away from the person who sent you a prospect is a surefire way to quickly kill a partnership.

4. Avoid Exclusivity and Keep Exit Options Open.

When working through the terms of your partnership agreement, protect your ability to work with other partners and your ability to walk away if the relationship isn't working.

Some partners will see the benefit you bring to their customers and push for an exclusive deal to make the value proposition even sweeter on their side. That's a win for them, but not for you. In most cases, it makes more sense to stand your ground and decline exclusivity.

Similarly, avoid locking into a restrictive long-term agreement that limits your ability to exit should things go south. Time spent managing a dysfunctional partnership that you can't exit is time that you're not spending on growing your business.

Keeping the exit options open can also provide a little push for both sides to proactively work at making the partnership effective. If your partner knows you can walk away from the table with just a reasonable amount of notice, they will be motivated to do their part to bring you a win quickly. And you will do the same.

A business development team focused on strategic partnerships plants seeds that require some care and nurturing on the front end, but that can bear fruit for years to come. Treat your partners with the mutual respect that you would bring to any healthy relationship to boost your lead generation efforts and your bottom line.

Published on: Nov 23, 2016
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