For the past five years, I’ve been doing business development management for a startup company in a nascent industry: cannabis. Here are some of the most important lessons I’ve learned about business development during that time.
Build Meaningful Relationships
I normally hate when people say this; people say it so often that it has become meaningless. However, the fact of the matter is that this is one of the most important lessons that I wish every business development manager would learn.
As professionals, we should change the way we think about business development. Too often, people are trying to get something from someone else and make every interaction transactional. The goal should be to build relationships.
How do you do this? Try to talk to everybody. Work to be in as many places as you can be that are related to your industry. Get to know as many people as possible, and open the lines of communication in every direction.
It’s important to get to know people on a personal level. If your time with them is limited or you don’t think the connection will be worthwhile for your business, it’s still important to find common ground. People can often see through you if you aren’t genuine, so strive to find a connection and build a relationship based on whatever that commonality might be.
Embrace Social Media
I was quite late to the social media game. I wasn’t even on LinkedIn when I started in this role. Now, the whole company loves to tease me about my thousands of LinkedIn connections.
I believe it’s more important than ever to be relentless on social media. When you go to events, try to add every person you interact with. If there’s a speaker at an event who you don’t get a chance to talk to, add them after the fact, and send them a quick message to initiate a new relationship. When you see an article that you find interesting, reach out to the writer, and start a conversation.
This means that you may often spend hours on LinkedIn during your downtime. But it compounds over time and grows organically.
Become An Expert And A Resource
It is important that you understand your role in the industry and own it. Pick your segment, and become an expert in the field. When you truly understand not just what your company does but also how it fits into the larger industry, you’ll be able to identify partners and resources in a more strategic way.
By positioning yourself as an expert in the field, one with tons of authentic relationships as detailed above, you can become a real resource for other people. Don’t expect to have answers for everyone, or to be the perfect match for every situation. Instead, work hard to introduce people across your network, helping others along the way.
Even if it won’t benefit you, showing your contacts that you’re willing to make an introduction, putting people in touch and assisting them in finding solutions goes a long way toward building trust throughout your ecosystem. This, in turn, helps you develop even deeper relationships.
I make a point of being a resource for anyone at any time. Even if I can’t immediately help someone, I listen to their needs and try to understand what’s going on, what I can do to help them or where to point them. When other people realize that I’m trying to help, that can also build the foundation of trust and strengthen our relationship.
People will remember that you were the one who made a vital introduction or simply served as a worthwhile sounding board when they needed it, and they will likely be happy to help you in the future.
Embrace The Need To Adapt
If you’re in a high-growth industry, what was relevant yesterday might not be relevant tomorrow. It’s thrilling, but you’ll need to think on your feet and adjust quickly.
For example, in the cannabis industry, my role at the onset was to identify banks and credit unions and try to get our team in the door. The budding industry was trying to find limited banking opportunities in a limited market. As the years have gone by, I have become more of a liaison, and my role is more about coordinating activities between financial institutions, regulators and other trade bodies.
For the past five years, it has seemed that every six months my role has shifted to whatever the new thing is that we need. Part of that is business development in general, but I think it’s particularly volatile in nascent industries like cannabis. Change is the only constant, and I believe it’s vital to stay adaptable and embrace it.
Don’t Get Discouraged By Rejection
At the onset of the role, be prepared for a lot of rejection. In fact, be prepared for rejection at any point along the way, too. But especially at the beginning, it’s important not to get discouraged by rejection.
Five years ago, I couldn’t get into a room or have a conversation with anyone who “meant anything” in the industry. Now, everyone knows our company and comes to us for everything. But that doesn’t happen overnight, and it certainly won’t be this way in the beginning. You’ll likely be rejected a lot and need to believe in the process. Sooner or later, the people who shunned you at the beginning will become your allies … if you want them to be.
Those are my five truths that have changed the way that I think about business development. If you agree with these lessons or perhaps want to tell me how wrong I am, please feel free to reach out to me. Maybe it will be the start of another genuine, beneficial relationship.