Since 2009, I have been helping businesses, from early-stage start-ups to listed industry juggernauts, to achieve faster and more satisfying growth. During this time, both in my current capacity as an independent consultant, and in my former capacity as the founder and owner of a consulting start-up (acquired by a black-owned consortium in 2016), I have been involved in business development projects worth more than US $14 billion. This has given me a front-row seat from which to observe a few super successful projects, as well as more than a few failures. What I learned is that successful business development projects often follow a process that is like building successful start-ups: they iterate towards success.
I have distilled my observations to eight processes. Together, they form a sort of algorithm for greater business-development success. This list is by no means perfect or complete, and it will need much more mental energy to become truly useful, but consider it a first attempt at bringing some order to what is often a chaotic process.
- Build a team. It is best to include folks from all levels and functions within and without your organisation. Consider including customers and suppliers. Diversity is your friend.
- Find ideas. Start by looking at high-leverage opportunities: specific pain or pleasure points that seems to have the potential to deliver disproportionate returns. In the case of a tender or RFP, much of this will be prescribed. Even then, bringing your own intellectual capital to the game and identifying the leverage points is crucial.
- Sketch out alternatives. Grab a whiteboard and a bunch of markers, and draw out different business models and/or basic business cases for each potential idea. Consider each on its relative sustainability, strategic fit/desirability, and the key metrics that you have chosen for this project.
- Prototype and test the best ideas. Prototyping different ideas is a step that many teams skip. Its hard work, and often starts costing some real money. It is, however, the only way in which you can get a real sense of the true desirability, strategic fit, economics, etcetera. If, after this phase, at least one of your prototypes is not a resounding success, go back to Step 2.
- Craft your pitch. Develop a business plan, proposal, or tender submission, a draft project plan, budgets and financial projections, and funding models. Generate or update evidence of your credibility—a project/company website, company profile, team profiles, and so forth. Make sure that your facts, data and financials are bullet proof, as well as that everything is professionally written, edited, designed and typeset.
- Secure funding. A project without sufficient funding is a no-start, and yet I am continuously amazed at how many underfunded projects get greenlighted. A project that cannot, despite your best efforts, be fully funded, requires you to go back to Step 2. Redesign it in a way that makes sense within the funding parameters. (Also see “Looking for project funding?” in the blog.)
- Negotiate and maintain crystal clear agreements. Successful teams make sure that they put the proper external and internal agreements in place, maintain them as the situation develops, drive compliance, keep everyone informed, and tie up loose ends as quickly as possible. This may take the form of formal contracts—certainly for the important details it should—but mostly it is about recording the multitude of small daily decisions, promises, compromises, and other details of the project in some way, and keeping everyone in the loop. Then, when the situation changes enough to warrant it, formal agreements can be renegotiated to reflect the new reality.
- Put the right leader in charge. An exceptional project manager who can simultaneously control the details, manage the costs, motivate team members, and champion the project at the board level, is an invaluable asset. No magic here; just hard work and good project management fundamentals.
Your input will help
What would you change? What would you add? What advice do you have for teams or companies starting new (and often capital-intensive) projects? Pop me an email and give me your thoughts.
(First published on LinkedIn Pulse)