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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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The Power of Being Human in Business Development

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I’ve had some really crummy experiences with business and corporate development people in the past year. There’s been a strange change in ethos, where suddenly people have forgotten that when they do deals, they are doing deals with other people, not with a company. I learned this in 1993 when my first company was acquired by Len Fassler and Jerry Poch, two of the absolute master deal makers I’ve ever worked with. The each taught me so much about this, by first being people, then dealmakers.

 I’ve got a few posts on this topic coming but until then here’s a great post from Chet Kittleson at UP Global about how he thinks about it. Now, while Chet focuses on business development, the same is true for corporate development or sales.

My name is Chet Kittleson and I’m a human. I have eyes and ears and a nose and two nieces, and one nephew, and two sisters, and a wife, and a house and a couple of cats and a mom and a step dad and a biological dad and some friends and a history filled with good and bad and right and wrong and so much more that I can’t fit into one run-on sentence. Like I said, I’m a human.

What I’ve done with this first paragraph, hopefully, is began to build up trust between you and I. The type of trust that extends beyond the walls of LinkedIn and Twitter, and into a meaningful relationship between us as human beings. I’ve exposed more than simply what I do for a living, and in doing so, I’ve broken down a wall that previously would have created a barrier between where we stand now and where we might stand a week or a month or a year from now.

This sentiment is meaningful in every walk of life, but in business development this is the difference between failure and success. It’s not Microsoft or Google or Amazon that you’re looking to partner with, it’s Mary or Matt or Lindsay.

“Companies don’t make deals with other companies. People make deals with people. Understanding the motivations and incentives of the relevant people involved is critical to getting a deal done,” said Greg Gottesman of Madrona Venture Group.

The old adage, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” should be something closer to, “it’s not what you know or even who you know, it’s who you can influence.” And to be clear, influence is not in the same family as manipulation. Influence is based off of authenticity and trust built by years of friendship and communication. People who genuinely trust you to help them make smart decisions based on their needs as human beings as well as the needs of the companies they work for are in your sphere of influence. This is where the bulk of real and lasting business happens.

You’ll be surprised at how captive another person will be when they view you as an industry expert on things that pertain to their needs, rather than an expert at selling whatever it is you’re selling. Send them suggestions on other partnerships or products that have nothing to do with your organization. (Thanks to T.A. McCann for that nugget.) Connect them with your competitors if they’re able to offer something that aligns better with their goals. Stay relevant and true and you’ll be invited into conversations and email threads that otherwise you would have never been privy to.

“I never would have imagined what a profound impact the people I bonded with – co–founders, investors, mentors, partners –  early on in my entrepreneurial career would continue to have in my personal and professional life over 15 years later.  What better investment can we all make than in the people we respect.” said Mike Fridgen, GM at eBay and former CEO of Decide.com.

So if you’re interested in pursuing a career in business development, or are new to the field, here’s your first call to action: drop every book you’re reading with “sales” in the title, walk outside, and meet someone. Then meet someone else. Then go back to the first person you met and ask them how they’re doing. And all the while, don’t forget for one second that every single person you’re meeting is ridiculously human. Every one of them, regardless of their title, the number of connections they have on LinkedIn or the amount of budget they have control over, they’re human and they have eyes and ears and a nose and nieces and nephews and sisters and brothers and wives and husbands and all the rest.

Second call to action: start selling something. Anything. Learn how to remain human when money is added to the equation. Cold call strangers out of the phone book, set up camp outside of a grocery store, and learn to build trust out of nothing in an authentic way. I’ve worked with partners on $500 deals and I’ve worked with partners on $500,000 deals, and in the end it all comes down to your ability to understand those on the other side of the table. Start with beef jerky like Noah Kagan did with his 24-hour business challenge, and work your way up from there.

Good people are everywhere, even in the business world, and as the barriers fade away those who you once referred to as contacts or connections turn into, don’t let this word intimidate you, friends. They turn into people you can share stories with, people you can consult with on the next fiscal years partnership proposal, people who can help and that will at some point need help. It’s simple, but if you can remember this throughout each coffee meeting and each conference call and each email, you’ll be just fine. Hey, that’s one human’s opinion though.

Chet Kittleson is the Director of Strategic Partnerships at UP Global, parent company to Startup WeekendStartup NextStartup EducationStartup Digest, and Startup Week.

How Does A Small Company Make A Big Company Successful?

Comments (36)

Every single day I have multiple conversations and emails from CEOs and people at companies I work with about how to work with Big Tech Companies. You know – Google, Apple, Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, Salesforce, SAP, LinkedIn, Cisco, Yahoo, HP, AT&T, Verizon, Icouldkeepgoingforalongtime.

But this conversation is not limited to just the gigantic tech companies. They include all the up and comers andtheabunchmoreyouprobablydontthinkarethatbigbutare, including a long list of newly public companies or still private but mega-funded companies.

This conversation comes from two different directions.

- BigCo reaches out to LittleCo and has a classic “happy ears meeting” where BigCo talks a great game about all the great things the two companies can do together and how it’s going to be awesome and LittleCo hears what they want to hear, not what has been actually said. And then the giant black time suck hole of the “let’s work together dance” begins. In the typical case, this goes one for months and months without any resolution or action. Eventually everyone gets tired of each other.

- LittleCo reaches out to me and says “Hey – I really think we could be strategic to BigCo. Can you make an introduction.”

My response to each of these is NO NO NO NO NO NO. After I say NO a few more times, I state “You are thinking about it wrong.”

Instead of expecting BigCo to react to you in any way, start from the perspective that if you want a relationship with BigCo, your only goal in life should be to help BigCo be successful.

Start by coming up with a hypothesis about what you are going to do to help BigCo be successful. Then, test this hypothesis. The Lean Startup approach is super helpful here. Test, ship, iterate – just keep trying and keep learning. Use what you are creating to get the attention of BigCo. Don’t spend six months developing a business development relationship. Don’t spend months trying to get the decision maker on the phone before you’ve done anything. Don’t wine and dine endlessly the people you know, or get connected to. And never, ever go single threaded with one person at BigCo, or one BigCo, hoping something good will happen.

Simply go do some shit for BigCo. Be precise. Execute well. Communicate it to the people you know at BigCo. Do it without any formal arrangement. Show BigCo why they care and why you are the one that will move the meter for them.

Then you can start having the business conversation.

As a bonus, this works for sales also. But you probably figured that out already.

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