Agile Business Development: Alpha

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For the past few years I’ve looked across at my engineering colleagues as they increasingly embrace Agile Software Development and wondered why marketing and business development don’t work to a similar cadence. Well it seems others have been thinking the same thing and are well on their way with a fully articulated Agile business development methodology.

A key tenet of Agile software development is the SCRUM. This is the same as the rugby term that refers to how you restart the game after a minor infraction takes place. In Agile business development the SCRUM is used as a daily and weekly check-in to gather and disseminate information across functional teams. Money Bar’s CEO, Tyler Nelson, calls this “situational awareness” and uses his Monday Morning Meetings to ensure team alignment. It’s a management technique he learned in the rapid growth phase of Research In Motion in the early 2000′s and which he has found effective throughout his career.

Another Agile BizDev pioneer is Harley Finkelstein, Chief Platform Officer of Shopify. Harley has appeared twice on Andrew Warner’s Mixergy to talk about his evolving embrace of Agile principles in the business development and legal practices at Shopify. In his first interview Harley outlines the key tenets of Agile business development.

The first tenet is Pivot as quickly as possible: In Agile speak, the act of pivoting is your ability to change course when things are not going in a productive direction. Nurturing your capacity to be proactive as well as reactive is key to course correcting mid deal cycle and staying open for bigger and better terms to become available.

Second Close your business deal in five communications: Literally five contacts, be they email, tweet, phone call, face to face meeting. The magic number might be different for your unique business, but generally speaking Harley believes that most business transactions can be streamlined to five communications. He says “…I’ve noticed that a lot of companies are sort of used to having these BD sort of term sheet discussions almost to ad nauseam and months on end until they get to the point where the deal either falls off the table because of a sort of deal lethargy or it’s just so uninteresting.” Indeed this is in sharp contrast to the typical term-sheet and MOU approach of many mature businesses. You can use the five communication principal as a litmus test to how aligned your resources are to market demand. If you are substantially over Harley’s prescribed threshold there is a good chance you could be using your business development resources on more productive activities.

Third: stick to the Agile BizDev Rubric of Tickle, Sizzle, Pivot & Close: The executive tickle is a conscious approach to engaging with prospective business partners in a casual and yet concerted way by letting a prospective partner know you see value in collaborating. This is followed by The Sizzle where you’ll dive into the details of the proposed transaction and work to clearly establish common ground upon which to close your intended deal. Last but not least, prepare to Pivot and Close before finalizing the deal. Harley says “The reason the pivot is really necessary right before closing is, if you look at sort of a decision making map and this is what I want, this is what they want, there is a point in the middle where our interests do align. That last pivot just before the close is a very effective way to figure out what that middle piece is and eventually sign some sort of deal.”

I find it interesting that while one can Wiki Agile Software Development there is no corresponding section for Agile Business Development. Let me know if you’re interested in collaborating on such a page so we can move this towards a 1.0 GA release. Beta testers welcome.

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