How to Write a Business Development Plan

Mark Uzunian December 1, 2021

Mark Uzunian

Mark got his start working at tech startups in New York City as a copywriter and content director. He has a strong focus on concise, engaging copy and a data-driven approach to content creation.

A business development plan is a strategic plan for how your business will attack partnerships and other BD activities. These plans are typically drafted after you’ve identified what type of partnership you want to form and what potential partners you might want to work with. A business development plan is a roadmap that should set clear objectives, have desired outcomes, set milestones, and assign stakeholders. 

What Is a Business Development Plan?

A business development plan outlines exactly what your organization needs in order to achieve long-term success. It’s important to be as specific as possible in what outcomes you hope to achieve and who the stakeholders are involved in pushing the ball forward. You need to be thinking about what can go wrong, and more importantly, what you need to go right.

Dan O’Leary, Director of Partnerships at Box, believes you should ask yourself five questions before you begin to build out your BD plan.

  1. What are my goals?
  2. What are the goals of my partner’s company and organization? 
  3. How do they define success? 
  4. How do they measure and track their goals?
  5. How do their goals connect to mine?

If you can sufficiently answer these questions, then you’re ready to start planning for long-term growth and sustainable success. Without proper planning, your entire team could be spinning their wheels doing work that doesn’t have a long-term focus. 

What to Include in Your BD Strategic Plan

Once you know what your goals are, what the goals of your potential partners are, and how to define success, you can begin to create a strategic plan for your business. These are the four strategies that you should include in every plan:

  • Clear objectives and goals: Having a plan is good. Identifying outcomes and goals is better. Knowing what the desired result of all your planning should look like seems obvious, but outlining clearly what your objectives are is something that gets overlooked often.
  • A SWOT analysis: Conducting a SWOT analysis is traditionally used as a way for an organization to orient themselves around their strengths, and then identify any threats to the wellbeing of the business. We’ll go into how to turn a SWOT on its head to make it actionable.
    • A partners success plan: Having a successful partnership is fundamental to the health of your business. You should have a plan in place to ensure not only your needs are being met, but your partner is successful as well.
  • Evaluation criteria: You should already know what success looks like if you’ve effectively answered the five questions from above. But how do you evaluate what’s working while in progress? Having milestones and frequent check-ins are strategies that should be in place to make sure you’re always on track.

How to Create a Business Development Strategy

Let’s take a closer look at the steps we’ve outlined above:

1. Set Clear Objectives & Outcomes

The first step you should take is to set clear goals you want to achieve. Do you want to create a new product? Increase monthly revenue? Enter a new market? Be as specific as possible with what you hope to achieve and how you’ll get there.

For example, if you’ve identified a partnership you want to pursue, it’s doubly important to have all your ducks in a row. Presenting a clear pathway to business success to your partner is the best way to drive partner commitment and accountability, and make your goals the same as your partner’s. This means you should have specific and measurable goals outlined, and a defined way to achieve them.

2. Conduct a SWOT Analysis 

The SWOT analysis has become a common tool in business development to diagnose strengths and weaknesses in an organization, and identify actionable ways to move forward in a positive direction. The only problem, according to the Harvard Business Review, is that we’ve been conducting them backwards.

“The SWOT is not really an analysis or diagnosis at all. It is simply a list and categorization of the internal and external situational factors related to the subject that you’re evaluating, usually produced during a group brainstorming session,” says HBR. “The resulting document is typically less than insightful and does not offer a clear path to action.”

What you should do instead is flip the analysis on its head when you’re doing any type of market analysis. Evaluate external factors first, such as opportunities and threats to your organization, and then internal factors, such as your strengths and weaknesses. 

“Focusing on the external factors first can get you thinking more broadly about the internal factors, reducing the risk of myopia. In other words, taking this approach can lead you to uncover internal factors that you might not have otherwise considered,” says HBR.

After you complete your inventory, you can conduct a true analysis that can uncover ways to improve upon your strategic planning. 

3. Create a Partner Success Plan

The first step in any successful partnership is creating a partner success plan according to Dan O’Leary of Box. “Partners really appreciate seeing a partner’s success plan. If I have written down what success means to [my partner], then I’m going to be able to deploy my resources to help [them] get it. One of the best things you can do is drive structure on how you manage [your partner],” says O’Leary.

This is because in O’Leary’s world, a partner is just a customer with a different name. A partner represents hundreds of customers with their own unique set of challenges and opportunities, so when you take a customer success mindset, partners love it. 

When developing a partner success plan, you should have six columns of information that you can frame as questions:

  • What are we trying to accomplish? (Objective)
  • What activities can we perform to help? (Activities/milestones)
  • What impact should these activities have on the business? (Business outcomes)
  • Which activity/milestone are you planning next? (Next steps)
  • Which activities/milestones have you completed? (Progress
  • Who is driving the activities/milestones? (Drivers)

If you can answer these six questions concisely, you’ll have a thriving partner business and a thriving ecosystem with very happy customers.

4. Evaluation Criteria

Since you’ve identified the exact goals you want to achieve, what your desired outcomes are, and how you will measure success, you should have a pretty good idea if your plan is on the right track. O’Leary also recommends having set check-ins with stakeholders to go over the progress of your activities and have milestones in place that are good indicators that things are going well. 

You should be aware of lagging and leading indicators, as well. “In tech partnerships, turning a monthly active user into a daily active user may not increase your average revenue per customer, but it may make a huge impact on your long term value and your net retention rates,” says O’Leary. 

Having a customer success mindset becomes important at this stage. The leading indicator of success may be that a customer can connect to your integration. The lagging indicator is that because they use that integration, your net retention goes up 15% in the cohort of everyone who uses that integration. “When in doubt, just look at the metrics your CEO or CFO cares about,” O’Leary says. “If you’re aligning with growth, you’ll almost always be successful in partnerships.”

Without a business development strategy in place, you’re going to have a hard time getting executive buy-in, resources invested into your project, and other organizations who will want to partner with you. A business development strategy aligns everyone on the team with your goals, how you will reach the desired outcomes, and who’s responsible for what.

Bottom Line

Business development is a constantly evolving discipline. Having a strategic plan in place will mitigate a lot of the roadblocks and issues that arise when you first set out to build business relationships. The Firneo community exists to help with any of the challenges you may face in the BD world. With a huge content library, workshops, and live webinars, you can learn from someone in the community who has probably faced the same challenges you have. Apply today.