You've likely enjoyed those fancy coffee drinks at Starbuck's. But did you know that bottled coffee drinks and other grocery items account for nearly 10 percent of Starbucks’ revenue? Have you ever wondered how those Frappuccinos ended up on store shelves in the first place?
In fact they're there as the result of a business development deal. In 1994, Starbucks partnered with PepsiCo for the latter to distribute the coffee company’s pre-packaged products, and PepsiCo used the opportunity to break into the nonsoda beverage market.
This scenario might seem simple enough, but such win-win deals require the skills of great business-development people. Hiring the right business-development talent is critical in the early stages of your business. You need someone with clear vision and a knack for brokering key relationships if you wish to grow your budding venture.
Unless you’re exceptionally lucky, it’s unlikely that this person will simply stroll into your office. Instead, you’ll have to find candidates who are great fits for your company’s vision and strategy, which means outlining your partnership strategy and thoroughly vetting applicants.
Once you’re ready to actively look for candidates, you may find yourself wondering what to ask them. Previous experience in joint ventures or corporate strategy and skills in networking are broad areas to consider when you evaluate candidates. In addition, below are four specific questions you should ask candidates. In my own business, each question helped me identify talented people who could support Varsity Tutors’ growth.
1. “What business partnership deals have you secured in the past?”
The right candidate will know how to develop, maintain and strengthen business-partnership deals. Ask about past experiences in researching, negotiating and closing such deals. You might also ask about the contractual structure of the deals, the industries in which they occurred and the processes involved. The more specific the information you receive, the better.
With this question, your ultimate goal is to analyze whether a candidate’s past experiences and core skills are a fit for your company’s strategy. There are few written rules when developing large-scale commercial partnerships, so the right candidate should be able to thrive in ambiguous work environments.
2. “Who’s in your business network?”
When interviewing candidates, we often ask where they’ve worked or what they’ve done. Also asking, “Who’s in your business network?” can help you analyze their reach. The ideal candidate should have great connections or know how to establish them.
For example, if you plan to target 10 specific companies for partnerships, ask your potential hire how quickly he or she could put you in touch with the appropriate people at those companies. Not every candidate can quickly land a meeting with a VP or marketing manager, so aim to hire the person who can.
3. “Tell me about a time you created and successfully executed a business development strategy.”
In addition to offering an array of impressive contacts, your potential hire should have a strategic mind and determination.
Developing business-partnership deals involves a tremendous amount of difficult behind-the-scenes work that’s not glamorous. If an interviewee assumes that securing these deals means simply having one coffee meeting with a CEO and walking away with a contract, he or she is probably not the right fit for your company.
For example, Tesla Motors and Panasonic joined forces to build a gigafactory to increase the supply of battery cells. This agreement was almost a year in the making, illustrating how even entrepreneurs with celebrity status have to take the time to hammer out the details of business partnerships.
4. “Can you talk tech in easy-to-understand ways?”
While your candidate doesn’t have to be a technical rock star, he or she does need to be able to communicate with various departments. If the role is technical, look for candidates who can bridge the gap between the technical and nontechnical worlds. The right person will be adept at explaining technical concepts to nontechnical individuals (and vice versa).
You may be on the cusp of your first real business partnership deal, and having a great team member could mean the difference between securing and losing out on that agreement. Define your strategy, and begin vetting candidates by analyzing their core skills, evaluating their past experiences and asking the right questions. By recruiting the right person, you can maximize your chances of sealing partnerships that will accelerate your growth.