Navigating Business Development with Melissa Pegus

Source:   Hinge Marketing

What is business development? It’s a term that’s frequently thrown around but few of us know what a role in business development (or BD) actually entails. Even fewer recognize BD’s importance and significance when growing a company.

Business development is officially defined as “the activity of pursuing strategic opportunities for a particular business or organization, for example by cultivating partnerships or other commercial relationships, or identifying new markets for its products or services.” Its purpose is to create long-term value for a company from its customers, markets, and relationships.


What does this actually mean in practice? What measures does one have to take to cultivate business development in a company? We interviewed Melissa Pegus, BD expert and current Head of Revenue at DIFF Agency, to shed some light on what working in business development actually means and the importance of this function in any company, from startup to large corporation.

Tell us about your background and experience

My professional pursuits have been shaped by reflecting on the types of questions I’d like to answer throughout my career. The questions I’ve found most fulfilling are “what are common challenges that businesses face as they enter new markets in the pursuit of growth?”, “How can e-commerce transform daily life by economically empowering merchants of all sizes across the world?”,”What does it take to grow a business to $5million, $50 million, and $1billion dollars in revenue?, “How should businesses approach the omni-channel to develop a deeper relationship with their customers?”, and “What kinds of partnerships are most appropriate for scaling sales, marketing, or product operations?”.

These are just a few of the questions I’ve had the privilege to answer over the course of my career. The questions and the answers constantly evolve and as a result have taken me on a path from product development to marketing to sales enablement and customer success then partnerships and now to my role overseeing revenue at Diff which encapsulates many of these critical functions for a growing business.

I’ve always loved BD because it’s a very entrepreneurial space that requires you to leverage cross-functional skills to rapidly launch products, sales channels, or marketing initiatives, on the platform of a company’s existing business. BD requires you to be strategic and agile at the same time and I absolutely love it.

What inspires you?

My answer to this question is twofold. First, I love specifically thinking about the industry of e-commerce. At its core, what e-commerce does is empower people with economic capacity, which is something I find incredibly motivating. E-Commerce is changing the lives of people across the world for the better and I’m so grateful that I get to be a part of that.

An aphorism that I believe is that a rising tide lifts all boats. So second, on a personal level, I am inspired by the amazing people in my network. I constantly ask myself, “How can my success create opportunity for the people around me in the same way their success has impacted me?”

What is BD?

BD is essentially figuring out the best way to create long-term value for your company. Will this be through partnerships, acquisitions, or new products? It is a broad multidisciplinary function that touches every part of a company. It’s important to note that not every company approaches BD in the same way.

In order to build out your business development function, the most important question to answer and understand is why your company wants to do BD. What is your goal? Then you establish BD objectives based on that end goal. For example, If you are testing expanding into a new geographic market, having a local partner who can support your new market entry strategy and help you localize your offering is invaluable.

BD is essentially figuring out the best way to create long-term value for your company. Will this be through partnerships, acquisitions, or new products? It is a broad multidisciplinary function that touches every part of a company. It’s important to note that not every company approaches BD in the same way.

If your company’s goal is to grow quickly through acquisition, you can use BD to establish a strategic partnership to see if it’s a fit and how well your cultures mesh before making a larger, more permanent investment.

What is the secret to effective BD?

The secret is to understand why you want to do BD in the first place. The requisite strategy and tactics will be much more apparent after you answer that critical question.

After you identify why partnerships are right for your business, you need to come up with some criteria for who you’re going to partner with. BD is all about relationships. Partnerships are only as fruitful as the people committed to it so partner readiness is extremely important. Even if a certain partner has target market overlap, similar goals, and looks good on paper, it may not work until the partner is as ready and as committed to the BD goals as you.

You have to then create metrics to assess whether a partnership is fruitful. Have milestones, understand who the key stakeholders are and what you want from them, and most importantly, follow up on the deliverables.

What are some actionable steps startup can take towards getting its first business development initiatives set up?

Look at goals for the year and understand you might  be better served through partners rather than doing it on your own. Then if you decide to pursue BD, you have to find a way to weave BD in to your organization's goals and KPIs. Make sure the whole organization has understanding of an initiative and what accountability each department has in tangible, measurable terms.

Look at goals for the year and understand you might  be better served through partners rather than doing it on your own.

What makes a partnership effective? How can a company curate the best partnerships, regardless of company size?

  1. A good partner follows up and follows through. You can have lots of great conversations with potential partners but focus on those who puts action behind their words.

  2. Look at your shared customer base. Most businesses are willing to move mountains for customer success. Thus, aligning on shared customers will make your partnership more successful.

  3. Look at how oversubscribed the partner is. If the partner has tons of other partnerships, there will be an imbalance in the relationship. Ask yourself questions like,  “How effective is this partnership? Are they partnering with companies I relate to?”

  4. Partnerships are about people. Ask a potential or current partner the hard questions. Why is this partnership important to you company? Where does this fall on list of priorities?

What kind of growth & opportunity can the right strategic partnership(s) provide for a company?

  1. Create new products or increase the scope of an existing product offering

  2. Enter new geographic markets or industry verticals

  3. Establish your company as a thought-leader by partnering with other established organizations

  4. Increase revenue with channel sales

  5. Fuel growth or move toward an exit via acquisition

All partnerships have the potential to radically change the trajectory of a business

What will make a pitch deck stand out?

As founders we all want to dream really big and that’s good- a solid vision is what makes companies great! However, you need to make sure you have a realistic plan for what you’ll do with the investment and be clear on how you’re going to measure success. Have a reasonable outlook on what you’ll actually achieve with a certain amount of money in a certain amount of time. Keep the dream actionable.

Additionally, know who your customer is and know the problem you’re solving. Having great data, showcasing the conversations you’ve had with early customers, and telling stories of where you’ve already provided value will make you stand out.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to founders?

We can get intimidated by the big ask or big challenge, but at the end of the day, people are willing to help. Especially when they see someone working hard to make their dreams come true.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Every no you hear is taking you one step closer to a yes! Keep the ask reasonable and show you’re willing to go the extra mile.

And then reciprocate. That’s the power of the give and take.

The Key Takeaways on Partnerships, People, and Business

Do you finally understand a little bit more about business development? We sure do! Here are our biggest takeaways.

  1. Follow up, Follow up, Follow up. Not enough people do this. Nor do they realize how unbelievably effective something so simple is.

  2. You don’t get what you don’t ask for. People are more willing to help you out than you think. Wouldn’t you do the same for someone else?

  3. At the end of the day, partnerships are about people. Build partnerships like you would relationships. It’s all about keeping an open a line of communication, establishing actionable goals, and assigning responsibility.

The Resources You Need to Build a Strong Business

When done well, building strategic partnerships can help scale your business. Ready to apply these insights to your venture?  Whether you are exploring strategic partnerships, trying to build messaging that resonates with your audience, or trying to raise your seed round, The Port is here to provide resources and services for your fundraising, marketing, and scaling needs. To learn how The Port can support your startup marketing efforts, get in touch with our team.

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