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Signs Your CBDO Isn’t Scaling

January 11, 2024

The metrics for understanding whether or not your Chief Business Development Officer is scaling differ from other function leaders—like Sales, People Ops, Customer Service, or Finance—because, throughout the scaling process, the Business Development team is likely to be small. So, if they remain essentially the same size regardless of what the rest of your company is doing, how do you know if your Chief Business Development Officer is scaling? I’ve found that CBDOs who don’t scale well past the startup stage typically operate in a few specific ways.

First, a CBDO who throws everything over the wall internally isn’t scaling. Some people in this role, especially those who have been long-time bankers or consultants and who are used to having armies of junior resources at their disposal, don’t like or don’t know how to roll up their sleeves and handle execution. The reality is that in-house Business Development teams are very small, frequently made up of only one or two people. The team leader needs to be ready and willing to do a lot of the work, not just the planning and external meetings.

The second sign your CBDO isn’t scaling is if they have an over-reliance on outside advisors like bankers and lawyers. The whole reason companies in-source this role is that they expect to have a fair amount of activity—developing partnerships, executing a roll-up strategy, and building out the channel. While external advisors are important for a number of those activities, knowing when to handle things internally rather than outsourcing them is critical, especially when the external advisor bills by the hour.

The third sign your CBDO isn’t scaling well is if they’re focused on quantity rather than quality. I’ve found there are times when it is important to be able to show a large number of partners, for example, if you’re trying to run an industry-wide coalition or program. There are times when it’s important to show a lot of deals in the pipeline, for example, if you’re pitching an M&A roll-up strategy to a potential financial sponsor. But you know your CBDO is in trouble when the number of deals in the pipeline becomes the main focus, as opposed to making sure there are a few larger deals with deeper, multi-faceted relationships that will move the needle on the business objectives. Your Chief Business Development Officer should be helping to develop the ecosystem. This is made a lot easier by finding and working with the gems, rather than developing all sorts of channel partnerships or deals that look good on paper or get good PR, but don’t actually move the business forward. 

Your Chief Business Development Officer is key to the success of your business. Even though the size of their team may not grow in step with the organization, they must scale their efforts and strategy to meet business needs.