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What Does Great Look Like in a Chief Business Development Officer?

November 30, 2023

The Chief Business Development Officer role is a fairly nuanced one, making it tricky to find a great CBDO. There’s not a degree a person can get in “business development,” so you’re left with searching for someone based partially on experience, reputation, and alignment with your company culture and goals. But, over the course of my career, I have figured out what “great” looks like for the CBDO and I’m confident that what worked for us at Return Path and Bolster will work for any startup.

First, a great CBDO should have a good balance of the three core components Ken Takahashi outlined in his section of Startup CXO. Those three components include partnerships, M&A, and strategy. Even if a person started their career as an investment banker, a management consultant, or some other specialized field, they should still be able to bring all three competencies to bear to help further the goals of their team—to optimize the company’s place in the ecosystem. A one-trick pony will get you nowhere in the ecosystem, and the CBDO needs to be a competent generalist with a wide range of skills.

Second, a great Chief Business Development Officer will look at business strategy before trying to solve a problem, because a solution that doesn’t advance the strategy will fail. It’s not enough to be able to develop a strategy. The great CBDOs will return to that strategy constantly. If a CBDO is highly skilled at one of the components, say M&A, they are likely to risk becoming the proverbial hammer in search of a nail and will put primacy on M&A deals. The strategy acts as a safeguard against pursuing something because the CBDO wants it and instead helps them pursue something that fits with the overall strategic drivers of the business. So, strategy is king in the CBDO world.

Third, a great CBDO will see the whole system at a company, not just one function. They’ll see product (and all of its components) as well as go-to-market (and all of its components). Like the CEO, CFO, and Chief People Officer, the CBDO needs to have a holistic approach to everything and not only be closely aligned with the market-facing organizations. 

In order to find a great Chief Business Development Officer, look for a leader who brings a balanced and broad skillset, prioritizes strategy, and has a holistic approach to business.  

-Matt Blumberg, November 30, 2023.