There's no secret formula to business development.

If you search online for "business development" you encounter two things.

1. The first is a plethora of articles trying to define what business development is.  These tend to be exhaustive - and exhausting.  Sales, partnerships, relationships, marketing, etc - all of these are ruminated over in an attempt to come up with a coherent definition of a catchall term.

2. The second is a whole lot of advice on how to do business development well.  And this is where failings of the definitions really come through.  Once you have defined and categorised something, then you tend to limit your thinking to those terms. If you think business development is about "partnerships", you focus on long-term symbiotic arrangements between entities.   If you think it's about "sales", you're marketing tractable products and services, exchanged in a transactional way.

Being self-limiting is obviously not ideal. And this situation is actually a symptom of a larger paradigm; categorisation.  This comes from a classical philosophical view that tries to make sense of the world through clearly defined groups.  While this might seem understandable, it actually stifles and frustrates us every day.  We approach things with a formed view before we have even engaged with them.  In rejecting this, Wittgenstein (the Austrian philosopher) wrote:

"Consider the proceedings we call "games".  What is common to them all? Don't say; "There must be something common, or they would not be called 'games'".  If you look at them, you will not see something common to all, but rather similarities and relationships.  To repeat: don't think, but look!

The same applies to any activity - including business development.  You may have read a definition of business development in a university course, an article, or maybe even your job description.  If you accept and adhere to this definition then you will immediately make assumptions about the "correct" thing to do in any situation.  You will develop a "plan", and devour articles that offer "The formula to success" and "The crucial steps in a Business Development process".

The problem is that the world isn't like this.  Reality is not segmented into definable categories that have formulas for success.  It is complex, organic, and emergent.  If you approach business development with a rigid analytical and categorical perspective, you will find yourself selecting things that reinforce your model, rejecting things that don't, and basically creating an inauthentic approach to reality.

The alternative is to reject categorisation.  The difficulty with doing this is that people find real comfort residing within their familiar categorisation and analysis paradigm.  They anchor their confidence off information and data, so that they feel "prepared" for a conversation.  But business development conversations don't happen that way.  You don't call a person and say: "I read in your last annual report that your return on assets was down by 6%".  You call them and say: "What keeps you worried?  We're doing interesting work in that space.  Let's meet."  And most of the time - they will.  This openness lets the conversation take its own course - and it gives you genuine feedback from the market.

A good business development conversation is not a structured analytical exposition. It is a person talking about what is on their mind, and determining whether they find the other person coherent, plausible, and trustworthy.  Credibility is not gained through articulating data and information - it is gained through being an easy and interesting person to talk to.  It is much more about attitude, listening, and responsiveness than it is about analysis, information, or your service.

Just pick up the phone and call someone. You're not doing "Sales".  Or "Partnerships".  Or "Relationship Management".  You don't need to have a set "offering".  Nor do you need in-depth analysis of the company.  If you truly believe that you need analysis and information before beginning, you are merely a frightened procrastinator who doesn't have the wherewithal to make a phonecall.  And if that's the case, you should go and work in archives management.