path through the woods

Don’t Lose Your Way: The Importance of the Business Development Process

How can BAM companies avoid losing their way? On the one hand, many BAM startups lose momentum, fail to break even, or simply get aborted. On the other hand, some BAM companies that reach financial success find themselves in danger of losing sight of the non-financial goals and objectives that led them to start their BAM venture in the first place. Although there are as many different reasons for BAM failure as there are struggling, closed, or misdirected BAM companies, I believe there is a common antidote to keep companies from getting off track: an ongoing rigorous business development process.

What happens to a company in the absence of an ongoing rigorous business development process? It then becomes a challenge to grow or lead the business forward in a way consistent with its BAM vision, goals, and objectives. This is often the result of two common business development failures:

1. The leader failed to articulate a sustainable BAM vision and robust strategy to begin with.

2. The leader failed to execute against the strategy and has not been held accountable to it.

The good news for BAM practitioners is that there are plenty of resources available to help with the first challenge – and putting together the right team and structures can help overcome the second.

Creating a Sustainable BAM Vision and Strategy

So where can a BAMer find resources to help articulate a sustainable BAM vision and robust strategy? A simple place to start would be by skimming a dozen relevant business resources found via a simple internet search on a phrase such as, “how to create a business vision statement” in order to get a sense of the common underlying process.

Given the plethora of resources available on the internet, going to reputable curating sites or dialoguing with others to discern which resources are actually most useful would be wise. For example, I’d tell anyone that Michael Porter’s 1996 article, What is Strategy? is a general business classic that helps explain competitive advantage. Even starting with Wikipedia’s summary of business frameworks such as the 3C’s Business Model or free online summaries of the 4 or 7Ps of Marketing Strategy can be great building blocks upon which to develop a more robust strategy framework of your own.

After becoming familiar with general business vision and strategy development practices, accessing BAM-specific resources will help translate some of the general business theory that is readily available into the BAM practitioner’s unique context. The startup planning questions written specifically for missional entrepreneurs by Larry Sharp, the founder of a BAM consulting firm, or the blog How to Develop a Vision and Goals for your BAM company are both useful resources.

So how long does such a process take? Setting aside at least six to eight hours initially, and then annually, to work through such materials with a coach, mentor, business partners, advisory board, or spouse, while keeping a listening ear open to the Lord, will enable most BAM practitioners to draft or refresh a working version of their company’s vision and strategy. The Lord can then use this document to guide, even as He leads the practitioner to adjust it along the way. Although the process of crafting and revisiting this working document will at first feel awkward and both time and resource-intensive, this is clearly a very small price to pay to avoid losing your way – along with all the negative business results of underperformance, stagnation, and in some cases premature closure.

Ongoing Accountability for the Vision and Strategy

Assuming a BAMer has crafted a workable vision statement and strategy, how can they then guard against failing to execute it? It is here that the power of accountability needs to be intentionally programmed into the life of the company through a regular cycle of appropriately timed assessments, using context-appropriate metrics.

One reason why the power of accountability is so often not experienced by SME owners, and perhaps even more acutely by BAM practitioners working in cross-cultural contexts, is because there is a natural lack of such mechanisms. Each business has its own unique challenges that those inside the business often feel cannot be grasped by those on the outside. On top of this, BAM practitioners often experience an additional layer of separation from many of their most natural accountability relationships because they are operating in a cross-cultural context. This cross-cultural layer makes it difficult for even the most astute business person who is willing to make the time to come in and advise a BAM company. The cross-cultural context and multiple bottom line approach of BAM companies has caused even veteran business experts to struggle to know what questions to ask and what business metrics to look for.

It is because such accountability will not naturally develop that BAM practitioners need to be all the more intentional to develop long-term relationships with wise and spiritual people who can hold them to a regular cycle of appropriately timed assessments, with context-appropriate metrics. Having such a cycle will make sure that they are executing their prepared business strategy and getting the results – or adjusting to get the results – that they are aiming for. This accountability issue is of particular importance for BAM companies where an outside source of funding is preventing the BAM leader from experiencing the full financial weight and discipline of the market. Such subsidies often unhelpfully dull the sense of urgency to reach financial goals and milestones or to stay inline with the original business development vision and strategy.  

As noted in the May 2014 BAM Global Think Tank Report, How Are We Doing: Measuring the Impact and Performance of BAM Businesses, “Good metrics are a compass that enables good leaders to stay on track”. It is essential, particularly for leaders of BAM businesses that are financially successful, to have this protection. It is as trusted coaches, mentors, boards, spouses, and peers ask tough questions that BAM leaders will be able to keep sight of the original vision that led them to start their BAM venture in the first place.

To conclude, there is a vital relationship between clear vision, robust strategies, and ongoing assessment structures that BAMers can put in place to keep them on track. To help illustrate this, I’ve appended a Strategy Pyramid that shows the relationship between vision, goals, objectives and tactics, within a framework of ongoing assessment and strategic adjustments. Because it is important to agree on what we are talking about, I have also included my own definitions of most of the  elements in the illustration.

Sue Strategy Pyramid 1 Sue Strategy Pyramid 2

It is my hope that more and more BAMers will make the time for a rigorous business development process, where vision, goals and strategy are clearly articulated, and then regularly evaluated. I believe that this will result in fewer BAM startups falling by the wayside – and fewer financially successful BAM companies losing their way.  

Sue is a business strategist living and working in SE Asia.

This piece is a  re-post from February 2016.