What is Business Development? An Ad Tech Perspective

This is based on my experience, my perspective, and is sourced from a number of BD professionals in the ad tech industry. If you’d like to share your feedback, discuss a specific topic, or would like me to write about a specific topic, feel free to reach out on LinkedIn.

What is Business Development?

The answer is different depending on many different factors (who you ask, the department they work in, their industry, the type of company, the size of the company, etc). It’s difficult to define BD in a broad stroke, but Scott Pollack does it very well.

The thing that makes it so challenging to define is that there’s a wide spectrum of responsibilities for the BD professional. Well-known professions like Finance, Marketing, Accounting, Sales, Product, Engineering, etc, are generally well-defined in terms of the expectations of the role they play inside an organization. These departments are core pillars of most organizations, and they’ve been around a really long time. There are colleges for Finance, Accounting, Engineering, certifications and professional courses focused on these professions. However, emerging careers, such as Business Development, Data Science, Customer Success and others, are less defined. Business Development in particular, doesn’t have a standard framework that spans across industries, company size, and other factors. The jobs of tomorrow don’t exist today.

The factor that seems to have the most obvious impact on the responsibilities of the BD professional, is industry. In order to understand and define the role of Biz Dev at any company, you must look at it through an industry lens.

The Industry: Advertising Technology (Ad Tech)

Broadly speaking, ad tech represents the technologies and tools that enable the programmatic buying and selling of digital advertising. Advertisers spent $283.35B on digital advertising in 2019, and eMarketer projects that global spending will exceed half a trillion dollars by 2023. 

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Digital advertising is a vast, complex, and ever-expanding industry, and ad tech is an ecosystem within that industry. If you’ve worked in Ad Tech for at least 2 years, you’ve probably seen something like this.

There are many ecosystems like this that live within digital advertising, such as search advertising, social media advertising, mobile advertising, measurement, analytics, buying tools, analytic tools, BI and more. New ecosystems are regularly created and discovered as the industry expands. A recent catalysts for change was mobile, where companies like Facebook and Google were first to evolve, and other players followed suite. The mobile revolution created new ad tech ecosystems for mobile advertising (MoPub, MyAppFree, Mobusi) mobile measurement and attribution (AppsFlyer, Adjust and Kochava), location-based data (PlaceIQ, Cuebiq, Factual), and more. One of the next catalysts for change is 5G and AR/VR, which is/will create new ecosystems. 

This constant evolution creates an environment of intense competition, fragmentation, new opportunities, and a low barrier to entry-- all of which are ingredients for a thriving Business Development and Partnerships ecosystem.

Fragmentation Creates Opportunity, Opportunity Breeds Competition

In 2019, these are just some of the things that advertisers must engage im and consider when planning their digital advertising strategy:

  • Search Advertising (SEO, PPC, content marketing, Google, Yahoo!, Bing)

  • Social Media Advertising (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Pinterest)

  • Mobile Advertising (Smartphones, tablets, e-readers, location-based tech)

  • Martech (thousands of software platforms and SaaS system to plan, manage and measure)

  • IoT (Amazon Dash, smart home devices, smart speakers)

  • AI (Chatbots, Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant)

  • AR/VR (Oculus, Snapchat Filters, Samsung Gear, Playstation VR)

  • Attribution & Measurement (MOAT, Google DoubleClick for Advertisers, AppsFlyer, Adjust)

  • Viewability (Ad Fraud: Integral Ad Science, comScore, Pixalate, Forensiq, DoubleVerify)

  • Data Companies (1st party, 2nd party, 3rd party, Oracle, Acxiom, LiveRamp, Epsilon)

All of these fragmented ecosystems create opportunity, and opportunity breeds competition. Entrepreneurs, ad tech pioneers, and the Fortune 500s alike, race to claim market share when new opportunities present themselves. There’s always a consistent flow of new players, and eventually, these markets become saturated and the organizations that compete in these markets are forced to evolve.

Business Development in Ad Tech

The“Resource Pathways” framework was surfaced by Laurence Capron and Will Mitchell in their book: “Build, Borrow, or Buy: Solving the Growth Dilemma”, which states that company leaders must always consider all the different “pathways” for acquiring resources. The three pathways are:

  1. Build: Develop resources in-house)

  2. Borrow: Develop resources externally via alliances/partnerships

  3. Buy Acquire resources via acquisition

The ad tech industry over-indexes in the “Borrow” concept when looking to drive growth and evolve.

The Borrow methodology is what drives opportunities for BD and Partnership professionals to thrive in the ad tech industry.

As I mentioned, BD means different things based on a number of factors, with industry providing the most identity, so based on my experience, I’ve defined it here:

Business Development (in ad tech) identifies, proposes and executes new areas of business through new or existing win-win relationships, and grows and optimizes those relationships. In other words, BD focuses on driving company growth and evolution by creating programs and frameworks that enable organizations to invest in the “Borrow” methodology.

New Relationships (acquisition) and Existing Relationships (growth) are the core pillars of BD in ad tech:

  1. Acquisition: Prospecting, forming new relationships, market research, building programs and executing partnerships that create value. 

  2. Growth: Managing existing relationships, partners and programs. Create value by mining for new opportunities, proposing new programs for existing partners, and optimizing relationships. 

How an organization defines BD and its responsibilities may include either Acquisition, Growth, or both. It depends on what creates the most value for the organization at that time. How an organization defines value can be fluid, and evolves alongside the ecosystem and the organization.

Value

Just like BD, value can mean something different depending on a number of factors. Some companies, for example, may need to prioritize revenue inputs, such as lead gen, channel sales, resellers, etc. Others may lack the product and engineering resources to keep up with their competitors, so they form partnerships to enhance their product or service offering. Large technology companies, such as Salesforce, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft, have built a large marketplace of partners. In this case, there’s a very large BD and Partnerships department, where they have teams focused on managing the technical aspect of a partnership, another team focused on researching new markets and building new programs, another team focused on managing relationships and driving growth, another team that manages partnership marketing, and so on.

Regardless of how an organization decides to define the role of BD and the value it brings to the business, relationships are a core instrument of the BD professional.

Relationships

Behind every business and every decision, there are people, and people make decisions on whether or not to do business with, or expand the business they do with you, based on the relationship they have with you. The ROI of a relationship is very difficult to measure, but strong relationships pay dividends in the form of information, consultation, navigation, introductions, direct revenue, leads, and more. Don’t cut corners around building and managing relationships as a BD professional working in ad tech. 


Emerging careers such as Business Development are only broadly scoped and defined. BD means many different things to many different people based on many different factors. From my perspective, the role of BD in Ad Tech is to identify, propose and execute new areas of business through existing win-win relationships. BD professionals don’t sell products or services, they sell and manage mutual investments and opportunities.