Winning the business development game (without feeling like a sell-out)
Oscar Clark • August 2nd 2021
Selling yourself, game or company is a nightmare to some; but living the dream to others.
Whichever side you fall into there are some key tips which can transform your effectiveness and allow you to become a business development player, without feeling like a sell-out.
I have been working in games since 1998 and in every role I’ve had from platform designer, consultant, evangelist, and co-founder, I’ve had to learn to embrace the sales process — but it didn’t come naturally. This article will outline the lessons I have learned about the most effective ways to connect with games industry people, build relationships and find business opportunities for your team.
What does success look like?
Raising money, finding business partners and pitching are integral parts of any game development team. This role is as vital as being a coder, artist, producer, or designer to the success of a games team.
The key is to find and close business opportunities for your team, but what that means specifically depends on your objectives. Before you even think about setting up meetings you need to completely understand what success looks like.
Making money will certainly be a part of this, but it isn’t (usually) just about how much you make — there are easier, less risky ways to make cash than making games.
What are the deeper motivations for the company? Is it about love for a genre? Is it about personal fulfilment or winning awards? Is it about supporting an existing community of players? Or having something profound to communicate about gaming culture?
One tip I always recommend is to define the vision for the company as a set of directions. For Fundamentally Games, our vision is to publish “living games” and to “get more players, doing more things, more often and for longer.” This mindset leaves us space to adapt and pivot when new opportunities arise without compromising our core identity or strategy. It makes it so much clearer to decide if a given deal or specific terms work for us. If something does not help us in this journey, then we should look elsewhere.
In turn this lets you think about your priorities for any given conversation. When you talk to an investor, publisher or possible supplier understanding what the successful outcome of that discussion could be is vital. Additionally, by also understanding the wider goals of your organisation you are more likely to be able to assess any unexpected opportunities that come up.
One core success factor you should always be looking for as someone doing business development is to build long term relationships. Engaging with the person positively at a human level, even if they do not have what you need now, is essential. You do not know where they (or you) will end up and building your reputation is everything.
Pick your battlefields
Now you know what you are looking for you can work out who you need to engage (and find the best way to engage with them).
Cold emails and LinkedIn invites sent out of the blue can work, but more often than not, they simply annoy the people you are reaching out to. Instead, you need to find natural opportunities to meet and network with relevant people.
The pandemic has been a mixed bag with a total pause for in-person events and networking on one hand, but an explosion of online events each with their own meeting applications which allow you to connect with other game developers, investors, and publishers.
If you haven’t spent two or three days with back-to-back 30-minute meetings, it’s had to describe the impact this has on you. It takes a physical and emotional toll as well as a level of grit to survive that process with a smile on your face and a positive attitude. Instead, we think its important to pick your battles (and your battlefields).
Different events bring different types of potential partners and its worth taking time out to research which events have the people you are looking to talk to. Some of this will involve trial and error and you will find that a lot of the same people will attend every event.
Ask around your network which events work for them (and why!) so you can judge which events to prioritise. For us events like PGCDigital, Games Finance Market, Rezzed/EGX, Gamescom and MeetToMatch (San Francisco) have been really useful.
Choose the right hero matchup
The events you choose to attend will probably have a ton of names on their meeting systems, but you may have a limited number of people you can connect to realistically (depending on availability and your ticket type).
Do your research. It’s important to understand what you can learn about each company. A lot of these systems only open up for meetings two weeks before the event (sometimes even less). Take the time out to look up the company, their offering and the individuals where you can. Don’t forget to do Google/Linkedin searches as well as wider social media.
In some cases you may want to look up their games on Steam or the AppStores. If you have access to them then tools like Reflections.io or SteamSpy can give more detailed insights on the games they are already working on. You want to understand what you can in order to gauge what our potential partner might be looking for and why your offering might be relevant to them.
When you are dealing with larger organisations you need to add another layer of thinking to your research. What is the role that person plays in the company? Are they the decision maker (can they say yes without needing sign-off from others)? Are they gatekeepers (who’s role is at least partially to block access to the decision maker)? Or are they a subject expert (a person whose opinion the decision maker relies)?
Each of these types need you to adopt a slightly different approach in order to convince the organisation to work with you. Done well you can turn gatekeepers and subject experts into advocates for your team.
Make sure you fill in your details on these meeting systems as early as possible — keep a template at hand to make this easy for you to do. This should make your company attractive to the people you want to meet and at the same time set out what you are looking for.
A lot of people who reach out to you who will just not be relevant. There is no obligation for you to meet with them, but it helps to be kind about it. That principle applies both ways. If you reach out to someone because you believe that you have the solution to their every problem, they doesn’t mean that they will agree or have time.
Being turned down for meetings must not be taken personally (although many of us do!). We have to remember we don’t know what’s going on for that person and it’s better to remain positive and focus our attention where we can make a difference.
Finally, there is (almost) no such thing as a wasted meeting. Even if a discussion goes nowhere, we can achieve three things:
- Learn about the other person.
- Build our reputation.
- Practice our pitch.
Tactics for success
In case its not obvious we have covered a bunch of tips already that can help improve your success including:
- Know what success looks like
- Your reputation is everything
- Chose the events that work for what you are looking for
- Research! You need to understand who you are meeting and what they want
- You don’t have to accept every meeting; and neither do the people you invite
- Make the most of every meeting — even the ones that don’t go as expected
In addition, there are some other key tactics which I have found that can help:
Be memorable – the way you present yourself is your own brand. For me I’ve taken this to an extreme by wearing a short top hat, black suit jacket and geek t-shirts. However, you don’t need to go that far. Think about how to leave a positive impression that makes it easier for the people you meet to pick you out from the crowd next time.
Listen – It’s vital that you spend more time listening to what the person you are meeting has to say, than you are talking. Don’t get me wrong I am the worst at this. I talk way, way, too much (I use an active listening approach which suits my ‘consulting’ approach, but I should still listen more!). You can’t learn what someone needs if you aren’t listening to them and especially if they don’t feel heard!
Have a plan – You need to have a plan for the flow of your meetings. Have a snappy introduction ask them what they need/want, explaining your proposition in way that is relevant to their answers. This plan needs to be flexible — this is a conversation not a script — but you need to know what outcome you are looking for. An initial meeting almost never leads to a deal. A more realistic goal would be to qualify the opportunity and identify the next step that will lead to a deal, usually a follow-up conversation. Whatever your goal, make sure you get to the point where you get the next step agreed before you run out of time.
Take notes – Make sure you track what issues/objections you discover as you talk to people and the wider motivations behind each organisation. Keep them in a system such as Salesforce or Hubspot; we use Pipedrive. That way you can track your conversations and learn from them. We also find that doing a post-mortem of events helps us plan better for the next. It can be really difficult to talk and take notes so it can help if you have someone who can help manage the note keeping.
Give value – Try to leave the other party feeling they have gained some valuable insight or opportunity after talking to you. This includes showing genuine appreciation of what they have shared with you. This taps into a natural human reaction, reciprocation. In general, as humans we want to give back where we feel someone has given to us. If you have relevant expertise, you can take this further into a ‘consulting’ approach, but this needs to be done carefully so it demonstrates your expertise to the other party rather than coming across as patronising.
Finally, when you are doing business development you are representing who you are as a company; and who you are personally. It’s essential to be real. Keeping up a false persona is tiring and rarely fools anyone in the long run.
The games industry is about finding the fun and in business development this is just as important. We need to be positive and professional, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be human. There is an amazing collection of individuals amongst the games industry biz dev community who are incredibly supportive and welcoming. This is a rare and precious thing about the games industry that comes about because the scene is relatively small, and we are rarely directly competing for the same things.
Some of the most productive times I have spent doing biz dev/evangelism have come not from talking about deals. But from spending time relaxing and sharing stories with other business development folks. Those are the moments which have lead to the biggest opportunities.
Oscar Clark • August 2nd 2021