Career Development

What's the Difference Between Business Development and Sales?

February 1, 2021

Sales and business development are closely related, yet these jobs serve different needs in an organization. In a small business, one individual may perform duties for both roles, but a growing company needs both business development representatives and sales representatives to thrive. Understanding the difference between sales and business development can help you identify which position is best suited to your skill set. This article will explore the distinct responsibilities of these roles.

What is business development?

Business development is identifying potential customers and clients for a company’s products or services. This department focuses on finding the ideal match between product and buyer. Business development professionals are responsible for:

  • Researching prospective leads
  • Matching products to niche markets
  • Evaluating competitive positioning
  • Joining trade associations to better understand the market
  • Attending trade shows to network with potential leads
  • Forming strategic relationships to generate referrals
  • Generating prospects through cold calling, cold emails or social selling

Read more: Learn About Being a Business Development Manager

What is sales?

Sales is the process of generating revenue from the products or services provided by the company. Sales representatives guide customers through the sales funnel, transforming them from leads to buyers. Sales representatives are responsible for:

  • Connecting with leads to identify their needs and recommending products or services
  • Following up with leads generated from marketing campaigns
  • Discussing objections to products or services
  • Demonstrating products
  • Drafting contracts
  • Closing sales

Read more: Learn About Being a Sales Representative

Business development vs sales

Business development activities precede sales. When a company moves into a new market, its first task is to identify the most promising leads there. Lead generation falls under the business development team. Once the business development team has identified these leads, sales professionals can begin guiding customers through the buying journey.

A business that’s seeking more leads or wants to expand into new niche markets needs to hire more business development professionals to seek opportunities for potential sales. A business that has an abundance of untapped leads needs more sales professionals to follow up and form relationships with them.

The business development and sales process

Though business development and sales are two separate jobs, and often two separate departments, these professionals work closely with and rely upon one another. Both business development and sales professionals interact with the marketing team, creating an essential team for success.

The business development, marketing and sales process will often follow these steps:

  1. Position products and services
  2. Identify the value proposition
  3. Select the best marketing channels
  4. Define the lead generation process
  5. Connect with customers
  6. Follow up with leads
  7. Close sales
  8. Follow up with customers

1. Positioning the products and services

The business development team works with the marketing department to identify the best positioning for products and services. Together, these professionals evaluate the industry and identify prime placement within it.

2. Identifying the value proposition

The business development and sales departments collaborate to determine the most effective value proposition for the product or service. They identify the issues that the company addresses and outline how their solutions work to resolve key problems for their customers.

3. Selecting the best marketing channels

The marketing team is primarily responsible for selecting the appropriate marketing channels for the company. They may collaborate with business development professionals at this point to identify the best ways to contact prospective leads. Sales representatives may provide feedback on the channels that have had the most success connecting them to customers.

4. Defining the lead generation process

The business development and marketing departments outline the lead generation process from the first point of contact to the final sale. Business development professionals contribute the insights they’ve gained from researching and networking in the industry.

5. Connecting with customers

The marketing team facilitates customer connections through its campaigns. These might include television or radio ads, social media posts, online advertising, email newsletters or search engine optimization. The marketing department also manages visibility, maintains the company’s image and provides educational materials that help shoppers understand the company’s products and services. The business development team connects with customers through networking, cold calling and cold emailing. Both activities generate a list of qualified leads.

6. Following up with leads

Sales representatives begin their work once business development and marketing professionals identify leads. Sales representatives take the leads generated by marketing campaigns or business development outreach and guide them through the middle of the sales funnel. Sales professionals rely on the marketing team to communicate the value proposition to potential clients, laying the foundation for a successful sale.

7. Closing sales

Sales representatives handle customers throughout the rest of the sales process. They pitch products, host demonstrations, follow up with interested parties, negotiate packages and pricing and close the sale.

8. Following up with customers

Sales representatives maintain contact with buyers, fostering brand loyalty and striving to turn new customers into loyal repeat shoppers.

Sales and business development jobs

Sales positions and business development jobs fall into two different categories. It’s important for you to understand the difference if you’re interested in one of these roles.

Business development jobs

Job titles:

  • Business development representative
  • Sales development representative

Sample job posting:

Seeking a business development representative to identify new leads. You will be responsible for networking, researching the industry and identifying untapped niche areas for potential customers. You will collaborate with the marketing department to develop campaigns that will reach potential leads in these areas. Once identified, you will pass qualified leads on to the sales team, working closely with sales representatives to identify the best way to guide these leads through the sales funnel. You will spend approximately 15% of your time traveling to trade shows and industry events to network with potential buyers.

Essential skills:

  • Outstanding communication skills, both written and verbal
  • Public speaking skills
  • Strong interpersonal skills
  • Research and critical thinking skills
  • Creativity
  • Willingness to travel
  • Organization and the ability to manage multiple projects at once

Related: How to Build Business Development Skills

Sales jobs

Job titles:

  • Account manager
  • Account executive
  • Sales representative

Sample job posting:

Seeking a sales representative to contact leads, pitch products, schedule demonstrations and close sales. You will be responsible for calling or emailing leads to identify their needs and suggest the best products and services for each potential client. You will lead sales presentations, close sales and follow up with customers who have previously purchased products. We’re looking for results-driven individuals who can form strong long-term relationships with our clients, turning shoppers into loyal customers.

Essential skills:

  • Relationship-building skills
  • Strong communication skills, both written and verbal
  • The ability to multitask in a fast-paced environment
  • Attention to detail
  • Customer service skills
  • Sales skills


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