Business Development Representative vs Sales Development Representative

Jeff White September 22, 2021

Jeff White

Jeff is a small business expert focused on marketing, finance, sales, business development, and legal work. He's been featured in a number of publications such as USNews, Forbes, The Week, The Street, Investopedia, and CNBC.

In most situations, a business development representative (BDR) and a sales development representative (SDR) are the same thing. Each is referring to an entry-level sales role that typically involves prospecting and setting up appointments for closers. A BDR is not typically an entry-level role to get into a business development career. In this article, we’ll look at what you may be looking for instead of a BDR or SDR as well as what each of these is and does. 

If you’re looking for a way to either break into business development or progress your career further, Firneo can be a huge help. We have mastermind groups where you can get real insight from colleagues in BD who are experienced and looking to also level up their professional development. Apply now and see if there is a mastermind group starting soon that might benefit you. 

Comparing BDR & SDR

This comparison of a business development representative and a sales development representative is going to take the assumption that you’re interested in a business development career. As previously mentioned, most people referring to either a BDR or SDR are actually referring to the same thing and there are very few, if any, differences between the two roles regardless of the business you’re working with. 

What is a Business Development Representative? 

A business development representative is tasked with prospecting new potential B2B clients to get into their internal pipeline for potential meetings with other sales professionals that will close the deal. A BDR makes a lot of cold calls and sends cold communications online via email or platforms like LinkedIn. A BDR is a member of the sales team, not a member of a business development or partnerships team. That’s an important distinction that you need to be aware of when deciding the right career path for you. 

What is a Sales Development Representative?

A sales development representative is an entry-level position on a sales team that determines whether a lead is a qualified lead to pass over to higher-up sales professionals to close. They are typically inbound sales representatives, which means they only work with leads that were brought in through marketing or other sales efforts and channels. Some businesses will make their SDRs responsible for cold calling and initial reach outs, which makes them very similar to a BDR role. 

Differences Between BDR & SDR

The only major difference between a BDR and SDR is the way in which the sales they conduct are completed. A business development representative is often tasked with outgoing reach outs while the sales development representative is tasked with handling internal leads. This means that the BDR role has the potential to help you level-up your reach out skills in preparation for a future career in business development, even if it is just a sales role with a BD title. 

It’s important to note that businesses tend to think about these roles very similarly and they are both entry-level roles on sales teams that are typically B2B focused. Each business could use either title interchangeably as the difference is very minor and isn’t universal. 

Which Role is Right For Me? 

The only person that can tell you what role is right for you, is you. The right role should likely be the one that is from a business that intrigues you while offering the ability to work with potential customers that are easy for you to understand and empathize with. However, here are some things that may help you choose between a BDR of SDR role: 

  • The company offering the job. Does the purpose of the company resonate with you? Do you see yourself being excited to either share the business’ purpose or to engage with the type of customers that the business attracts? If so, it might be a good fit.  
  • Whether you like internal or external sales efforts. If you don’t like doing cold calling then you’ll want to focus on SDR roles that don’t force you to do any external sales.
  • Pay. There aren’t significant differences in the average pay between either the BDR or SDR roles but if a company is offering you more money for one role over the other then that may be enough to sway you.
  • Growth potential: Both roles can grow into more senior sales positions, such as account executives or closers, but you should ask a company what their growth potential and typical time frames are.
  • Sales activities. If you are someone who likes to communicate with leads via social media or anything outside of just phone or email, then a BDR role might be a better fit for you. It has the potential to allow more freedom and creativity in your prospecting efforts.
  • Skills you’ll develop. Depending on what your career path objective is you may find that either an SDR or a BDR would be a better fit for you. For example, if you want to be a Business Development Manager, being a BDR or an external SDR might be the right fit for you so that you can develop cold reach out skills in preparation for cold partnerships reach outs. 

All things equal, if you’re choosing between a BDR or SDR position, you really only need to make up your mind on whether you would prefer internal or external sales.

Skills Needed to Be a BDR or SDR

Again, the skills needed to be successful at either a business development representative or a sales development representative are virtually the same, with only a few potential differences. Let’s first look at the skills that are needed for both a BDR and an SDR role. 

  • Organized: Every sales role requires someone to stay on top of their pipeline and make sure they know the communication that has been sent to each qualified prospect or lead.  
  • Time Management: It’s not easy to hit your numbers at the top part of the sales funnel. Efficiently managing your time so that you can hit the number of reach outs it takes to hit your qualified lead numbers is vital.
  • Curious: Strong sales representatives will instinctively want to learn about the customers that best fit with their business. Being curious will also help in conversations with leads to determine whether or not they are qualified and can be passed over to an account executive or manager.
  • Driven: Both BDRs and SDRs need to be relentless in their efforts. If you aren’t focused on hitting your goals then it becomes very easy to give into any potential rejection or the monotony of reaching out over and over again to leads.
  • Not Easily Shaken: All sales roles get told “no” quite often. It’s important not to get down too easily and to stay the course consistently or you won’t be likely to make it in this very tough field.
  • Quick Learner: Sales representatives must be able to quickly learn their product, their potential customers, internal processes, and software like CRMs that are used on a daily basis. Businesses don’t typically have a lot of patience for SDRs or BDRs to come up to speed if they aren’t making progress as quickly as they would like. 

Should You Be an Extrovert or Introvert? 

There are studies that show both extroverts and introverts are better at sales. It likely doesn’t matter which category you fall into as long as you feel comfortable completing the necessary tasks to move leads through the sales pipeline. If the thought of communicating with people makes you overwhelmed to the point of not wanting to do your job then this likely isn’t a good fit for you, but being an introvert isn’t necessarily the cause of this. Both of these classifications can make for a strong sales representative. 

How to Break Into Business Development

While a sales career is a single path towards launching your business development career, it isn’t the only way. It often isn’t the most effective way either for many business development professionals. The most common entry-point for business development professionals is to become a business development manager. This means that you’ll need to gain business experience in some capacity and learn some basic networking, sales, product, and negotiation skills to really excel and make it easier to land in BD. 

Let’s take a look at a few of the  most popular paths to break into BD as either a business development manager or as the first BD person in your company: 

  • Sales: Starting out in sales may not be as common as you think for those looking to launch a BD career, but it is possible. Getting an entry-level job as an SDR can be a way to eventually move up to be an account executive and sales manager before moving over to business development.
  • Product: Understanding your product and how the company operates is a very valuable skill in business development. Moving into a product manager role can be a very nice way to eventually move over to BD if you can acquire negotiation and prospecting skills elsewhere.
  • Business Analyst: Being an analyst that focuses on mergers and acquisitions or the progression of businesses in the public eye can net you a strong skill base that will do well in BD. These roles help you get a strong understanding of how businesses operate and help you see the big picture, which is needed in any business development role.
  • Operations: Building a career in operations is a good way to move over to business development. In fact, BD professionals move back and forth within operations and BD roles quite frequently. Some business development managers end up becoming a GM and managing their own P&L because the skills needed in business development are very similar to creating and executing operational strategies.
  • Marketing: Another function that can work to move over to business development but is a lesser path traveled is through a marketing department. Marketing is typically focused on building the top of the funnel for potential customers so it can be a good way to  get a foundation of prospecting and attracting future partnerships. 

Bottom Line

In summary, there aren’t a lot of differences between a sales development representative and a business development representative. While both can be an entry-level position that puts you on the path for a BD role, neither is the clear first step towards breaking into business development. Instead, each are sales roles that can set you up for a long-term sales career.