Business Development vs Sales: Differences & How They Work Together

Grace Lemire November 4, 2021

Grace Lemire

Sales has always been a cornerstone department of any business, regardless of industry. An emerging career field over the past 20 years that originally came from a branch off the Sales tree is Business Development. When comparing business development versus sales, it’s easy to see some similarities but they are two separate functions with two unique missions for the business. 

In this article, we’ll cover what makes both sales and business development different, how each works together, and some tips for how you can get your BD operation to collaborate with the sales team at your organization. 

Business Development Vs Sales

Business development and sales have overlapping responsibilities, and thus can be challenging to distinguish. However, it is important that we understand the difference between these two core functions to prevent disorganization and confusion amidst the broader business.

A sales team has the same goal they have always had, which is to grow the number of customers and total revenue for your business. Business development, however, is tasked with growing long-term revenue through different activities, such as partnerships, that aren’t directly related to obtaining an immediate customer. 

What Business Development Does

Business development focuses primarily on building programs, events, and partnerships that ultimately lead to new customers and revenue down the line. While revenue is a long-term result of the tasks a BD professional performs, revenue is not the sole goal or top priority.

A business development professional might:

  1. Create relationships with prospects to build a foundation for sales activity
  2. Present new opportunities for partnerships
  3. Create events that promote brand awareness and partnership opportunities

However, a business development professional would typically not be focused on closing these deals or turning a profit from a specific group or customer.

For a full breakdown, you can check out our overview of business development or our summary of what a business development manager does. 

How Business Development Benefits Your Business

Effective business development strategies allow a business to improve how it meets the needs of its current market while improving how it reaches new markets. This leads to stronger relationships both within the industry and externally, greater insights for new product or service offerings, new sales leads, and more.

Think of business development as the thread that ties all of the company’s functions together, from the customer’s perspective. It is one of the only departments that touches every other department in the company at some point in time, so the BD department’s vision and understanding of the customer journey are unparalleled in many businesses. 

What Sales Does

A sales team focuses primarily on selling to individual customers by finding leads, nurturing them until they are ready to buy, and then closing that sale. While business development professionals are more focused on the strategy, sales professionals are more focused on actually converting a prospect into being a customer.

A sales professional might:

  1. Find leads based on general information such as location, age, etc.
  2. Research customers’ needs and pain points to craft a proper pitch or value proposition
  3. Nurture relationships of leads

However, their primary focus is not on growing the business beyond the product or service they are selling. They are uber focused on creating customers from the product and programs that the company offers. In other words, they look to sell whatever is available at the time they meet with new prospects.

How Sales Benefits the Business

An effective sales process allows a business to operate more efficiently by creating more revenue. More revenue means more growth, which in turn, provides opportunities to reach new markets and expand product and service offerings. It also allows a business to make contact with their customers directly and form trusting relationships with them, as long as honesty is a priority. 

Business Development vs Sales: Head-to-Head

The following provides a visual comparison of business development versus sales.

Business Development Sales
Focused on growing a company through programs, events and partnerships Focused on closing deals
Focused on long-term growth Focused on near-term revenue
Focused on multiple functions of a company Focused on selling specific products or services
Performance is not tied to specific numbers or sales Performance is typically evaluated based on how much they sell

Why Business Development vs Sales Matters

When we confuse these two core functions you are limiting your employees’ impact and you’re also losing out on the huge potential that a proper business development function can have on your business. 

When the tasks of a business development professional and a sales professional overlap too much, we can actually do ourselves, and these professionals, a disservice. When professionals are overloaded with tasks, it can lead to mental blocks, which reduces overall productivity. However, when tasks are clearly defined and differentiated, individuals are empowered to own the tasks given to them, giving the work more meaning while reducing the overall workload.

Additionally, drawing this distinction allows for clarity amongst other professionals within the business. Think of it like this: When a child asks both parents the same question, and one says “yes” but the other says “no,” what happens? Both the child and parents are left confused and without a clear answer. If we draw distinctions between the responsibilities of each role, then it becomes clear for other employees who they need to go to for specific needs, which creates a more seamless process for all.

To prevent the trickle-down of confusion and disorganization, it’s important to get clear on what tasks are to be handled by each role. This will allow for a business to have a stronger market focus, more successful sales cycles, and more predictable revenue.

Sales & BD Working Together

As previously stated, business development and sales professionals have various overlapping responsibilities. This is why the two often collaborate to achieve company goals. These two functions work together primarily through messaging and strategy to best align the business’ efforts.

Messaging

In order to create a seamless process, it’s important that BD and sales teams are on the same page in terms of how they talk about the product or service. 

For example, a BD professional might interact with a potential customer as they are considering a partnership or purchase. The customer might then be handed off to a sales professional to help guide them through the decision-making process. If the two functions utilized different messaging, it could be confusing and deterring for the potential customer.

Strategy

A consistent strategy helps the business function better overall as teams work in unison towards the same goal. By ensuring they are on the same page about which market to target, how to bring in new leads, who to collaborate with, and the overall goals of the company, BD and sales teams can help accelerate company growth.

Adam Spivak, Senior Vice President of Business Development at 2U shares that it is critical to be in “alignment with the executive team and with other internal stakeholders” for elements such as the goal ROI and the timeline to reach that goal in order to implement the overall strategy effectively.

Tips for Working With Your Sales Team

As a business development professional, it is your responsibility to create a structure that fosters a seamless and successful collaboration with a sales team. 

If that has you thinking, “How do I do that? This feels overwhelming,” here are a few tips to help you through the process.

1. Know Who You’re Working With

You can create a more harmonious group by understanding the strengths and opportunities for growth within each member. Identifying where the two teams can support one another will allow each team to feel more comfortable and successful within their respective roles.

2. Be Clear on Communication

There are various ways in which the teams’ roles will overlap, and therefore, effective communication between the two will be crucial. Identify a channel for communication that works, then set expectations for how and when to use it.

3. Implement Tools Where Necessary

If communication is becoming complex, it may be necessary to implement some organizational or project management tools. This would allow the two teams to share information seamlessly, keeping both parties informed on elements such as messaging and strategy.

Ultimately, communication lies at the center of the collaboration between a business development team and a sales team. When in doubt, ask a colleague for assistance or guidance.

Bottom Line

The difference between business development and sales is a common point of confusion for many professionals. Clarifying the difference is key in helping your teams work together more successfully. Getting each to work effectively in their respective functions can maximize the effectiveness and growth potential of your entire business.