Business Development & Sales – What is the Difference?

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Sarah Downs

Business Development & Sales – What is the Difference?

Many people in my network have asked me “What’s the difference between business development and sales?” It’s a great question and one that I will answer, to the best of my ability, in today’s blog.

I understand the source of the questions; many sales and business development professionals have similar job descriptions. The roles appear interchangeable in some organisations, and it can be unclear who is responsible for what.

In my opinion, this stems primarily from a shift in job titles of salespeople to ‘business development’. This has mainly been done in an effort to overcome negative connotations that surround the word ‘sales’ and bring down some of the barriers. But, in reality, it has just created a lot of confusion!

However, I want to take your attention away from the actual job title for a few minutes and focus on the responsibilities of the role.

Core Skills of Sales and BD

In general, sales roles are target or bonus-focused, with a requirement for strong negotiation skills. Business development, on the other hand, is about developing relationships with clients and partners alike, and takes a much longer-term view.

Both BD and sales roles need presentation skills and interpersonal skills. However, there are certain skills that are unique to each role.

Skills for Sales

A sales professional needs to be comfortable with hunting and knocking on doors to gain new customers. If I was to rank the top 3 characteristics/skills of a salesperson, it would be:

  1. Hunting Instinct, the person needs to be great at going after prospects. It could be through cold calling, emailing or whatever means.
  2. Competitive Spirit, this is what drives a sales professional to succeed – the motivation to be the best at what they do and hit that target is often on them.
  3. Negotiation Pro, they are usually skilled at driving conversations that lead to win-win decisions and ultimately closing the deal.

Not all professionals embody all of the characteristics above. For instance, they might not be fiercely competitive, but they do well in sales nonetheless. These non-typical sales professionals are likely to make great business developers.

Skills for Business Development

Business development professionals can adapt to their environment and use different skills to achieve great results in their role. The top 3 skills for business development professionals are:

  1. Relationship Building, this is the key capability that business developers need in order to create long-term relationships and partnerships that lead to business growth.
  2. Creative Thinking, speaking of business growth, simply building relationships is not enough. Business developers must be able to find ways to leverage the relationships so that it creates a competitive advantage for the organisation.
  3. Adaptable Style, things change in organisations and in industry. A business developer can’t be easily fazed and must be able to adapt to new situations.

Goals for Sales and BD

Sales are usually focused on hitting targets and getting that bonus at the end of a job well done. For business development, it is usually about seeing the organisation succeed in the longer term.

Therefore, it is important that an organisation carefully considers which role they require to meet their business goals. If the organisation focuses on monthly or quarterly sales and not on longer-term strategic growth, then it’s probably a job for sales. A business developer is likely to get frustrated with a short-term focus.

business development and sales doqaru

Impact of Industry on Sales and BD

Some industries have longer sales cycles that require a series of engagements that ultimately, lead the customer to make a purchase. Longer sales cycles might require a business development approach, however, when it comes time to closing the deal, certain skills, like negotiation, will be crucial.

The Oil & Gas industry, for instance, often operated on shorter, more transactional cycles before the downturn in 2014. Many sales professionals simply had to pick up customer calls and take orders. But things changed, and the industry’s suppliers required a more proactive approach to generating business. It has been a difficult transition, understandably.

Longer sales cycles could become the norm, and sales and business development professionals need to take more proactive approaches to achieve their goals – whatever those might be.

Deciding between BD and Sales

Business development and sales often work well together, but not many companies have both. SMEs often can’t afford to have the two roles, even though I believe an organisation needs both skillsets.

Here are some questions to ask when deciding whether to hire a business development professional or a sales professional:

  • What are you looking to achieve with this role? If you are replacing someone who has left, are you re-assessing the skills you actually need? Are there any lessons you can learn from the previous individual’s performance?
  • Is the main focus on sales targets or where the next win is coming from? Or is it more about the overall strategic development and growth?
  • How are you looking to manage the new recruit? Will their performance be judged on sales figures or more general KPI’s?
  • Do you require someone that is technical or non-technical?

For instance, I am non-technical. But my clients are willing to come in and support from a technical perspective. I just need to know enough of the ‘technical speak’ to get the interest in the first place and open the door for my client.

You need to map out your organisation to identify existing resources and gaps. If you have mainly technical people, it might be a good idea to bring in a resource that is non-technical.

On a side note, technical companies tend to go for a salesperson who is technical. This tendency isn’t as common with BD roles.

Another consideration is the overall business strategy. If the business is about to enter a new market or launch a brand-new product, it is likely that, to begin with, the company needs a business developer. Marketing will also take a leading role here.

Consequences for Businesses

If you bring the wrong type of skills into your business, you will waste time and money. The business will also not achieve its goals, and there could be ill-feeling amongst the team, as well as the person who has come into the company to do a job.

It could be damaging to a person’s confidence, especially if he/she believes that the expectations of the role were unrealistic and didn’t play to their strengths. Businesses need to be mindful of potential reputational fall-out in cases where these issues are not properly managed.

If you need to take your business forward but you are unsure of which skills you need in your organisation, get in touch to find out how we can help.  We have a number of trusted associates (both in BD and Sales) that we call upon depending on what that need may be.

A version of this blog was published on sarahdownsltd.com 

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