Business Development versus Sales: What’s the Difference?

DIWANIYA | business development professionals


What we noticed in our practice over the past few years, many Sales people stopped referring to themselves as “Sales” and started to refer to themselves as “Business Development” instead.

We assume they made this change because they think that the term “Sales” has some negative connotations, while the term “Business Development” is more neutral and therefore preferable. Whatever the reason, this has created lots of confusion around the term “Business Development”. For example, most job specs for what are clearly Sales roles use the term Business Development in their title. Time to bring order to chaos.

Business Development versus Sales: What’s the Difference?

Sales are all about selling company’s products or services to end customers at an agreed price. Sales people are in direct contact with potential customers (new sales) and/or current customers (renewals, upgrades, and cross-sells). Indeed, it is the process of identifying prospective end customers, then reaching them and persuading to act in a specific manner or accept company’s proposition.

On the contrary, Business development is a process of following the strategic opportunities, for the firm from a market-oriented perspective. Business Development is used to mean the generation of long term values for the firm. It represents the ideas, moves and initiatives that help the business in becoming more effective.

There are many different Business Development strategies for growing a company. Sometimes, this is done through collaborating with another organization. A basic example would be Company A keeping an eye out for prospective clients for Company B, and referring prospects to one another.

This could also mean developing completely new products together. One excellent example of this, is the collaboration with Apple and Nike in their Nike+ product. Nike+ is a platform that helps you track your exercise progress and results. Nike and Apple worked together to create software that tracks this on the mobile Apple devices and through Nike+ powered running shoes.

As you can see, customer acquisition is just a small tenet of this entire partnership. Whereas Sales are all about the transaction between two parties, Business Development talks about the strategic relationship between two entities.

“Sales is the execution of the plan; Business Development is the creation and focus, and measurement, of that plan”

Just to be clear, we are not saying that Business Development does not overlap with Sales. In many instances, Business Development works closely with Sales.  And in one instance – specifically when the company sells via the channel – Business Development can be part of Sales.

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