What's the Difference Between Sales and Business Development?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 15 June 2022 | Published 26 August 2020

Updated 15 June 2022

Published 26 August 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Sales and business development may look like similar functions, but there are certain differences between the two. You may be required to perform both these roles in a small organization, but large businesses usually have separate, clearly defined roles and responsibilities for these positions. You should know the difference between sales and business development in order to decide which job is more suitable for you. In this article, we discuss the difference between sales and business development roles in an organization.

What Is Business Development?

Business development is the process of identifying potential markets and customers for a company's products. It seeks to develop the market and build business relationships with the customers. As a business developer, your core responsibility would be to grow your company's business. The exact tasks and strategy may vary with the industry, but your main mission would remain the same.

Most business development positions require a minimum of a bachelor's degree. Some companies may ask for post-graduation in marketing or business management. In addition to relevant experience in business development, sales and marketing, you should also have certain skills to succeed in this field. Some of the essential skills for a business development professional include communication, negotiation, data analysis and perseverance.

Some of the common roles and responsibilities of business development professionals include the following:

  • Studying potential markets for a company's products and services

  • Researching data on potential customers

  • Identifying niche markets for a company's products and services

  • Analysing a product's strengths and weaknesses compared those of a competitor's product

  • Developing business relationships by joining trade associations and professional bodies

  • Participating in product launches, trade shows and other business events

  • Generating leads through emails, cold calling and social media

What Is Sales?

Sales is the process of selling products and services in order to generate revenue for the company. Sales professionals perform various activities of the sales cycle in order to convert business leads into actual customers. Typically, a sales professional is responsible for the following tasks:

  • Contacting leads given by the business development team to better understand their requirements

  • Explaining product features to potential customers

  • Giving product demos to potential customers

  • Following up with leads on their buying decision

  • Helping customers with documentation and other sales formalities

  • Closing sales and helping with the onboarding process

Business Development Vs. Sales

Business development forms the basis for sales. The business development team generates leads and passes them over to the sales team for conversion. A business development professional first needs to identify the target market and potential customers before someone from sales can start giving demos and explaining the product features.

If a company has developed a new product or wants to expand its existing market, it needs to hire business development professionals first in order to identify the sales opportunities. If a company already has a lot of leads, it should hire sales professionals to convert those leads into customers.

A sales team mostly works directly with customers, while a business development team usually works with other business partners rather than customers. Similarly, a sales team intends to generate immediate revenue for the company, while a business development team takes a long-term view of the company's growth.

Essential Business Development Skills

If you are looking for a career opportunity in business development, you should work on developing the following skills and highlighting them in your resume:

  • Sales skills

  • Marketing skills

  • Communication skills

  • Data analysis skills

  • Business intelligence skills

  • Project management skills

  • Team management skills

Sales skills

Although business development is different from sales, it involves some similar tasks and activities. As such, sales skills can help you in your business development role.

As a business development professional, you must be able to understand your company's products, identify potential customers and follow up on business opportunities. You should be comfortable meeting new people, presenting your ideas and convincing others about your views. You may often have to make cold calls and schedule meetings to discuss partnership opportunities and negotiate mutually beneficial deals. You must be sharp enough to quickly assess whether a prospective buyer would make a good customer for your product or whether a potential partner can give you access to certain segments of the market.

Related: Valuable Sales Skills For A Resume To Help You Stand Out

Marketing skills

Business development is almost similar to marketing except for some fine differences. In fact, many smaller companies have a common department for these two functions. Larger companies usually have separate departments, but both the departments must closely work together to achieve their common goal of increasing revenue for the company.

Marketing generally refers to the process of promoting a product or service to potential customers and making the product attractive and suitable for the target users. For example, pricing, packaging, positioning and brand building all fall under marketing. Conversely, business development seeks to strategically grow a business through activities such as product development, forming joint ventures and new market exploration.

Business developers in large organizations may not have to work directly with customers, but they may still need to use some marketing skills in their roles. For example, while negotiating a joint venture with a competitor, you must be able to sell your ideas and convince the other party as to how it will benefit both the companies. In such cases, you are basically marketing your product and ideas to your competitors instead of direct customers.

Related: Top 20 Marketing Skills To Include on Your Resume

Communication skills

Almost all business developer job descriptions include communication skills as an essential requirement for the job. You must have strong communication skills in order to perform your day-to-day business development tasks. Whether you are making cold calls to potential businesses, negotiating a deal with a business partner or conducting a survey to evaluate market potential, you must be able to convey your ideas confidently and clearly.

When you have collected information from a potential customer, and you pass it on to the sales team, you must be able to do it clearly without leaving any room for distortion or misunderstanding. Communication mostly involves writing, speaking and listening, although there are several other aspects to it, such as body language, facial expressions and visual presentation.

Negotiation skills are an extension of communication skills. In order to negotiate successfully, you must be tactful, creative and able to prioritize tasks.

Related: Communication Skills In Leadership: Importance And Benefits

Data analysis skills

Collecting and analysing data is a major part of any business development job. You constantly need to track and present data pertaining to return on investment to your team and managers. Some of the common metrics business developers use include revenue, product units, number of clients and number of business deals. The exact metrics you use varies with the industry and the company.

In addition to the data required to present the company's progress, you also need to analyse a host of other data pertaining to market survey, target customers, product attributes and competitors' market share. Having strong data analysis skills definitely positions you better for your business development job.

Related: 10 Valuable Data Analysis Skills

Business intelligence skills

Business intelligence involves the process of collecting and processing the information pertaining to your own company as well as your competitors. A business development professional must get insights into different segments and aspects of the market. You must perform research and get a strong understanding of things like what customers think about your product, what features customers are looking for, how your competitors plan to modify their products and whether you can increase your market share through a price cut.

Related: What Is Business Intelligence? (With Techniques And Uses)

Project management skills

Business development is a large project in itself. It involves integrating various strategies, processes and structures with an intention to grow the company's business, especially the revenue part. The strategy and processes you follow to achieve your goals may vary depending upon the specific needs of your company and the stage of growth it's going through.

The skills needed for successful project management are also essential for a business development job. For example, you must be able to manage your team, set your priorities, multitask and set targets and deadlines for yourself and others.

Related: 19 Essential Project Management Skills To Master

Team management skills

Team management skills are important because business development involves several different tasks, and you may not be handling them all by yourself. Since you will be working in a team, it requires effective team management skills, such as supporting and motivating team members, distributing work, evaluating performance and resolving conflicts. The extent of these skills required depends upon your exact position and job responsibilities in the organization.

Related: Team Management Skills (Definition And Ways To Improve Them)


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