Business development vs sales: What’s the difference?

Sometimes, two things look so similar that we fail to tell them apart. One example that keeps coming back to me is the struggle from identifying business development vs sales roles. People often interchange these two titles as if they were one and the same, but the truth is that it’s not! And if you’re on your way to building a career in either field, you probably need some clarity before moving forward. Planning isn’t easy.

Let’s dive into what these roles actually are (defining them) and talk about what sets them apart for real.

Business development vs sales: not identical at all!

business development vs sales

When someone says “sales”, what do you think of? Probably lots of coffee chats, people swimming in commission money, and that crazily blinding salesperson smile. If you’ve ever sat down for a “quick chat” with an insurance agent before, you’ll know that they’re all about talking your ear off until they close the deal.

But that’s the world of a salesperson – hard-selling with the gift of the gab until customers relent and give up their money for a product or service. These people know that sales is a process and stop at nothing to master the game. And it’s precisely the job of selling an existing product or service that differentiates salespeople from business development professionals.

This is because business development professionals are more concerned with creating solutions and pitching new products to bridge gaps in their markets of interest. In other words, a salesperson is a persuasive speaker but a business development executive is a storyteller. And a huge part of a business development professional’s job is to propose partnerships, products, and initiatives – all of which demand a great deal of writing.

To recap, these are the key differences in business development vs sales:

  • Business development is storytelling; sales is persuasion
  • Biz dev professionals often write a lot; salespeople often talk a lot

The KPIs of business development vs sales

Another surefire way to tell business development and sales roles apart are by taking a look at key performance indicators, or KPIs. After all, if these two designations were one and the same, you’d know it by their shared goals.

Sales is fixated on generating leads and epic revenue

Check out HubSpot’s guide to sales KPI and metrics and you’ll see right away that salespeople are goal-oriented when it comes to generating revenue. Essentially, taking up a sales role means that you’ll be primarily concerned with lead generation and the profit you’ll turn from it. Some of these KPIs include:

  • Revenue by product/line
  • Percentage of revenue from new business
  • Number of deals lost to competitors
  • Year-over-year growth

This means that salespeople won’t have the time to do anything else but selling specific products and services. You won’t find a salesman thinking up the next groundbreaking product to disrupt the market – rather, he’ll pour all his efforts into getting people interested in something that’s already on the market. It’s all about the money, money, money!

Business development professionals think broadly – and more long-term

Leads and partnerships have to come from somewhere. There are people working hard behind the scenes to fill the gaps in the market, and they’re your tireless business development guys and girls!

While sales executives work strictly on closing deals, business development reps haul their weight to create opportunities in the market. This could mean pitching a new product or service, approaching big companies for partnership potential, or even just focusing on lead generation through a variety of campaigns and initiatives.

Leslie from HubSpot describes the role of a business development professional perfectly:

“Business or sales development reps (BDRs or SDRs, respectively) are tasked with researching, prospecting, and qualifying leads before passing them off to the sales team to further develop and close.”

You might be starting to see how business development and sales work hand-in-hand – and how they’re not the same role at all. Nuts, right?

To be or not to be: Deciding between business development vs sales

Now we’re less likely to confuse the two professions, which begs the next question: which one should you pick? It all depends on who you are and what your career goals look like.

If you’re passionate, a talented speaker, and enjoy the thrill of closing a deal, sales might be a more viable path for you.

After all, if you’re effective, results will show pretty quickly. And we all know how satisfying it can be to reach that monthly – or quarterly – quota. You’ll be on the frontlines as a battle-hardened warrior, never taking no for an answer, and knowing precisely how to speak to your customers and convince them to say yes.

On the other hand, business development enthusiasts are often marketers at heart.

They aren’t nuts about closing deals or watching their revenue numbers leap with every successful week, but they do think of long-term potential and exciting partnerships to bring to life. Apart from studying the market and industry, biz dev reps understand consumer patterns, underlying trends, and the larger factors that influence industrial growth.

Now that you’ve got these messy thoughts sorted and you can confidently tell people you know the difference between business development vs sales, it’s time to get cracking.

Hop on our platform and check out thousands of epic business development and sales job opportunities. Your dream career is out there!

Sophia Lee

I used to freelance exclusively for Glints - now I'm a content marketing intern working furiously in the backdrop. Talk to me about writing any time! (Or we could have a serious discussion about video games and e-sports... that's cool too.) Find me on Instagram (@pxtrx)!

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