Through my 20+ years of corporate career, I encountered numerous examples of business development roles being just a “polite” title for sales jobs. But such confusion often leads to wrong expectations and frustration for both employees and management teams. So how can we draw a clear line between two professions to boost motivation and to reduce turnover costs?
As I’ve worked in both roles, I’m sharing here 3 insider tips for efficiently differentiating the two teams.
1) Business development has a longer timeframe compared to sales.
Sales are aimed at delivering short term results. This is because a customer already has a need. Whether she is actively looking for a particular product or not, the need is there. What may be missing is a trigger for a purchase decision.
How many of us bought something after seeing a discounted price ad? Some of us may still regret it. But the truth is: we wouldn’t have bought a product that we have no interest in. If I am interested in art, I won’t buy an accounting software even at a very attractive price. So the discount is just a trigger. The need was already there. That’s sales.
Now, when we talk about implementing company’s growth strategy, such as entering new markets or advancing a new technology, there are little chances for an expediated sales deal. Why? Because the prospect does not know you and your product. She does not want to make a risky decision, especially if it comes with a high price tag.
You need to build trust and credibility first. That requires continuous demonstration of expertise, transparency, and ability to support customer’s needs. That cannot happen overnight, because you are building a human-to-human connection. That is why when there is a change in the decision-making personality on the buyer side, you often have to re-start the process from the beginning. Pushing for a deal closure in such circumstances is often counter-productive and brings the opposite results. The buyer withdraws or worse, starts looking elsewhere, meaning lost time, money, and effort for your organization.
This is because business development is precisely about developing – relations, trust, and foundation for future business. It takes time.
2) Sales require fast results, business development’s focus is growth.
Would you go to a bar with the aim of finding your life partner? Probably, not. But something similar happens when a company management expects business development to deliver à-la sales results.
Sales are like dating. You need to quickly “qualify” if the opportunity can go forward. A salesperson will not actively pursue a lead that has little chances to succeed in the short team. His company’s immediate survival depends on the efficiency of his sales efforts.
Therefore, a salesperson needs a skillset that allows for quick and efficient deal closures: product knowledge, industry experience, persuasiveness, result-orientation, competitiveness, focus, ability to think on his feet, drive.
Business development is different. It is about testing the market and unlocking new opportunities for growth.
Companies work in functional silos. Business development is a collaboration facilitator at the operational level. It takes the market input from customers, competitors, regulators, industry experts, as well as own sales and account management teams. It then works with internal teams of product, engineering, marketing, strategy, customer support, legal, to ensure the competitiveness of company’s product portfolio in longer term.
That is why business development requires a multidisciplinary mindset, strategic thinking, analytical skills, consensus fostering, conflict management, multicultural sensitivity, relation-building, as well as communication and presentation skills.
So somehow working in business development is like being in a committed relationship: you want to ensure that it lasts.
3) Business development and sales require different support.
Sales implies efficiency, business development – innovation. Both require internal support in order to perform their jobs efficiently. Apart from functional inputs from internal experts, they need to rely on company’s processes and systems that help them to do their best.
Sales needs a lot of automation, fast responsiveness, and a clear decision-making authority within the company. Nothing is more frustrating for a salesperson than losing out because his own company is dragging its feet. So standard proposals, pricing templates, product presentations, as well as fast-track or regular deal approval meetings are must-have for an efficient sales work.
Unfortunately, I’ve witnessed things like executive team lacking a quorum to approve a business deal, or a subject matter expert being asked to participate in internal project instead of joining a customer meeting. For the sales to succeed, leadership team support is vital.
Same is true for business development. In addition to that, this function requires collaboration tools and processes to efficiently share information across multiple departments within the company (collaboration software, project management resources, as well as access to competitive intelligence). Business development is also best placed to participate at the industry conferences and events, as unlike sales, they are not focused on sending out the next proposal within an hour.
All is all, sales is about ensuring that business is viable in the short term. Business development is about ensuring its sustainability in the future.
So do not hire a business development expert to do sales and verse versa. These two have different roles, personalities, and objectives. And every business needs and deserves to have both.