Business development vs sales: similarities and differences

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 11 October 2022

Published 30 November 2021

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 are two important processes that help companies grow and increase their revenue. Although the two professions have a lot in common and it's possible for employees working at small companies to cover both roles, these jobs serve different needs within an organisation. Understanding the difference between sales and business development can help you identify which position would be better for your skills and expectations. In this article, we define business development vs sales, list some key differences between these roles and explain what you can expect from both jobs.

Defining business development vs sales

When trying to understand the differences and similarities between business development vs sales, it's important to remember that they're both key stages that allow companies to successfully market and sell their products or services. Understanding these definitions is important to fully comprehend the key differences and similarities between business development vs sales:

What is business development?

Business development is the process of identifying potential opportunities for a company's products or services. This involves finding new clients or new markets to which the company can expand. The main goal of someone who works in business development is finding the perfect match between products and buyers. They do this by working closely with product development and management to identify the most effective communication channels, design appropriate marketing strategies and implement cost-effective lead generation processes. Here are some example duties of business development professionals:

  • researching prospective leads

  • matching products to niche markets

  • evaluating competitive positioning

  • joining trade associations to better understand the market

  • attending trade shows to network with potential leads

  • forming strategic relationships to generate referrals

  • generating prospects through cold calling, cold emails and social selling

Related: What does a business development executive do?

What is sales?

Sales is the process of generating revenue by persuading people to invest in a company's products or services. Sales representatives take leads previously generated by business development teams and turn them into buyers. They commonly guide potential customers through customised sales funnels. Here are some duties that sales representatives are responsible for:

  • connecting with leads to identify their needs

  • recommending products or services

  • following up with leads generated from marketing campaigns

  • discussing objections to products or services

  • demonstrating products

  • drafting contracts

  • closing sales

Related: What Is a Sales Job? (With Examples of Common Sales Roles)

Differences between business development and sales

Here are four key differences between business development and sales:

1. Stage of product development

Business development precedes sales. When a company decides to expand or move into a new market, it activates business development first. Business development specialists work on generating prospective leads and sales representatives work on turning those leads into buyers.

2. Goals

The primary goal of business development is to generate business leads and build successful, long-term relationships with prospective clients. Once they establish the relationship, it's then the role of sales representatives to monetise the leads by selling products or services and increasing revenue. In other words, business development professionals usually focus on strategy and sales representatives focus on tactics.

3. Requirements

If you're interested in working in sales, employers may not require any specialised training from you. This is because succeeding in sales often involves networking and natural entrepreneurship abilities. Companies may have higher requirements for aspiring business development specialists because they use specialised knowledge and specific skills to identify prospects and develop relationships.

4. Performance measures

If you work in business development, your employer may measure your performance by reviewing what impact you have on their organisation's growth. When in sales, your success rates depend on how many leads you close during a period of time. It's also more common for sales representatives to work on commission. This means that they have a real impact on their income because the more leads they close, the bigger their salary.

Related: What Is Commission Pay? (With Types and Sales Skills)

Similarities between business development and sales

Here are three key similarities between sales and business development that you may take into consideration when choosing a desired career path:

1. Salaries

The average salary of a business development representative is £29,305 per year and the average salary of a sales representative is £26,327 per year. Compensation in those roles may vary depending on the size of the company, its location and your experience. Increasing your income in those roles may also be possible if you decide to take on a senior or leadership position where you'd lead a team of either sales or business development representatives.

2. Identifying the value

It's common for sales and business development to work together to determine the most effective value proposition for products or services. Since both departments have extensive knowledge about either finding or closing deals, they can effectively work together to quickly identify issues within the company, for example, with its sales and marketing funnels. Based on those findings, they can propose changes or implement new processes that define the company's lead generation process.

3. Connecting with customers

Both sales and business development regularly work with clients to either present the company's products or services to them or to persuade them to make purchasing decisions. Most employers require that employees working in either of these departments have strong interpersonal and customer service skills. Some activities that they may engage in daily include cold calling, cold emailing and networking.

Related: What Is Customer Satisfaction?

Example careers in business development and sales

Review these job titles in business development and sales to understand what job openings to look for and compare how much you'd earn:

Jobs in business development

Here's a list of common job titles in business development with average salaries:

  • Business development manager: £37,134 per year

  • Solutions consultant: £52,627 per year

  • Customer success manager: £33,341 per year

  • Strategic partnership manager: £37,510 per year

  • Senior account specialist: £27,969 per year

  • Business development director: £62,068 per year

Jobs in sales

If you're interested in working in sales, consider looking for job openings for these roles:

  • Sales associate: £22,931 per year

  • B2B field sales: £30,096 per year

  • Sales operations manager: £38,739 per year

  • Account manager: £31,118 per year

  • Director of sales: £71,894 per year

Related: 13 of the Highest-Paying Sales Jobs (With Salary Details)

Essential skills for jobs in business development and sales

Although business development and sales employees occasionally work together to define and improve a company's lead generation processes, employers often require that they have different skill sets. If you're interested in working in either of these professions, it's important that you know how to utilise your existing skills. Consider these skills to prepare for a career in sales or business development:

Skills for jobs in business development

Here are some essential skills that can help you succeed in business development:

  • Research and critical thinking skills: When working in business development, one of your key goals is to identify and get in touch with individuals or organisations who'd be interested in your employer's products or services. Having strong research and critical thinking skills makes it easier to create an ideal buyer persona and find people who match this description.

  • Outstanding organisational skills: It's common for business development representatives to simultaneously manage communication with multiple prospective leads. Knowing how to organise your time and resources to ensure they're all satisfied with your work can help you succeed.

  • Written and verbal communication skills: Business development representatives are often responsible for cold calling and cold emailing prospective leads to build relationships with them. Excellent communication skills allow you to make yourself appear professional and trustworthy.

Read more: Business Development Skills: Definition and Examples

Skills for jobs in sales

These skills may be essential for you if you're considering working in sales:

  • Excellent interpersonal skills: Sales representatives use interpersonal skills to identify people's needs and present products or services in a way that would make them interested in buying them. This includes active listening, observation, optimism and empathy.

  • Public speaking skills: As a sales representative, it's important that you know how to create and deliver an impactful sales pitch during client meetings. Strengthening your public speaking skills is a great way to feel more confident when giving presentations and makes it easier to connect with your audience.

  • Willingness to travel: Some sales representatives are also responsible for travelling and presenting products or services at the client's site. If you're willing to travel for work, you make yourself more marketable because employers see you as a versatile candidate who can easily combine working at the office and travelling.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at the time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

Related:

  • What is a BDR? (Definition, responsibilities and skills)

  • What does a business development manager do in their role?

  • How to write business development manager CV (with example)

  • Business development manager interview questions (plus tips)

  • Sales vs. marketing vs. business development: differences


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