Business Development vs Sales

June 5, 2019 / Comments Off on Business Development vs Sales

Sales-Business development-team

Skyline, Dallas, Dusk, Downtown, Cityscape, Texas, Usa

In 2005  relocated my family to Dallas, Texas to take advantage of the growing demand for mobile technology in the US.

Armed with my entrepreneurial spirit and our one-year-old daughter we took the plunge and spent the next ten years in the City!

Now I am going to get this part of the article out early because, for anyone in the UK who grew up in the 1970s and ’80s, there was a TV series that gained a cult following also called ‘Dallas.’

The plot was centered around an oil family called the ‘Ewings’ and the main character was a guy called J.R Ewing and to me, he was THE businessman and serial entrepreneur!  I loved the character, but not so much his ruthless methods and what stuck out for me in business was the actual pain he felt when he lost deals.  And yes, I did make a few visits to the set which was not far from where we lived and even attended the reunion in 2008.

How sad is that?

Back On Topic

It was while I was in Dallas that I had first taken note of the term ‘business development‘ and since I knew exactly what sales was all about, I found the title intriguing, to say the least.

I was already concerned about the US style of delivering recruitment or what over there is termed ‘staffing‘ services as they operated what is termed a split desk style of service delivery, which I didn’t care for very much simply because you have in the simplest of examples, one person responsible for bringing in new business (job orders or vacancies) and the other looking for candidates to fill those vacancies.

In my UK office, we had one person who did both and there was a very good reason as to why – it gave you the entire ‘lifecycle’ experience from start to finish and if you were sourcing the candidates, then you were very aware of their capabilities first hand and not reliant on someone else to tell you.  You also knew the customer well as you have effectively ‘sold’ to them and for me the more ‘connected’ you are in the entire process, the better.

And as I grew the company, I started to hear the words ‘business development.’

One of the heads of a recruitment division was looking to recruit a business development (BD) executive and I asked what the difference is between that position and a salesperson – the reply was ‘none.’  OK, I thought then it was just a play on words.

Remember we were running a split desk and I was still concerned about this practice, but I was in a new country and I was to a degree at the mercy of doing business ‘their way’ and it would make sense to follow the form wouldn’t it?

Well…no…not exactly and that is the problem of being an entrepreneur – you have this inherent nature to question and challenge everything and not always for the good.

An entrepreneur is different from a businessperson in my world – a businessperson is someone who has skills in business and that may or may not include formal business education and an entrepreneur works on an instinctive feeling for the world of business and will take risks, some huge and back their own instincts often going against the grain.  I was giving a talk once about entrepreneurship and someone asked me to define the term and I pretty much said what I have just said, but added: “it’s like jumping off a high cliff and designing a parachute on the way down.”

So far so good – the roles of business development and sales are the same…or are they?

Clients And Software

Golf is an excellent way to conduct business and I like nothing better than to get out in the Texas heat and play golf.  Dallas has some excellent golf courses and with my favorite client Pete, I loved to get on the course to play golf and discuss business.

Golfer-golf course

Now Pete is my type of golfer – fiercely competitive, always arrives just a minute before his tee-time and hits some of the worst shots of his life on the first few holes…until…he has his special ‘energy’ and performance-enhancing drink.

Pete likes nothing more than a nice large Russian Mineral Water, with a splash of vitamin C in the form of fresh orange juice to give him the kick-start he needs to fine-tune him before, during and even after golf and I personally endorse this blend too, so here you have the perfect performance drink endorsed by yours truly and Pete of course.

After a few of these refreshing beverages and in the fierce heat of the Texas sun your golf game takes on a whole new perspective.

Dear old Pete now gets a certain rhythm to his game and the shots start to fly annoyingly accurate and long, so time for a few sporting tactics from yours truly and that usually means to get onto the subject of business and try to push him for more money as of course it costs $$$ to play good golf, washed down with these incredibly effective sports drinks!

It was during one of these golf games that he told me he was looking to hire a BD person so now I asked him as to the differences between BD and sales.  It was explained to me that BD is the process of developing relationships and hunting for new opportunities and sales were all about taking those opportunities ‘over the line’ or ‘closing them.’

Just before I left for Dallas, I had started a technology software company in the depths of the technology recession with two partners who were based in Dallas – this is what I mean by being an entrepreneur rather than a businessman as I went ‘all in’ with this new venture and it was another reason that I moved to Dallas.

I had also heard from my partners in the business that we were about to hire a BD person and now I was getting more and more interested in this role as to me, it was part of the sales process that was part of the role of a salesperson.

So now I was in Dallas and had two concerns – the split desk recruiting/staffing operation and the newfound terminology of BD, that to me was simply sales.

So What Are The Differences

Well to me there are none, but I can’t ignore the hiring practices of large organizations that employ people for this role, so let’s take a deeper look at the process of selling to an organization and we can break the process down into three stages:

  1. Initial client Engagement
  2. Business development
  3. Deal completion of ‘closing the sale’

Any good salesperson would be able to see that this is a natural description os the sales cycle and would happily perform all three functions.


But in larger organizations and where there are longer and more complex sales cycles such as in my software company, there will be a team involved and that is where we may have started the process of creating the role of BD.

In smaller operations, the role would be performed by a single person and let me explain that I started my business from my living room in a two bedroom apartment in London and I had no idea how successful it was going to be.  Hiring staff was a luxury I couldn’t even begin to think about, let alone differing job roles!

So I will state my point of view and that is there is no difference between the roles as far as the competencies for both roles are concerned, but there may be a need for separation in larger organizations, but to me, the overall responsibility for the outcome, rests with sales and the sales team should be responsible for the entire sales process.

Back to my two problems and the fact that I wanted to ‘prove’ that my methods would work in the US – an absolutely stupid idea and driven purely by ego and I must add, the outcome was a total disaster!

I found myself making the huge mistake of incessantly ‘selling’ my ideas to my staff, which is futile at best.

In short, I was trying to change the culture of a nation!

Still, once an entrepreneur…, etc.

One of the lessons I learned whilst conducting International business, was to immerse myself in the culture – something I didn’t do too well in the US.  The culture defines the people and it is those very people you have to work with.

I learned an awful lot in the US and I will state that it is a great place to conduct business, but you have to understand the culture and sometimes we Brits don’t do that very well!


Last modified: June 5, 2019