Sales vs. Business Development vs. Marketing: What’s the Difference?


Sales, business development, and marketing. If you work in business, you’ve probably come across these terms at least once. At first glance, they appear to essentially mean the same thing – increasing revenue for the business. While that may be the ultimate goal, each job function actually contributes in wildly different ways.

We can illustrate this concept by looking at a typical basketball team. We can say that the ultimate goal of the offense is to get the ball in the basket. To an untrained observer, each player is responsible for getting that ball in the hoop. Whoever has the ball needs to make a shot. Plain and simple, right?

However, to the trained observer, there are many different positions within the offense that have different responsibilities. Each offense consists of a center, power forward, small forward, point guard, and shooting guard. Each position is working towards that common goal, but everyone contributes in a different way. The same concept applies to sales, business development, and marketing.


Selling a product or service to a prospect can be easily understood in one sentence: It’s the job of the sales team to close the deal. When a sales executive has a prospect in front of them, it’s their job to convince that prospect to make a purchase. Whether that happens now or next week, the sales rep is trained to close the deal. Sales executives are often the highest paid people in the company (outside of the CEO) because of their vital role in the organization.

Business Development

The role of the business development team is to essentially generate leads and prospects by identifying opportunities and conducting market research. Oftentimes, you will notice that a company will form a strategic partnership with another company in hopes of expanding their reach to more customers/prospects. A crude example is when a music streaming service (such as Pandora or Spotify) enter into an agreement with a recording company or a particular band to stream their music.  Business development is all about discovering qualified potential customers and figuring out ways to reach them in a cost-effective manner.


If you read the above definition and thought “Wow, that sounds a lot like Marketing,” you’d be right. Business development and marketing are closely related, but marketing has a unique role that separates it from business development. Marketing is all about communicating your brand message to as many prospects as possible. When a company airs an advertisement for a product, that’s marketing. Marketing is all about figuring out your place in the business landscape from a value perspective.

How they all relate

Each job function plays a vital role in the overall goal of the company, which is to drive in sustained revenue growth. We can illustrate how they all relate to each other using a simple example.

Karen started her own financial services company – Oak Financial. First, her marketing team has to decide what kind of message they want to communicate to potential customers. The marketing team decides to use the term “oak” as a cornerstone for their marketing message: a small seed that was planted years ago has grown to a beautiful oak with time, patience, and care. Oak Financial would help their clients grow their portfolio using the same principles. This message would be distributed through local radio advertisements, word-of-mouth advertising, and local newspaper ads.

Now that the marketing strategy is set, her business development team negotiates a partnership with a local bank. Bank customers will now be referred over to Oak Financial for 401k, Roth IRA, and HSA management. Karen will pay the local bank for every referral. This is a good way for Karen to generate qualified leads who are interested in her services.

Once the referrals start coming in from the efforts of the business development team, it’s the job of her sales team (financial representatives) to sit down with the prospect, evaluate their needs, and close them on using Oak Financial to manage their portfolio.

Marketing establishes the overall message and the value. Business development drives in qualified leads using strategic partnerships. Sales close the deal. All three functions, despite being very different, are all incredibly vital for any business to succeed.



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Author: Jason Karaman

Hello! I’m a marketing, sales, and customer service author, blogger and doer. I live in the South Carolina Lowcountry with my wife. I enjoy reading, writing, hiking, kayaking, and all things beach. For media inquiries, send an email to

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