Sales and Business Development Are Two Different Disciplines—And That’s a Good Thing

Sales and Business Development Are Two Different Disciplines—And That’s a Good Thing

When people use the phrase “business development,” they’re often referring to sales. “We need a biz dev person,” people sometimes say, “so we can bring in some new deals.”

If you search Indeed for job descriptions related to business development, you’ll find terms and phrases like “prospecting,” “qualifying,” “outbound,” and, of course, the most feared word pairing in all of business: “cold calling.”

I suppose, to some degree, that’s what business development is—not cold calling per se, though that can be a part of it. But finding, contacting, understanding, helping, and then nurturing customer relationships.

However, thinking about business development in that way is also pretty limiting. Because business development, or what I now think of as developing business, or, more accurately, developing a business, is so much more than that. It’s so much more than performing a simple sales function, and to think of it as such is reductive at best and constrictive at worst.

Starting a business is one thing, but developing a business is quite another. In some ways, the former is much easier than the latter, because the latter involves a comprehensive and continuous reassessing of the value a business creates, how it delivers that value, and how the people who anchor that business and value continue to develop themselves.

I’ve come to understand that developing a business and developing oneself are inextricably connected, because businesses are led by and comprised of people, and how could we ever think that a business could and would evolve if the people running and working in the business don’t?

Especially in today’s business climate, where innovation is occurring at a rate that’s literally impossible to keep up with, how could we not be hyper-focused on evolving, on advancing, on developing our businesses and ourselves?

To me, it seems, we can’t.

A new and unexpected disruption

If I’ve not yet convinced you that business development and sales are different, or at least worth thinking about differently, consider this: generative AI is poised to completely change the way we approach sales in our organizations, and perhaps the entire sales industry at large.

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, authors Prabhakant Sinha, Arun Shastri, and Sally E. Lorimer argue that sales is well suited to the capabilities of generative AI, perhaps more than any other function inside an organization.

“Sales is primed to quickly become a leading adopter of generative AI — the form of artificial intelligence used by OpenAI (the company behind ChatGPT) and its competitors. AI-powered systems are on the way to becoming every salesperson’s (and every sales manager’s) indispensable digital assistant.”

So, if AI becomes a complement to, or even a replacement for, the sales function inside an organization, then business development truly becomes a discipline of its own, one that’s worth the same amount of time and consideration.

Capital-letter Business Development would take cues from strategy, sales, marketing, customer service/customer experience, and use those signals—along with a beginner’s mindset—to facilitate education and growth.

Business development would cease to be a job title and become an expectation across departments, for all employees, because business development is something that each and every person should be interested in and accountable for. A business is more ecosystem than organism and we’re all responsible for helping it thrive.

Which is really just another way of saying we’re all responsible for helping our businesses—and ourselves—develop.

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