Marketing vs. Business Development

‘Marketing’ and ‘Business Development’ are often used interchangeably in the business community because many people struggle to understand the difference between the two terms. The reality is that Marketing and Business Development have two distinct yet interrelated roles in the sales process. Most businesses define the roles and responsibilities of the two business functions as:

Marketing develops assets and materials that facilitate the foundation for business and relationships.

Business Development focuses on the development of relationships through direct communication channels.

I recognize that this is an oversimplified view of two complex aspects of the sales process, but I have also found that the reason many people misunderstand the difference between the two terms, is because of the drawn-out definitions that we often use to explain their functions. If you are a Marketing or Business Development professional that has a hard time educating staff on these functions then start with these simple definitions and expand on their intricacies after this foundation is understood.

10 thoughts on “Marketing vs. Business Development

  1. Hey Tim,

    I find the confusion of terms rather fascinating, but sometimes frustrating as well. There seems to be no consensus on terminology, even among the so-called “experts” in our business (like you and me!). So I always try to clarify definitions (at least my take on them) whenever I’m addressing the topic.

    My terminology is little different: Marketing, I suggest, is the indirect encounters we have with clients with the intent of attracting their interest in a possible business relationship. This includes things such as publishing, speaking, direct mail, advertising, etc. We seem to generally agree on this term.

    As you know, the word marketing is often used as a euphemism for sales in our business. I suspect the term has gained popularity due to our general discomfort with selling and the sales profession. Marketing somehow seems a more “professsional” term. But using it in this way is also incorrect, at least according to most sources outside our industry.

    Selling, as I describe it, is the direct encounters we have with clients for the purpose of gaining their commitment to enter a contractual relationship. This includes sales calls, proposals, negotiations, etc. Marketing, of course, typically sets the stage for selling.

    Business development, then, by my definition would be the sum of those two complementary activities. Like marketing, this term is subject to a variety of definitions. Neither Zweig or PSMJ, for example, use the term consistently in their various publications.

    I don’t think there’s any authoritative source to settle the confusion. SMPS, for example, is fuzzy on the terminology in its Marketing Handbook (due no doubt to having multiple authors). So I guess we’re left to just making sure we understand one another when we’re using whatever terms. Thankfully, we can usually agree on the desired outcomes!


  2. Mel-
    Great thoughts! Your summary paragraph contains probably the most important point: the terms do not matter as much as the outcome. Marketing, Business Development, and Sales carry different definitions based on your industry and practice, but the important thing isn’t the definition as much as it is the desired outcome. Your thoughts are always appreciated Mel!

  3. Tim,

    Thanks for the good article. As you say there’s some confusion around these terminologies and, at least here in Europe, Business Development is often regarded as Sales.

    My personal approach, at least for the B2B market, to solve this a little bit is as follows. Use the term Business Development for the overall commercial process. Business Development consists of four focus areas:
    (1) Business Planning (focus on strategy);
    (2) Product Management (focus on solution);
    (3) Go to Market (focus on introduction);
    (4) Sales & marketing (focus on added value).

    Hope that helped,


  4. Errol-
    Great thoughts! I like how you break this down into four focus areas. It is great to get a European perspective in our increasingly global business environment and welcome your input here any time!

  5. B Madhav Reddy

    Reaching your product or service to the market I would say best describes marketing.

    Business development would include the above and look at all the aspects of business to ensure they it grows from the present stage to the next level, needless to add that it would focus inward from the end product or service as the case may be.

    Madhav Reddy

  6. Muhammad Faisal

    After reading your interesting comments, I would like to add a few words with all due respect.
    I believe marketing is a philosophy dealing with all market focused activities; and business development is part of marketing like sales. Business development focus more on promotional techniques like PR, PS, etc. BD is mostly used in B2B scenario.

  7. Andy Yeong

    Somehow in my interpretation of the difference between Marketing and Business Development (BD) lies on their growth strategies.

    Using Ansoff Matrix, I would see BD is suited to be dealing with new target market or new products. The reason been is, the current Marketing need to sustain the existing product in the existing market, thus, that arise an existing business model and process which form the boundary of the marketing.

    With BD coming in, he/she suppose to see how to sell the same thing to a new market and that may call for new or different Go To Market plan in reaching it. Likewise, with new product to address existing or new market, it may require a totally different business model or operating model to be viable where BD are not bounded by existing restriction to craft something to reconcile between existing process with the new requirement.

    Once those new markets or products has entered a mature stage, the baton could be pass on to the marketing folks to run the show while BD will repeat the whole cycle again.

  8. Wayne Moore, Ph.D.

    I think it is easy to clearly differentiate these terms:
    SELLS (SELLING) is what you do to convince the customer that your product is right for them. Your goal is to covert what you do(make) into cash.

    MARKETING is what you do to discover what your customer actually needs and then attempting to match your products (perhaps through development of new features or products) to deliver the needed value.
    If marketing is done well, selling may not be needed, in other words.

    BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT is what you do (externally) to expand the scope of your business resources and linkages, e.g., alliances, licenses, acquistions, partnerships, and other opportunity-discovery and development activity.
    Marketing and Business Development can, of course, overlap each other, feed each other, and hand-off opportunities to each other to ensure that the properly focused fit of skills and motivations are pursuing those opportunites.

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