Business Development vs Marketing – What’s the Difference?

If you are not part of the business world, then the difference between business development vs marketing may seem unimportant. In reality, there is a critical difference that differentiates the two areas. While some firms feel they do not need to have clarity when it comes to the two concepts, this can be problematic. It doesn’t work for the employees in either area, and this lack of clarity means important business objectives might be falling through the cracks. 

Defining Business Development and Marketing

First of all, we have to look at the definitions of what business development and marketing activity are so we can better define their roles within a business structure. Without a clear understanding, it can become very confusing as to what each role does. If you’re a new business owner looking to create a marketing plan or put forth any business development efforts, learning these terms are essential to create a successful business.

Business Development

Relationships. That’s the central goal when doing business development. 

The person or team is responsible for building and enhancing strategic partnerships, as well as positively building connections in any other professional capacity. It is about making connections that are going to be in target markets and demographics, so the company or brand can encourage new clients and growth opportunities. Business development is about enhancing the brand that’s been created by the rest of the team and marketed to connect people to your products and/or services. It’s also about networking with prospective clients, finding leads and then converting those leads into customers and clients. 


Marketing is basically getting the word out into the world – delivering your value proposition and outlining what makes you different to the people who might be interested in using your products or services. It’s about getting visibility for the products and services you offer. It is a strategic plan that is going to help with reaching potential clients (we call them prospects) and open new growth opportunities. The marketing team is going to identify key differentiators, create and mold the message and set the brand’s position in the marketplace. They will look at the product benefits and its capabilities and then get that message out to the marketplace, so they can begin to generate leads as well as support sales and customer service. Marketing is advertising, promotion of events, website content along with public relations. It’s about making the brand prominent in its field. It’s about visibility.

Differentiating Business Development and Marketing Roles 

The roles of these two departments can vary. This depends on the size of the company and the number of people involved. For those businesses that have in-house marketing directors, those leaders may be working on both marketing and business development. If a company has a marketing generalist, then that can help in a smaller business. It means neither business development nor marketing will be left behind. They can coach both teams with strategic advice and coaching. However, because these are different roles, there is significant demand for certain skill sets and expertise. Therefore the two teams should be made up of those who can direct the department in a way specific. 

Skills Sets for Business Development and Marketing

While both business development and marketing need to understand the customer’s wants and needs, they have two different skill sets. That doesn’t mean they can’t do both. It just means that they need to be able to apply their knowledge and abilities to the task at hand. 

Business development people are out there selling to the marketplace. They are going to go out and find ways to bring people to the business and sell the brand. Sometimes they do this without a lot of effort as they find the market niches and the brand pitches itself. However, that is a rarity, so good training, coaching, and knowing how to approach the marketplace is important. This applies not just to goods, but services as well. Businesses that offer services such as accounting, legal, financial support, and others have to wear a business development hat. Otherwise, they will be sitting in their offices without clients or patients. Marketing will create the message, but the business development side must create a relationship with those potential clients. They want to interact and know the person who is going to be working with them. 

While business development is looking to be the people person, marketing is going to be the creative one. This doesn’t mean business development can’t be creative, but marketing needs to be thinking outside the box. They should be good storytellers and be able to build messages through a brand’s style. This can be applied to both goods and services. The marketing message has to sell the product or service. The messages have to be new, innovative and build marketplace awareness of the brand. Marketing is always going to be looking for opportunities and new concepts to move the brand forward in the marketplace. They pitch stories, engage with media, create content both hard copy and online, offer creative direction, and also design any marketing materials to make this all fall into place. 

Overlap of Business Development and Marketing 

The smaller the company, the more the overlap. When it comes to business development, the nurturing of leads is a fairly intense process. Once the lead has been identified and validated, the efforts shouldn’t stop there. They should, however, take on a different tact. The lead needs to be nurtured in an ongoing way, so the brand stays front of mind for that client. 

Marketing will be the team to share things such as branded content and offer educational opportunities. This can include email marketing, content that is branded, and event marketing. And don’t forget to make use of social media as well. The cross-over to business development happens as marketing gives business development the sales tools that need to be used to make sure the lead can be converted into a client. Business development is going to have to include proposal language, knowing how to present slide decks and content, as well as having branded content such as notes, letterhead as well as merchandise. All these things are to be used to create those personal relationships. Personal emails, phone calls to follow up, meetings, lunches, and even golf games or other events that build trust and relationship with the brand. 

Marketing or Business Development 

We’ve defined the differences between marketing and business development. Now how do you know which strategy is best for your business? It should combine both in some fashion. Marketing and branding are critical but need to be created with a business development goal in mind. They compliment each other and are interconnected when it comes to putting the business first. However, they are the same thing. 

As you assess what your business development goals are and what your marketing strategy is, it’s important to make sure you have a good understanding of your company’s strengths and weaknesses. Look at whether you need to have greater market exposure or maybe new marketing tactics to get new leads coming in. Perhaps the focus should lie in those leads that need follow-up so you can convert them to clients and customers. Every business will be different depending on size, budget and need. Do a thorough assessment to pinpoint where you need to focus most without ignoring business development or marketing. The focus should fall on time-sensitive needs and then shift as the needs and dynamics change.