That question has followed me throughout my career. I’ve heard it from people of all backgrounds and at all levels of business, from interns to CEOs, and even a few business development and marketing professionals.
On its surface, the question seems analogous to another persistent debate—the one over the distinction between business development and sales. That one’s relatively simple to explain. It’s opening doors (business development) versus closing doors (sales). As I’ve written before: in sales, the focus is on what the seller is selling; in business development, the focus is on understanding the customer’s needs.
Delineating business development from marketing isn’t so simple. In many organizational contexts, the two functions aren’t that different.
In fact, in some enterprises, they’re practically the same thing—managed by the same people, discussed at the same meetings, adjoined on the same business cards.
Two Processes, One Purpose
Rather than starting with their differences, I’d like to offer my insights on what business development and marketing have in common. Only by understanding their shared objectives is it possible to know how each function uniquely serves to achieve those objectives.
The purpose of any business development or marketing initiative is to connect a business with the people and/or organizations the company serves. Whether we’re talking about prospects, customers, clients, or partners, the goal is to get the business in front of the decision-makers that matter.
Both functions are about creating value and cultivating relationships. Both communicate an organization’s message to the outside world. Both strategize about and coordinate events, email campaigns, and other efforts to build the business’s profile in its region or industry and, ultimately, boost the organization’s bottom line.
How Business Development and Marketing Work Together
It’s not why, but how business development and marketing professionals approach their work that makes the difference.
Imagine your company is hosting a big signature event. Your marketing and business development departments worked together to plan everything, but they’re engaged in noticeably different activities before, during, and after the event.
Marketing has taken care of food, giveaways, and other logistics. They’ve purchased a sponsorship, developed attractive branding and signage, and created an impressive spread—with postcards, swag, mailing list signup forms, et cetera. After the event, they’ll be reaching out to attendees en masse through general audience-facing channels such as the business’s newsletter and social media accounts.
Business development has populated the event with people from their networks. Now, they’re out on the floor making conversation, introducing attendees to one another, and generally ensuring all have a good time is had by all. After the event, they’ll be reaching out to attendees one by one, following up in a personalized, targeted manner—e.g., through phone calls, emails, and LinkedIn messages—to keep the conversations going.
In short: marketing sets up the table; business development works for the crowd. That handy visual metaphor doesn’t capture every nuance between the two functions, but it does illustrate the primary distinction.
Every Organization Is Different
All that being said, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach for optimizing an organization’s business development and marketing mix. It depends on the organization’s goals, sector, and resources.
At many small and mid-sized businesses, including most professional services firms, a single individual may serve as head of a combined marketing and business development department—or constitute the entirety of the department themselves.
A huge organization, meanwhile, may divide functions even further, splitting marketing and business development into numerous subcategories, each with their own discrete offices and roles.
Regardless of if or how your organization distinguishes the two, it pays to invest in both marketing and business development—and to know when and how to operate in which lane. The best approach is an integrated approach. Ideally, you should be setting up tables and working crowds (and opening and closing doors) at the same time, in service of the same mission. Rather than worrying about the differences between business development, marketing, and sales, focus on making sure everyone is working together toward the same goal.
ABOUT JIM RIES
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Throughout his career, Jim Ries has grown an extensive network of experts, thought leaders, business owners, and entrepreneurs. As Director of Business Development at Offit Kurman Attorneys At Law, Jim increases the firm’s visibility, reach, and value by developing and managing educational outreach programs designed specifically to support this extensive network at every stage of their business and personal lives, including families who wish to protect and pass on their wealth. Additionally, Jim provides business development guidance to individual attorneys, as well as identifies and develops strategic partnerships and market opportunities. Jim also shares insights on emerging market, business, competitor and consumer trends to enable Offit Kurman to continually deliver on its commitment to being the perfect legal partner.
ABOUT OFFIT KURMAN
Offit Kurman is one of the fastest-growing full-service law firms in the United States. With 14 offices in seven states, and the District of Columbia, and growing by 50% in two years through expansions in New York City and Charlotte, North Carolina, Offit Kurman is well-positioned to meet the legal needs of dynamic businesses and the individuals who own and operate them. For over 30 years, we’ve represented privately held companies and families of wealth throughout their business life cycles.
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