Thursday, June 4, 2009

When did "sales" become "business development?"

when did "sales" become "business development?"

this was the question i asked a buddy recently (while i was clearly engrossed with other tasks besides working on this blog), and he had an interesting perspective, which is that these things are in fact not the same.

in his view, "business development" is a function which is responsible for garnering truly new, never-before-dealt-with, contacts for the organization. these contacts could be in an existing account, but they have never had anything to do with your company. they may not even know who your company is or what you do. but they may be excellent targets that could give you an order, if only they knew how great you are. "business development," therefore, is characterized by a significantly proactive approach, involving lots of research, networking, and potentially even cold-calling these prospects.

"sales," on the other hand, from his perspective is the function that deals with existing customers and being responsive to their needs. there can certainly be a proactive element to this work, as the very best salespeople know that the way to their customers' hearts is through helping them solve their problems, especially those problems that have nothing to do with buying the salesperson's product.

i follow the rationale, but i'm not sure i agree with it.

to me, it seems "business development" was a term invented by salespeople who somehow felt that there was no longer any honor -- or perhaps compensation -- in being a salesperson. i can't say i remember any "business development" managers in the first several companies i worked for in the 1980s. they were sales managers, account representatives, and the like (funny, i can't think of any title that actually had the word "customer" in it, although later i do think these folks started to put their customers' companies names in their titles, e.g., "Ford Account Representative," or "IBM Relationship Manager). and that, to me, made a great deal of sense ... or more sense, anyway, than does "business development."

why? because the emphasis in the former is on the customer ... when i carry my customer's name on my card, it's pretty clear where my focus is, or should be. but when my title suggests that i'm just about building my own business with my customer's money, everything else that my brand does, or tries to do, will have to overcome this hurdle.

i'm sure there are excellent BDMs who are such good relationship builders and preservers that the title doesn't get in the way, but i also believe there are plenty of good ol' salespeople who have managed to build their account revenues by reaching out to others whom they hadn't previously served.

anyway ... the important thing is that, whether you're a business development manager or a sales person, if you'd like to have a strong brand you need to be 110% focused on your customers...and generally, the rest will take care of itself. this should be obvious, but if you've ever been on the wrong end of a bad transaction, you know that it's one of the things that's simple, but not necessarily easy.

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