Why You Are Wrong About The Differences Between Marketing and Business Development


We often see ourselves as marketers or business developers. In my experience, people see a clear distinction between those two things.

You’ve probably met marketers who just aren’t comfortable with business development and business developers who think that marketing just isn’t their thing.

There was a time when I believed I knew what the clear differences between marketing and business development were. But boy, was I wrong!

And if you have the beliefs I once held, you might be hindering your effectiveness (and maybe even your career).

Let me explain.

What I Thought A Business Developer Did

I believed business developers would go out and develop “relationships” with potential clients. These potential clients would have heard of your firm because marketers got your firm’s name in their head.

Then I believed the business developer would come back with an opportunity (usually in the form of a RFP) and some inside knowledge about the client’s needs.

The business developer would direct the marketers to create a persuasive document meant to convince the client to shortlist your firm.

Then the business developer would make a persuasive presentation to the client and win the job. Or maybe they’d coach their team to make this presentation.

I thought there were clear lines drawn. But I wasn’t looking close enough.

What’s Really Going On Here?

For this scenario to work, as I’ve described, several things have to fall into place.

Someone will have to:

  1. Identify potential clients (i.e. buyers).
  2. Learn about the client’s needs.
  3. Craft a customized message that persuades the client to choose you.
  4. Find ways to get in front of said client.
  5. Present your message (by different means) to the potential client.

In any other industry, this would all be marketing. Let me prove it. Say you were marketing a new body soap. Here’s what you’d have to do:

  1. Identify potential clients (i.e. buyers). Who is your market? Men ages 18-24? Women in their 40s?
  2. Figure out how to get in front of said clients with your message. What do they watch? What do they read? Where do they go to buy body soap? Where do they congregate?
  3. Learn about the client’s needs. What do these people desire? Young looking skin? A scent that drives the girls wild? To feel like a manly man?
  4. Craft a customized message that persuades the client to choose your product. What makes this new body soap the better choice than what’s already on the shelf?
  5. Present that message (by different means) to the potential client. See ads, commercials, product placement, mailings, meetings, calls, etc.

It’s All Marketing

Identifying potential clients, learning about their needs, crafting messages, determining the best avenue to reach clients, and presenting messages…this is all marketing.

And guess what…it’s all business development too!

The Real Fundamental Difference

My “official” title is “Manager, Business Development.” But what I do is the things identified in the previous paragraph.

Let’s say I set up a landing page (which I showed you exactly how to do). Then I send a cold email to a potential client who clicks on that landing page and signs up. She then recieves our regular blog posts in her email. She then contacts us with a problem we can solve. So I arrange a meeting between her, my principal, and me.

That’s one example how I’ve brought in new clients.

Was that business development or marketing? I think most people would describe that as marketing. You might even go one step further and call it a particular type of marketing known as lead generation.

Let’s turn that scenario on its head. I’m at an event where a potential client is speaking. Afterwards, I walk up to the client and provide a compelling reason they should meet with me and my principal for 15-minutes.

The meeting goes well. I follow up with a email that takes them to a landing page. They sign up, get the emails, and call us with a problem we can solve.

What about that scenario? Even though the only real difference is the order in which I actually speak (face to face) to the client, I believe most people would describe that as business development.

The only reasonable conclusion you could make is the fundamental difference between business development and marketing is attending an event.

Why That’s A Problem

In my years, I’ve met many unsuccessful business developers. And I’ve met many unsuccessful marketers.

The unsuccessful business developers think what they do is go to events and build rapport with people. They think, foolishly, that if someone likes your personality that’s enough reason for them to hire your firm. Unfortunately, that’s true in only the rarest of circumstances.

They completely ignore the research, messaging work, and focus needed for success. I’ve seen it over and over again.

Then there are the unsuccessful marketers. They’re all about logo love. Let’s give out trinkets with our logo, print t-shirts, and send newsletters about how great we are.

They completely ignore the objective, which is to convince real people to choose your firm to help them accomplish their objectives. Some might say these marketers are “ignorant of the bottom line.”

And that, my friends, is why so many business developers and marketers fail.

Choose Both

Here’s my advice. Don’t be “ just” a marketer or business developer. You need to be both. Whatever your title is, whatever your job description is…consider yourself in both roles.

That doesn’t mean you need to go to every local event and schmooze. And it doesn’t mean sitting at your desk all day strategizing.

But it does mean you have to ask what your clients’ challenges and objectives are, how can you craft a compelling message, and how best to deliver that message.

The True Distinction

It comes down to this. It’s the job of marketers and business developers to help people make the right decisions. And that’s true whether those decisions relate to body soap or building a school.

Sure, there are unethical marketers and business developers who profit from convincing people to make bad decisions. But there are unethical doctors, lawyers, and librarians as well.

If you concentrate on understanding people’s challenges and helping them make the right decisions…

…you can be good at and feel good about your role as a marketer and business developer.

If you liked this article, please subscribe below or on the right side of the homepage. If you want to give us your thoughts on this issue, please leave a comment below.


  1. Thanks, Matt. Excellent definitions that show we are more alike than different…do matter your title!!!

  2. Hi Matt –

    I’m totally on board with “being both”; I’ve always felt that separating the two created an artificial divide. I’ve been in both scenarios, and I’ve chosen my current firm and shaped my recent roles to cover both (plus public relations). I’ll never do it any other way. Glad to hear I’m not alone!


  1. […] It might be hard to distinguish between a business development strategy and a marketing strategy. […]

Speak Your Mind