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  • Writer's pictureJim Irving

Business Development, Sales and Marketing: Distinct or Interchangeable?

Updated: Jun 19, 2023

The terms Business Development, Sales and Marketing are often incorrectly used interchangeably.

Each has a distinct function and muddling these terms can lead to inefficiencies and impaired performance.

Business Development, Sales and Marketing

I'm Jim Irving, a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing and The Institute of Sales Management, with a 46-year career culminating in leadership roles spanning Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

Over the past 16 years, I've used my expertise to aid start-ups, organisations like Catalyst in Belfast, and venture capitalists in achieving improved business results. My insights are rooted in my experience and further encapsulated in my three successful books on B2B business from sales and leadership perspectives.

Appreciating the Difference

In the UK and Ireland, there's a noticeable reluctance to use the term 'sales' in professional services, often viewed as 'unprofessional'. Instead, the language of marketing or business development is used. Contrastingly, in North America, the sales function is candidly recognised and valued.

Let's delve into the fundamental roles of these functions (definitions from Wikipedia):

Business Development:

This encompasses tasks and processes to develop and implement growth opportunities within and between organisations. It's about creating long-term value from customers, markets, and relationships[1].


This refers to activities undertaken to promote the buying or selling of a product, service, or good[2].


These are activities related to selling or the number of goods or services sold in a given targeted time period[3].

Whilst marketing and business development work to create the environment for an organisation to sell to another organisation or individual, the actual sale is a distinct function.

Addressing the Concern

Numerous professional firms excel in marketing and business development yet overlook the sales function. There's often a lack of training or professional support for those directly engaging with prospective or existing clients, affecting staff at all levels.

Our research at Practice Edge reveals that professional firms prioritise business development and marketing plans but neglect training for their client-facing professionals in one-on-one interactions (the "selling" activities). This inattention to sales can result in two significant issues:

  1. An overreliance on a select few individuals for significant revenue contribution, risking substantial revenue loss if they depart from the firm.

  2. Experience and knowledge are not consistently shared, leaving less experienced colleagues to figure things out on their own. This approach is time-consuming and means that best practices are not uniformly applied.

Navigating these issues

At Practice Edge, we've been working with professional services firms to help navigate these challenges and increase their revenues.

The focus has been on ensuring that all client-facing staff adopt a consistent approach to professional and ethical "selling."

From that we have found that when firms foster greater cohesion between marketing, business development, sales, and client development, they create a more consistent client experience and deliver superior results in the competitive environment [4].

[1]: [Business Development (Wikipedia)](

[2]: [Marketing (Wikipedia)](

[3]: [Sales (Wikipedia)](

[4]: [Practice Edge (Our Services)](

Jim Irving, MBA, FISM, FCIM


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