Sales vs. Business Development: Why Very Different Skill Sets Are Needed

Jody Sutter
Jody Sutter




While both sales and new business development are essential for generating revenue, they require paradoxically different skills. Yet, most ad agencies expect their new business leads to excel at both and are often disappointed when they don’t.

These days, the title of director of business development describes a caretaker of the pitch process. There is nothing wrong with this! In fact, it’s crucial that this job be done well. But the role is geared toward running the show once you’ve been asked to pitch and requires very specific strengths like acute attention to detail and strong project management skills.

In contrast, true salespeople are more like lone wolves, tracking the scent. They may be charming and fun to have around on drinks night, but they’re inherently self-interested and not necessarily great managers.

I admit, these are generalizations, but think about some of the people you’ve known in each of these roles and see which applies:

New Business – a storyteller

Sales – a persuader

New business – a writer

Sales – a talker

New business – follows through on instructions

Sales – makes her own rules

New business – good at juggling a lot of tasks

Sales – doesn’t like to be distracted from generating leads

New business – has too much to do to spend time outside the office lunching or attending conferences

Sales – thrives on networking

New business – known for the high production value of her leave-behind materials

Sales – known for the quality of her data in her CRM database

New business – is accustomed to supporting everyone so that they can perform at their best

Sales – expects to be supported if she is to do her best

So, which one do you need? It’s a tough question when resources are limited and the sales cycle is long, but here are a few of the recommendations I’ve made to some of the agency CEOs I’ve worked with in the past:

1) Don’t delegate relationship building.

The CEO is often an agency’s best salesperson. Think about it: Most of them wouldn’t be where they are without that combination of charisma, chutzpah, and passion. I get it. Agency CEOs are short on time. But take a moment to think critically about your workload. Aren’t there other responsibilities that could be delegated more effectively than sales?

2) Do delegate the blocking and tackling.

A significant amount of work comes before and after any contact with a prospect. With their attention to detail, good new business people are exceedingly well qualified to do the research and follow-through that is so important.

3) Don’t hire a salesperson…

unless you intend to support her in the right way. Give her the materials she needs to be persuasive and the freedom to do her job in a way that works for her. And understand that the sales cycle is going to be longer than you want it to be, especially if she is chasing new leads.

4) Do continue to support your new business director.

If your head of new business is better suited for pitch management, then let her focus on that. Don’t expect a salesperson to replace her.

If I were building my new business dream team, it would be a triumvirate of pitch management, sales, and marketing (which, by the way, requires a whole other set of skills), all collaborating. But most agencies are expected to do more with less these days and don’t have those kinds of resources.

How do you prepare yourself to compete as aggressively as you need to? Try running my sales-versus-new business diagnostic tool on your employees. You may find your dream team is already in place.

Topics: Business Skills

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