Marketing Know-how

The Difference Between Marketing, Sales & Business Development

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When you want to grow your small business and generate new business, there are several ways to go about it. But what exactly is the difference between marketing, sales & business development? Not to mention; what does PR do and how can digital marketing help you?

I’ve put together the most common definitions for your small business growth. Check them out!

A common goal

No matter the difference between marketing, sales & business development as well as PR and social media marketing – one thing all these marketing definitions have in common is their goal.

They’re here to help you attract new clients and grow your small business. The difference lies in how they achieve it. Let’s have a look:


This one does what it says on the tin: It sells. More precisely it sells by communicating the benefits of your services or products. And it does that more often than not on a one-to-one basis. So the definition for sales is:

“Sales is the process of finding potential clients and customers and get them to buy from you.”

Pretty straightforward, right?

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In comparison to sales and business development, marketing focuses on communicating your USP (unique selling proposition) and your niche. Marketing is also more of a ‘mass phenomenon’.

It often communicates with a lot of people at once like an advert on TV or a social media post. And instead of selling directly, marketing is telling people about your business and why they should buy from you:

“Marketing is the process of enabling your target audience to find you.”

You could also say that sales is the proactive part while marketing is a more passive way of generating new business.

Business development

When it comes to defining the difference between marketing, sales & business development, this is the tricky bit. Mainly because business development is often wrongly used synonymously with sales. Probably because “working in business development” has a nicer ring to it than “working in sales”.

But ultimately, business development at its core is about scaling your business by collaborating with other companies. It includes developing marketing opportunities or even new products with other small businesses that share the same goals and audience. Or as a definition:

“Business development is the process of developing mutually beneficial relationships outside the business to increase growth.”

Of course, every business has a different job description for its business development department but ultimately this is the official definition.


But there’s not just the difference between marketing, sales & business development to consider. There is also PR (public relations) to take into account.

In comparison to the above disciplines, PR is more similar to marketing than it is to sales. It’s as informative and passive with a focus on building a positive reputation for your business. So how about this:

“PR is the process of using the media to enable your target audience to find you.”

In short: Instead of an advert in your local magazine, you have an editorial article singing your praises or showing your expertise.

Read more about how to get your press release noticed.

Now that we’ve figured out the difference between marketing, sales & business development, let’s have a look at a few other marketing disciplines.

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Content marketing

As mentioned above, marketing is about telling people about your small business so they come to you when they need your products or services. And content marketing uses blog posts, podcasts, videos and other media to achieve that:

“Content marketing attracts and engages potential customers and clients by creating and sharing valuable content and information.”

And the most important word here is “valuable”, as only content that delivers what your audience wants or needs will be successful.

Check out this post if you’re struggling to come up with content marketing ideas!

Social media marketing

With its goals and techniques, social media marketing is basically a part of content marketing, with the restriction of the content only being used on Facebook, LinkedIn and other social platforms:

“Social media marketing is creating and sharing valuable content on social media channels.”

But again, the content can only work if it is actually of interest to your audience.

Check out this post with my infographic full of tips for social media success!

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Digital marketing

This is, again, where the water gets a bit muddy. “Digital” as opposed to “offline” or “analogue” marketing includes not just your website, blog or social media channels but also apps or software. But in the end, the goal is exactly the same:

“Digital marketing is using digital channels to reach your target audience.”

So, it’s a vast field including many different areas. But the term is more often used to describe the core services of SEO, social media and paid online advertising.

Direct marketing

Sometimes I think direct marketing is the culprit for all the bad press marketing and sales have gotten over the past decades. And honestly, who doesn’t hate unsolicited calls, letters and emails or even worse: door-to-door salesmen?

Generally, you can say that direct marketing is where marketing and sales meet:

“Direct marketing is selling your products or services directly to potential customers or clients through mail shots, email, phone calls etc.”

For small businesses, direct marketing is a bit tricky as it is all about volume. And if you’re only targeting a small area it seldom yields enough results to justify the cost.


If you are interested in reading more about this topic, have a look at these:
9 Key Marketing Definitions for Small Businesses
Marketing Strategy for Small Businesses: Why You Need One & How to Define it
Your Small Business Marketing Plan: What is it, Why Do You Need it & How Do You Get One?
Small Business Brand: What Is It, Why Do I Need One & How Do I Get One?

Denise Strohsahl brand and marketing consultant for small businesses

Hello, I’m Denise from sandstonecastles, a brand & marketing consultancy based in Edinburgh, Scotland.

I help small business owners like yourself to find the right marketing that’s in line with your brand and values.