Initially, professional service firms hired marketing people. Increasingly, they are seeking business development people. So what is the difference between marketing and business development? And can the two roles be effectively combined? And where does selling fit in?

If you ask a lawyer, accountant or surveyor they may express this issue in terms of marketing being ‘a central function involved in brochures, events and media relations’ and business development being ‘at the front line selling to clients and generating new work’.

The following diagrams help to explain the different processes involved in business development in a professional firm. Very often, the term ‘(new) business development’ is used in place of ‘selling’.


When we consider the classical marketing mix we will see that whilst marketing consists of the following elements: product, price, place, people, process, physical evidence and promotions (marketing communications) we find that selling is but one tool in the armoury of promotions along with advertising, public relations, sales promotion and direct marketing. There is a diagram in an earlier FAQ that introduces the marketing mix concept.

Often, marketing is managed by a central marketing team and the selling and client/referrer development activities are undertaken by the fee-earners. In a functionally organised marketing department it is usual to find the marketing specialists in subjects such as electronic publishing, advertising, web design, media relations, event management and so on in a central marketing team. Very often, the fee-earners will be unaware of the marketers involved in market research, branding, product development, pricing, analysis and targeting.

Historically, the fee-earners would prevent marketers from having much direct contact with their clients which meant that the marketing staff were only able to help selling and client development activities from behind the scenes and at arm’s length. A marketer starved of direct client contact is operating at a severe disadvantage and unlikely to be able to provide an effective support for selling and client development activities.

But increasingly, marketing and selling activity is being devolved to the different departments and offices within firms so you might find, for example, a business development manager with responsibility for marketing, selling and client development for an entire market (e.g. TMT, real estate, banking) or a particular service line (e.g. tax, valuations, litigation etc). With a smaller market or service scope, it is possible for the marketer to provide support across all business development functions.

Business development processes – Firm-wide, offices, markets and services


It is important to realise that marketers come from different backgrounds. It is entirely possible for a classically trained and professionally qualified marketing person to have little or no experience in selling or account (client) management. At the Chartered Institute of Marketing, there are different study and examination routes for marketing and sales professionals. So sometimes when professional service firms hire marketing people, they do not realise that what they actually want is a sales or account management professional.

However, due to the nature of the work in many professional services firms many marketing people have developed the required professional selling skills and are capable of providing the support and results that are sought in this area. These people manage to effectively combine marketing, selling, client development – in fact, all aspects of the business development process.

I produced an update on the difference between marketing and business development plans in September 2021.

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