Sales, Account Execs & Business Developers

So what’s the difference? Well unless you’re in a billion dollar company – chances are there’s huge overlap. Most businesses don’t differentiate, and tend to use the titles interchangeably. The differences are not so much the roles, but in where business is found.

Sales is opportunistic. Selling skills involve being able to help people make a decision to purchase, and directing them to the most suitable purchase. Retailers are filled with sales people, addressing the opportunities which walk in the door. The derogatory term used is “order-takers”.

Account executives in their purest sense are managing existing clients – and mining those accounts for additional opportunity. Vertical account mining means getting the client to spend more, while horizontal mining is leveraging the position of incumbent provider to get business from elsewhere within the organization – usually other departments. Many companies I’ve worked with call this type of selling “farming”.

Business developers are the “hunters”. They are finding new, high potential opportunities. Much of what they do is building a relationship, so that when need arises the client will come to them. Most businesses will have a sales force where everyone fills some part of each of these roles. Most business developers are still expected to manage the accounts they land, rather than hand them off. And everyone is expected to be able to close opportunistic business (although it frequently goes to inside sales).

Almost every business owner or manager I’ve known has worried that their sales team tend to become “order takers”, when they want hunters. What they really need is the optimum mix of behaviour. Sales skills are crucial for both account executives and business developers. But opportunistic sales should be siphoned off to an inside sales role when this takes more than 30% of the person’s time.

The 30% rule holds fast for business development as well. Almost everyone is comfortable managing existing accounts – but most measure their success in account retention, rather than account growth. Even in this role, business development skills are required for account mining.

Almost all sales people will tell you that they hate cold-calling. I say “Tough”. You need to build your relationships to move beyond the need to talk to strangers. Saying you need to start there is like asking to be handed a million dollars seed money in order to start investing. You need to earn that right. And whether or not you enjoy it, or enjoy closing deals, these are required skills for all level of selling.

To be an effective farmer, you must know how to hunt those initial accounts, and how to keep them growing. To be an effective hunter, you must be able to leverage the learnings from existing customers – a depth of knowledge you usually only gain by farming.

The next time you are introduced to a salesperson or account exec or business developer, try to assess if they really have all of these skills. If they do, think about hiring them.

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