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  • Writer's pictureBen Paul

The Difference Between Business Development and Marketing in Professional Services

The Difference Between Business Development and Marketing in Professional Services

Many professional services have business development (BD) and marketing teams…Yet, within those teams, many practitioners are unsure of their difference. Further, most lawyers, accountants, engineers, architects, and other fee-earning consultants may understand the need for BD, marketing, and (dare I say it) sales…But are unclear or uncertain of the differences between them.

This  poses the logical question, does knowing the difference actually matter?

The short answer is yes. Because when planning activities to promote your firm and services, and then engaging with clients, understanding their differences helps you plan and allocate your time, budget and resources more effectively.

In this article I’ll endeavor to explain  these differences clearly and simply, and also explore other aspects that are critical to a firm’s growth and sustainability –  such as client service and experience – and showing where they fit in the mix.

What’s the difference between business development and marketing?

In short, business development is any outbound activity aimed at generating new income from existing clients and networks, or from capturing new ones.

Marketing, on the other hand, creates the platform and awareness to assist BD activities, whilst also growing the firms brand presence and creating leads which are passed into the BD or sales funnel.

To expand this a little bit further, in professional services firms, the difference between business development and marketing is similar to that in other types of companies.

Business development in professional services generally refers to the efforts made by fee-earners and employees to identify and pursue new clients, practice/service areas, and business opportunities. This includes networking, attending industry events, and building relationships with potential clients and referral sources.

Alternatively, marketing in a professional services ,  is focused on promoting the firm’s existing services and key individuals to its target audience. This includes activities such as creating and distributing content (e.g., articles, white papers, brochures), developing and maintaining the firm’s website and social media presence, as well as designing and implementing advertising campaigns.

Both business development and marketing efforts aim to generate new business and increase revenue for the firm, but they each have a different focus and approach. Business development is more of an outbound activity where the firm actively seeks new business opportunities and clients. While marketing is more of an inbound activity where the firm tries to attract clients by promoting its capabilities and expertise.

What about customer service and client experience (CX)?

If BD and marketing are focused on generating leads and winning new work, the lifeblood of most professional services firms is repeat business.  This means it is vital to deliver a great service and client experience (CX).

Once again, putting it simply, customer experience in a professional services firm refers to the overall experience that a client has when they interact with those providing and supporting the delivery of firm’s services.

It encompasses all aspects of the client’s experience, including their initial contact with the firm, the quality of services provided, the responsiveness of the fee-earners (consultants) and staff, and the client’s satisfaction with the outcome of the work delivered.

Creating a positive customer experience in a professional services firm requires delivering on several key factors. These include clear and frequent communication with the client, a focus on building trust and rapport, a willingness to listen and understand the client’s needs and goals, and a commitment to providing high-quality services that meet or exceed the client’s expectations.

Delivering a positive customer experience leads to increased client satisfaction, loyalty, and referrals, as well as an improved reputation and profitability for your firm.

While part of customer service, referrals can be actively minded with solid BD discipline, so that you can have more visibility of them coming in, rather than simply leaving it to chance.

Why knowing the difference matters.

A key to any firm’s long-term success is a clear business plan, and an actionable strategy.  Therefore, understanding the difference between marketing, business development (BD), and customer experience in a professional services firm is important because each of these functions serve a different purpose and require different strategies to be most effective.

Understanding their distinctions enables a professional services firm to allocate its resources and efforts more effectively, and ultimately improve its business performance.

For many firms who are actively looking at maximising their ROI on all these stages of investment, this impacts the type of BD, marketing support, and team make-up you require.

The difference between business development and marketing in professional services

The difference between business development and marketing in professional services

BD, Marketing & CX: how should you invest?

Based on my own expertise, and the name of our company, I want to say BD is king!

However, it is absolutely clear that poor service provision and delivery will lead to a very short business life-cycle for any services company. Therefore, it is vital to deliver a great service and customer experience to your clients.

But, simply doing great work and waiting for the next job to arrive will not provide a consistent and steady stream of work. This means that you need to have active BD and marketing continually working for you.

If you think about it, marketing is any professional services firm’s superpower. One thing all practitioners struggle with is having free time, and even the most efficient BD or CX programmes require a decent time investment.

That’s not to say marketing doesn’t require a time investment. However, if well planned, consistent and repeatable messages can be delivered regularly into the market, which at the very least helps to keep your firm top-of-mind. For example, if you’re producing content or providing industry updates, not only will your reputation be enhanced, but your existing clients will appreciate the extra informative content you produce.

This leads to the conclusion, that to have a healthy and sustainable firm, you need to invest in all 3 aspects: marketing, BD and CX. How that split works will depend on your current firm maturity, areas of strength and weakness.

As a simple guide, I would say that you need to invest a minimum of 10% of your revenue into your marketing and BD budget, and I would recommend 15-20% if you aspire to being a high-performing firm.

Then allocate BD & marketing resources, or external consultant spend to this, alongside any advertising or sponsorship commitments. It also pays to have an expected time estimation for these activities allocated to your fee-earners.

If you haven’t engaged in any of these initiatives yet, invest equally in all three. Then, monitor and measure your progress, listen to the feedback of your clients, and adjust accordingly.

How does this affect the structure of your BD and Marketing team?

Many firms will have combined BD & Marketing roles, which only adds to the internal confusion around the distinct disciplines, and their differences.

As we have established that they are quite different, it then makes sense to build your teams resources to match your time, effort, and budget commitment into each discipline.

Having a marketing manager, or marketing executives, allows for a clear focus on all external communications, and an ability with the firm’s senior management to agree a marketing plan and deliver against it.

Having specialist BD managers, or executives, allows them to deliver clear initiatives, provide coaching, and winning work support across the business. Some firms may even choose to have their BD or client relationship people actively target and engage with clients and potential clients or even initiation across the business, more like traditional salespeople.

Finally, having distinct CX roles allows for consistent measurement, and improvement of service delivery.

Head of Marketing, Business Development, and Clients

Marketing Team BD Team CX Team

Marketing Manager/Executive BD Manager Client Account Managers

Marketing Executive Pursuits Manager (Bid Manager) Client Experience Manager

Social Media Manager/Executive Sales Enablement Manager Client Feedback Analyst/Executive

Content Creator/Manager

SEO Expert

Events Manager/Executive

PR Manager /Executive


What if your budget, or the size of your firm, means a smaller team/resource pool?

Understanding the breakdown of different roles and what an ideal (money is no object) structure looks like allows you to make choices with the resources you have or can afford and where to hire them.

It also means you can see who within your current firm fits best in which category and where your gaps lie.

Don’t forget to analyse your current market to help inform your investment decisions.

An analysis of your client base, over the last 3 years with a year-on-year focus, will help you determine trends and weaknesses.

If you have low client retention, focus on CX. If you are struggling to grow revenue, but you are maintaining your client base, a stronger emphasis on BD and marketing is needed.

Conclusion – what is the difference?

Perhaps the best summary is to use the analogy of a Broadway show… Marketing creates the theatre and stage to perform on, Business Development ensures the audience is packed, and CX makes sure they all go home happy… All whilst your people/service give an outstanding performance.

All three elements are vital to having a high-performing and sustainable professional services firm.

For a practical guide to client relationship building, download our tool, The BD Playbook.


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