is "Sales" the same as "Business Development"?

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is "Sales" the same as "Business Development"?

Postby Phillip » Tue Dec 14, 2004 3:35 pm

I'm exploring a rather radical shift from bench science. The job of business development sounds interesting to me. I have a PhD in microbiology, have done a lot of collaborative projects with industry -- or those who are now in industry -- but my job search hasn't gone all that well. I'd like to re-focus my CV on something like Business Development.

I'm hoping that BD isn't a "sales job" like you see people coming into the lab and selling reagents, etc. While that's OK, I don't know if I'd really utilize my education in the sales mode. BD sounds more strategic to me. More technology-oriented. Am I correct? I don't want to discount sales though, if there are PhD's who have succeeded there.

Can anyone help me?


Sales vs Business Development

Postby Bill L. » Tue Dec 14, 2004 3:45 pm

Hi Phillip,

You're right, BD is more strategic. Rather than repeat, this excerpt is taken from Science NextWave's article: Business Development 101 for Scientists -- Scientists With a Broader Perspective Thrive, by J. Leslie Molony.

"In today's competitive pharmaceutical industry, companies are collaborating with research partners to replace their internal research programs. This trend has emerged from the simple fact that acquiring technology through collaborations and acquiring proprietary technology is now significantly cheaper than running a long-term corporate research program. Business development serves as the interface that matches projects with commercial potential with funding. To keep the money flowing for funding basic and applied research, scientists in business development often work with MBAs, attorneys, clinical and scientific managers, and strategic planners."

If you're able to access the Career Transitions section (which is the paid subscription part) at Science Nextwave, I suggest you have a look at the whole article.

Perhaps some folks in the community can give their perspective on their day-to day activities in the area of business development?

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Postby Don » Tue Dec 14, 2004 4:17 pm

BD at a big pharma is more buying than selling. BD at a smaller biotech does have a selling component. Not selling the sense that you are carrying a sample bag and making the rounds at a hospital or university. Rather, it is selling in the sense that most of these companies are looking for bigger partners to help develop their products if they are making drugs, or to use their products if they are a toolbox company. So there is a selling component to it, but it is considered more "strategic" (although I believe "strategic" is missused there).

There are three components to the typical biz dev responsibility (although the actual role varies widely among organizations):

1. Understanding and evaluating technology/drugs - something PhD's are often quite good at.

2. Understanding and evaluating how that technology/drug creates value or could create value within the context of a certain company or market - something PhD's w/o experience can be good at, but it generally takes some business experience to do well.

3. Create, structure, negotiate, and close transactions to capture the value of the technology/drug - something that most people PhD or not are very bad at. This takes a lot of experience to do well. At many early-stage biotechs, the CEO takes a leading role in this.

Please note, each of these components works on the buy and the sell side.

Your best chance of moving from academia (which is where I am assuming you are - sorry if I am mistaken) to a BD role in a company is first to go into a research role at that company and then move into the BD role as you gain experience. Go to the web sites of some of your favorite companies and look at the background of the head BD person at that company (very often listed under "senior management"). You will see that most of them started out in research and "made their bones" there.



Business Development

Postby Shawn Baker » Tue Dec 14, 2004 4:25 pm


In my limited experience, BD and Sales are pretty different jobs (albeit with overlapping skill sets). BD is very much strategic acquisition of technology and corporate alignments. Those in BD are likely to know pretty much everything that's going on in the company so they can help determine what the future direction should be.
In contrast, Sales is probably more or less just what you think it is. There's still strategy, but it's all about how to best approach customers and "sell" the technology that you have rather than work on further development, deals, and acquisitions.

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Business Development

Postby Shawn Baker » Tue Dec 14, 2004 4:27 pm

One more thing: Pretty much everyone I know in BD has an MBA (and many also have Ph.D.s)

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Sales vs. Business Development

Postby Dave Jensen » Tue Dec 14, 2004 5:06 pm

Hi Phillip,

I have a friend who I hope comes to post here, John H. He's a PhD and in sales -- perhaps he can assist you. Nice guy -- very successful.

One comment about the two, BD and Sales. Regardless of which side of the fence you end up, you have to be able to self-promote a bit more than the average scientist. How do you feel about this topic? Can you sit in front of a couple of "customers" and tell them about yourself and why you (or your company's products or technology) could help them?

Regardless of the buying or selling element of B.D., it seems to me that people who succeed in these fields have an ample supply of negotiation and persuasion skills -- and some of that requires self-promotion. Just something to think about as you consider the "fit"!

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