Sales are the ultimate panacea. We’ve heard it before and in many ways it’s true: “Sales cures all ills.” Since recently moving into a primarily business development role, this point has been more clear to me than ever. Not only does it keep the lights on, but it also allows hard work to be rewarded, investors to keep capital flowing liquidly, and the limits of innovation to be pushed forward. But is it really the sale that creates that environment?

Although sales enables this to happen, it is business development that creates the environment. There are some great posts out there about the difference between business development and sales. Blog posts by Seth Godin and Andrew Dumont are a good place to start. What I am saying here is nothing new, and a recent opportunity I had to make some smart business development choices highlighted the difference.

With an opportunity to help a prospect cross the finish line and become a customer, I was naturally happy to close. Typically I wouldn’t be involved in a client making a payment, but they had a few last minute questions about our terms and I was pulled in before payments were processed. In this particular case, the environment in which this sale was happening was built with the help of a partner who we work with regularly. Suddenly I was faced with pushing the sale through, or taking a step back and considering what kind of environment that would promote. Had we built the confidence we champion with this customer? Were we serving our partner well by simply stepping aside and letting their customer enter our system without that trust? I held back, and, instead of passing them on to our billing department, I had a few long conversations with our new (soon-to-be) customer to build trust.

Focusing on making a sale would not have created an environment of success. Sales provides some very powerful medicine, effective against most business ailments. Without a long view, however, there are side effects and complications. Business development is that long view towards creating an environment in which the business can be successful outside and in.

Customers will come and go, but a strategic view along with strong partners help create an environment of more than sales enablement. This environment supports the long-term health of a company, and strengthens customer retention. A good sale is like a blip on the radar, but business development will create more blips, bigger blips and an environment where a business can thrive, create a strong team and push innovation forward.