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Sales, Marketing, and Business Development – What’s the Difference?

Sales, marketing, and business development are terms used in a seemingly interchangeable fashion throughout the AEC industry. But, as you build your company project by project, these three processes play different roles and it is important to understand the distinguishing factors for each one. Judy Sparks has experience dealing with all three corners of the trifecta, and in this episode of AEC Marketing for Principals, Katie Cash and Judy help identify key characteristics that make each one unique.

Sales and Business Development

In the AEC industry, ‘sales’ and ‘business development’ carry just about every negative connotation that they have in other industries, but these processes represent a necessary evil that still generates revenue with archaic tactics to this day. Many AEC professionals have a difficult time distinguishing the difference between sales and business development but the answer is a lot simpler than you’d expect; biz dev is just a stilted version of the term ‘sales,’ and they mean the exact same thing. ‘BD’ is the love child of dated terminology and stigma, so don’t be fooled. The persuasive nature of salespeople transcends their creativity with endless title variations popping up like “Client Services Manager,” “Business Development Representative,” or “Project Development Director.” At the end of the day, they’re all the same position, measured by how much revenue they generate for the firm and whether or not they’re hitting quota


Sales in the AEC industry includes typical farming, prospecting, and lead gen tactics performed on a one-to-one basis. If you are “selling,” you’re cold calling, meeting with prospects, taking them out for a round of golf or dinner etc. These strategies are conducted on a one-to-one basis between the seller-doer or sales representative and the prospect in order to move the needle. These tactics are all very proactive, but leads are becoming much more robust than the old ‘business card in the fishbowl’ trick we’ve seen at tradeshows over the years. Market-qualified leads are the new gold standard and the industry as a whole is seeing a shift in focus from sales and biz dev to marketing.

In the AEC industry, this method of relationship building has often been considered “schmoozing,” but firms that understand the role this process plays independently from AEC marketing will have a distinct advantage. By building relationships with owners, it ensures that they know of your business, and more importantly, they know someone at your firm by name.

Deals in the AEC space progress with one-to-one relationships because multi-million dollar projects demand a high level of trust. However, very limited trust can be built by knocking doors and cold calling. It is important to note that sales and marketing work in conjunction with one another, but they are not an item. Sales and marketing are two independent processes with completely different goals and personnel. Each one deserves its own, unique strategy and special attention to maximize the potential of new business opportunities.


Fortunately, specialized AEC marketing is finally starting to catch on, but the industry has always been reluctant to accept it as an effective method for generating leads. Most AEC firms witnessed the success that other industries had with online marketing and creative tradeshow strategies, but for some reason, many seller-doers still don’t believe that their target audience is reachable through these channels. The savviest firms are already taking advantage of a less competitive marketing environment, and although the industry hasn’t reached its full potential, it’s come a long way since the reactive marketing of the past.


Unlike the one-to-one format, marketing employs a one-to-many methodology where the ‘one’ is your brand and the ‘many’ is your target audience. Marketing includes your website, social media, communications, and any outbound marketing push or inbound content that your team touches. In a relationship-based industry like AEC, marketing is crucial to your sales and biz dev efforts because it controls all of the channels of communication between prospective clients and your business. AEC is not an account-based industry, so the ability to manage your brand message consistently will help build trust with your target before new bids come up.

Your brand is ultimately what builds a reputation of trust among potential clients, and AEC marketing controls your brand voice, positioning, management, and promise. All of those things have to be developed intentionally and communicated effectively to your audiences in order to portray confidence, competence, and consumer expertise at trade shows and online. 

Successful seller-doers are taking a proactive approach to managing their brand message and instituting a marketing-centric culture at their firms. That leads to a greater market share, new business, and more revenue than brands that approach marketing with a one-off strategy. They are seeing increased profits, qualified leads and more successful recruiting on top of an increased number of projects. Sales, marketing, and biz dev can create powerful results collectively, but it starts with identifying and executing an appropriate strategy in each one.

About Judy Sparks
Judy is the founder, CEO, and President of Smartegies LLC. Founded in 2008, Smartegies is a specialty marketing agency that has helped more than 150 companies across North America build stronger brands, implement effective communications, and develop winning strategies and proposals. Judy has worked in B2B marketing and sales roles exclusively since 1993, specializing in the AEC industry. Judy is a true expert in AEC marketing and has a proven record of success throughout her 25 years in the field.
About Katie Cash
Katie is an architectural, engineering, and construction marketer with over 15 years of experience serving the AEC industry. Katie is an expert strategist who helps her clients win big projects through creative marketing methods. Katie believes in thinking outside the box and has a gift for tackling challenges by using innovative and unconventional solutions. Today, Katie serves as the Vice President of Smartegies, working alongside Judy to help clients achieve maximum impact in their marketing efforts.

For more on how AEC Marketing, sales, and business development are all used interchangeably, but they are all independent processes with unique needs, listen to our podcast episode, AEC Marketing | Sales, and Business Development – What’s the Difference?