In the dynamic landscape of modern business, roles and responsibilities can sometimes intertwine—making it hard to understand what differentiates distinct functions. This is particularly true in burgeoning sectors like partnerships, so establishing clear lines between this industry and fields like sales and business development (BD) can be challenging. 

To clarify this state of affairs, Co-Founder and CEO of Firneo Scott Pollack spoke with Alberto Guglielmone, Head of Marketing and Business Development at Apogeo Space. During this Partner School interview, Alberto helped partnerships leaders understand the intricate relationship between sales, BD, and partnerships (and how this relationship differs across various industries).

Partnerships, Sales, and BD: What’s the Difference?

To get things started, Alberto shared an explanation of sales, BD, and partnerships. Based on his own experiences, he defined these fields as follows:

  • Sales: With its immediate focus on delivering value, sales often involves short-term goals and direct transactions.
  • BD: A strategic, long-term approach to driving sustainable growth for the company, BD encompasses market expansion, product development, and fostering partnerships.
  • Partnerships: Integral to BD, partnerships can facilitate sustainable growth by creating an ideal environment for sales and fostering mutually beneficial relationships with other entities.

Navigating the Blurred Lines

Though sales, BD, and partnerships are distinct concepts, these fields can easily overlap, often resulting in significant confusion. Thus, Scott and Alberto also looked into the difficulties associated with understanding these roles across different industries. 

Alberto pointed to the importance of industry context when it comes time to define these roles, noting that the nature of a business’s product or service can influence its interpretation of BD and partnerships. For instance, in the field of satellite technology, BD may involve forging partnerships with hardware producers to enhance product offerings. But in sectors like SaaS, BD positions often resemble entry-level sales roles.

Balancing Short-Term Goals with Long-Term Ambitions

Scott and Alberto’s conversation then delved into the challenge of balancing short-term sales goals with long-term initiatives like partnerships and market expansion. Alberto spoke about his own role in a startup environment, where he oversees sales, BD, and partnerships. He emphasized the iterative nature of this work, in which efforts are directed toward branding, market research, and product development before transitioning to sales and partnership activities.

For Alberto, the unique dynamics of the space technology industry affect how he prioritizes goals. In fields like this, a focus on innovation and sustainable long-term growth aligns closely with the expectations of venture capitalists. Partnerships also play a crucial role in informing product development and expanding market reach in forward-thinking industries, to the point where 94% of tech executives view innovation partnerships as a must.

Still, partnerships leaders may have to deal with a chief revenue officer (CRO) or other executives focused on meeting quarterly quotas and addressing immediate challenges. While Alberto acknowledged this reality, he also recognized the importance of expressing the long-term value of partnerships to prominent stakeholders. By demonstrating how strategic partnerships can contribute to sales and help make new markets accessible, BD and partnership leaders can align their objectives with their organization’s overarching revenue targets.

Understanding Organizational Dynamics

Continuing to draw from his extensive experience, Alberto highlighted the importance of organizational structure in facilitating effective collaboration among sales, BD, and partnership teams. Typically, these functions report to a commercial director who also oversees marketing and communication.

However, variations exist across industries—some companies entrust BD and partnerships supervision to their chief technical officer (CTO). Moreover, the emergence of roles such as CROs underscores the evolving nature of organizational hierarchies and reflects a holistic approach to revenue generation.

Career Path Considerations

Alberto then shared advice on skill sets and career trajectories for individuals contemplating a career in sales, BD, or partnerships. He emphasized the significance of curiosity, negotiation skills, and relationship management in BD and partnership roles, as well as a broad understanding of market dynamics. On the other hand, sales roles may require a more specialized skill set focused on vertical expertise and a natural aptitude for selling. 

Embracing Diversity and Global Perspectives

Finally, Alberto pointed to the importance of diversity in teams—both in terms of cultural backgrounds and professional experiences. As businesses operate in an increasingly globalized landscape, the ability to collaborate with people coming from diverse backgrounds has become crucial. Alberto also expressed an interest in engaging with students, early-career professionals, and managers from around the world, reflecting his belief in the power of diverse perspectives in driving innovation and growth.

Understanding Your Role with Firneo

Scott and Alberto’s conversation provided valuable insights into the intricate dynamics of sales, BD, and partnership functions within organizations. By emphasizing the importance of collaboration, innovation, and adaptability, Alberto offered practical advice for professionals seeking to excel in these roles. Moreover, his focus on embracing diversity and fostering a global mindset underscores the evolving nature of business in an interconnected world. 

As organizations navigate challenges and pursue growth opportunities, alignment between sales, BD, and partnerships teams will continue to be a prerequisite for success. But for individuals to make it in the world of partnerships, they’ll need to know everything there is to know about this field—and Firneo can help. 

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