Back to Back Issues Page
The Difference Between Sales and Marketing
September 15, 2011

The Difference Between Sales and Marketing

The only difference between sales and marketing is that sales is focused on one person while marketing is focused on many.


We often see sales and marketing differentiated by whether or not we have been able to turn a suspect into a prospect. That is to say, the job of marketing is usually associated with disseminating your message to the market and creating leads, or people that are interested in your organization and what your product or service has to offer. A prospect is any person within a given market segment that you have identified as being a potential fit for your business. Marketing becomes about reaching out to as many prospects as possible and engaging them so that salespeople can then close deals. Do those sound like the definitions of sales and marketing that you are familiar with?

The problem with this approach is that even once you have gotten someone interested in what you have to offer, very often you still need to market to them until the timing is right for them to buy. If you stop the marketing function once the person is interested and engaged, what you will very often find is that you have many people who are potentially interested in buying from you, just not now. This is the point at which an automated marketing function such as sending out regular newsletters takes over. Or, from a sales perspective, this is where a salesperson has a process for working with all the people in the marketing funnel who still need to be engaged on a regular basis until the customer is ready to buy (an example of this is just calling to say "Hi" and see how things are going, or sending interesting news and articles to key prospects that show that you are thinking of them!).

You need to equip your salespeople with marketing tools in order to be able to effectively guide people along at each stage of the sales cycle. I have written about the VBANT qualification criteria of Vision, Budget, Need, Authority and Timeframe and until all of these things are in place, a sale will not take place. Simply generating a lead and then expecting people to buy will not work, especially for complex sales that may require multiple sign-offs and a lengthy customer buying process. As such, your salespeople need to be able to take over and nurture leads from being interested all the way through engaged, evaluating, negotiating and purchasing. This process can take anywhere from weeks to years, literally, and so unless you develop the mentality that sales and marketing are doing exactly the same thing with exactly the same tools, you risk losing people who enter your funnel but are not attended to and drop out.

Another common but erroneous way to look at sales versus marketing is to think of marketing as being about written communications like your website, brochures, whitepapers, case studies and so forth. On the other hand, sales is often associated most with verbal communication such as phone sales and in person selling. However, just thinking about it, you will realize that these are not good definition because, for example, tradeshows are a great example of a marketing function that is all about interacting with people in person. On the other hand, after getting off the phone with a potential customer, a salesperson will often have to follow up with information via e-mail to reinforce the phone conversation and help build a case for the sale. In both sales and marketing, written and verbal communication can and does take place and so going back to my basic definition, the real difference between the do is whether you are focused on just one person – or party – or many.

The reason that this is a crucial distinction – that of whether you are speak to one or multiple customers – is that when you are dealing with one customer, you can personalize your messaging around their specific situation. What I mean is that when you are talking to many people, you are by default forced to communicate in generalities. You will communicate your value proposition in terms of the customer pains you solve and the benefits you provide. However, it is only when you are engaged 1-to-1 that you can roll up your sleeves and talk about a specific customer’s set of challenges. It is only when you are engaged with a specific customer that you can engage in a process of qualification to find out whether or not they are a good fit and help guide them through the decision-making process to making a sale. Marketing speaks to many people and is a one-way process while sales seeks to engage a specific customer in an interactive dialog which is the only way to progress a customer forward to doing business.

It is possible that the distinction between sales and marketing is blurred when you have an automated marketing system that allows people to purchase right off your website, for example. Or, if you own a brick-and-mortar business like a store, people might come in, look around and pick up what they want to purchase without having to engage in a detailed discussion with a salesperson. These types of purchases are mostly small and commodity purchases which do not require a lot of thought on the part of your customer. Many business, however, have to engage in a differentiated marketing program which may include various types of advertising and promotion. As well, once you have generated responses through your marketing efforts, a sales function is necessary in order to guide individual customers to facilitate transactions. However, bear in mind that the only way you should be differentiating sales and marketing is by the fact of communicating with one customer versus many and whether, as a result, your messaging is general or personalized and interactive.

Do not limit either sales or marketing to specific kinds of activities but develop general and specific communication strategies for each stage of your sales cycle!


PS. Please forward this article to others!

Get help with sales and marketing

Look at previous posts of The Sales And Marketing for "You" Blog here

Check out the latest updates on

Follow me on Twitter

Back to Back Issues Page