Sales vs Marketing: What’s the difference?

Small Business

Many companies that I come across, particularly those that sell to other businesses rather than directly to consumers, have a tendency to group sales and marketing together as if they are both the same. 

They aren’t. They compliment each other and go together but the approach and skill set required for each area is very different. Which, of course, isn’t to say that one is better than the other. Both are necessary and rely on each other but they aren’t the same. Lumping them together as one is a disservice to both.

What is The Difference?

At the base level, sales is about building a direct relationship with an individual customer whereas marketing takes more of a strategic, one step back approach and looks at positioning products in the marketplace to appeal to groups of customers.

The other key difference is that when it comes to B2B, ideally marketing is about generating leads that the sales team then meets with and converts into a customer. Marketing sets up the opportunity on a broader level and sales make it happen.

An example is a fashion. The person selling clothing into retail outlets isn’t the same person that decides what is in the catalogue, what the catalogue looks like, what style of shops the brand sells into or the advertising material, social media activities or media articles that build profile and presence initially.

Why is it confusing?

I think one of the reasons for the confusion is because there is a lack of understanding around what’s possible with marketing, whereas every business needs a way to sell what they do. This misunderstanding of marketing means that many companies see it as a luxury, a ‘nice to have’ once they increase sales to the point where they can afford it. And they think that if they’ve got salespeople then marketing is also covered.

The reality is that the skills for each function are very different.

Skills Needed for Different Roles

Top sales people are good at interacting with people. They:

  • can relate to a variety of people and situations
  • quickly build rapport
  • are good listeners
  • are at their best when they are in front of a prospective customer
  • know how to network and be memorable
  • instil trust that they can deliver on the promises in their pitch
  • good with follow up.

Top marketers need to have empathy in order to put themselves in the mindset of their customers but don’t need to be as personable as those in sales. They:

  • can communicate through imagery and written communication
  • have an eye for design
  • are able to make connections across different marketing platforms by joining the dots between what they see happening in the marketplace and feedback from customers
  • can put a strategic programme into place to take advantage of opportunities
  • can turn insights into campaigns to help connect with groups of customers
  • prompt prospects to take action like calling to set up a meeting or sending an email to ask for more information.

Impact on the Bottom Line 

However, not only is the skillset different, what they can do to impact the bottom line is also very different and this is probably why marketing is often overlooked in a B2B selling environment.

The impact that each salesperson has on new sales is usually clear and easy to measure. The impact of marketing can be more difficult to determine and usually isn’t evident immediately, depending on the typical sales cycle. Collateral needs to be developed, a plan formulated, campaigns run and if the usual sales cycle is 6 months then it can be 9-12 months before the impact is apparent.

As well as attracting attention from new prospects, marketing can shape the message that the salesperson takes to customers as well as the collateral they take with them. While a good salesperson can work around poor messaging and limited collateral, the business that sends them out with sub-standard material isn’t maximising their potential.

3 steps to review your marketing and sales setup:

  1. Check the skills of your sales and marketing team against those listed above
  2. Take the online marketing assessment here to see how robust your marketing setup is
  3. Review how your brand is positioned in the market – are you clearly differentiated from your competition or would potential customers have little way of telling the difference between you except on price?

Marketing is about anticipating, focusing on customer needs but communicating collectively to your target market. Sales is more about closing the deal today and picking up the phone tomorrow to uncover the next sale.