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What’s the Difference Between Sales and Marketing?

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By Joe Candido

Sales and marketing are similar functions yet also very different. Much of the confusion comes from the perspective or “lens” one uses when comparing them. From a communications perspective, they both attempt to engage the target prospect or customer and build a relationship. What I tell my students in leadership training exercises is this: both sales and marketing want to establish credibility and differentiate. The goal is the same with each using a different approach.

Typically, the marketing approach is a one to many style and the medium is less personal. Think about advertising, brochures, telemarketing, websites, etc. They are all designed to reach a very large target group with minimal human interaction.

On the other hand, sales is usually one-to-one or one to a very small number, and the medium is much more direct with either the phone or in-person approach. The cost per “touch” is much higher using sales, which is much more direct, influential, and intimate than marketing.

From an analysis perspective, marketing is data-driven using proven and often scientific research methods like quantitative and qualitative approach, and mining and analysis of huge and multi-sourced database often referred to as “big data.”

Sales does not have such a discipline. Problem solving, solution creation, and negotiation are squarely in the sales domain, requiring a highly interactive exchange of information that is much better served with a person-to-person approach.

Imagine trying to describe your problem to a machine. Oh wait, we do that all the time when calling an 800-number number with automated customer support, which is often a frustrating experience. I strongly believe that complex matters are best served by a direct person-to-person approach. Reputation, trust, and promise are shared and promoted by both marketing and sales.

Marketing focuses on brand management, customer satisfaction/experience, and market share analysis. Messaging, alignment with the customer, conveying the company values, are all hallmarks of building and maintaining the brand. Sales demonstrates these elements through their on-going work with the prospect and customer. Sales brings the brand promise to life (or not) as they address questions, solve problems, and build relationships.

There are many other comparisons to make but they all tend to lead us to the same understanding. Sales and marketing largely perform the same function – engage the target prospect or customer, build a relationship, and do business.

Sales and marketing are highly complementary and should be viewed and two functions serving the same goal. Sales and marketing strategies and tactics should be aligned along with the leadership teams. Yet, sadly most companies find these two departments at odds as neither recognize the value of the other.

Sales and marketing must work together in order to succeed. Your company’s future depends on it.



Joe Candido has more than 28 years of experience in sales, marketing, consulting, technology, and advanced training methods. He is an adjunct instructor at UVM and teaches a seminar in the Leadership and Management Certificate Program.