The Difference Between Sales and Marketing

How Different Are Sales And Marketing Roles?

I have had many a debate with my old boss and mentor over the years, in which he used to say that “selling and marketing are two very different disciplines”. And he wasn’t wrong. Being able to sell is a skill, that as a marketer, I couldn’t profess to have, and I’m in awe of the resilience needed to be a brilliant salesperson.

That said, my response to the statement was always “you can never be truly great at one, without completely understanding the other” and this is true of any business. The two are intrinsically linked. Whilst the skills needed to be good at marketing or sales will be different, many of the principles will be the same. The biggest difference is that, in marketing, it’s important to consider the wider market need, whilst in sales, there is a more granular approach to understanding the individual customers’ need.

Beyond having a thorough understanding of what is actually being sold, a good marketing strategy will look, in detail, at what is happening in the market. What is motivating the target audience? What are their challenges and pain-points? What is the competition doing? What is happening politically, economically and socially that may change the psychology of the audience? What technological advancements are being made that may impact the buying decision? Are there any impending legislative changes? How do behaviours change throughout the ‘buyer journey’ and can this be accommodated in the value chain?

Of course, understanding all of the above is crucial for the sales team too.

How Can Sales And Marketing Teams Support Each Other?

If there are missing gaps in market knowledge for the sales team, then marketers should feed insights back to them, so they’re fully armed to succeed. Equally, there’s only so much that marketers will glean from desk research, and much of their wider market knowledge should come from the ‘coalface’, i.e. those who spend all day, every day actually in the market, speaking to customers.

The marketing team needs to have a complete understanding of the sales funnel, so they can continually add value to the sales process. Salespeople will be focused on building a rapport with their customers and there are plenty of ways that marketing can provide support - personalised, automated communications for example, that are specific to the target audience’s needs, at a given time.

Salespeople will spend a lot of time ‘objection handling’ and if the marketing team understands these barriers in advance, they can be addressed in communications - blogs and videos for example - and possibly even prevent the objection conversation ever taking place. And there’s plenty the marketing team can (and should) do to support post-sales interactions, to help with repeat business too.

Boardroom battles between sales and marketing are not uncommon, and I believe it’s healthy for both disciplines to challenge each other. I have been lucky enough to work with a brilliant sales director, another mentor, who challenged me and set me on the right track when I had not completely understood the clientele. Likewise, as a marketing director, I was always confident to push back when communications did not represent the brand values, of which I was fiercely protective. And thankfully, we always left the boardroom on the same page, with the same vision.

When the business goals are completely understood and the sales and marketing teams are both working together to achieve these goals, the business will undoubtedly see great success. When there is a disconnect between the two teams, which we see in some businesses, opportunities to maximise the market potential, will be lost.

So, Are They Actually That Different?

In their skills, yes. In their principles, no. Marketing is essentially ‘prospecting’, but on a wider scale. Sales is effectively ‘promoting’ a product or service, but through personalised transactions. Both should aim to demonstrate expertise, trust and always be true to the brand’s promise. Any disparity with the latter will lead to discontent, and will be damaging to the brand’s reputation.

Yes, the people who work in your sales and marketing teams will be very different. But their interpretation of the business goals, the market and the customer should always be aligned. And a mutual respect and understanding of each other’s objectives is imperative for business growth. Regardless of the skillset, when both teams work together, the results will be impressive.  

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