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Learn the Difference Between Sales and Marketing

Sales and marketing

Sales and marketing are the two major components one needs to run a successful business. Both marketing and sales work in tandem with the ultimate goal of finding, attracting, and retaining customers for a company. These two departments have similar goals, but their methods for reaching them differ. While marketing focuses more on the top of the funnel, like reaching a target audience or generating leads, the sales department focuses more on bottom-of-the-funnel transactions, ensuring customers go through with their purchase. Learning about sales and marketing, along with the value each field brings to a business, can build a company’s performance over time. 

What is sales?

Sales refers to the entire process involved in facilitating and completing a sales transaction. Sales teams deal with every stage of the sales process, from prospecting to education to conversion. A sales organization can range in scale from a single person to a department subdivided into teams.

  • Sales representatives. Sales reps are the employees who deal with customers one-on-one. Inside sales reps work remotely, while outside sales reps work with customers in person. Sales reps might be tasked with anything from cold calling to creating and sending educational materials to attending in-person meetings to seal a deal. 
  • Sales manager. Multi-person sales teams usually need managers to oversee the sales process. Managers ensure their sales reps have all the tools they need and follow the sales strategy. They might set sales targets and strategy, analyze customer data, and train new sales reps for the company. 
  • Sales specialist. A sales specialist (or sales consultant—the terms are often used interchangeably) is the person with the most in-depth knowledge about a product or service. They are often responsible for product-specific market research, conducting product demos, and troubleshooting. 
  • Account executive. These are the higher-level sales reps that typically focus on bringing in new business, writing sales proposals, negotiating with clients, and closing deals. Account execs don’t usually find and recruit leads, though in a smaller business they may be responsible for a multitude of both high- and low-level responsibilities. For other business types, like B2B businesses, the account executive might be a full-cycle sales rep, who handles the account from initial interest through sale.
  • Customer success. Sometimes the role of sales doesn’t end with a transaction. Sales may also include the customer success function, which focuses on retention. They’re charged with fostering positive relationships with their existing clients and renewing sales, as well as facilitating new purchases. 

What is marketing?

Marketing is a set of strategies businesses use to attract potential customers to their product or services. Good marketing focuses on four key factors, known as the “4Ps”—product, price, place, and promotion. The product is the goods or service itself, the price is what the consumer pays, the place is where and how the goods get marketed, and the promotion is the advertising strategy. 

Marketing team activities might include: 

  • Market research. Teams conduct market research to understand a company’s target audience.
  • Brand strategy. Marketing must answer the question “Who are we as a company?” This impacts how the company presents itself—from the design of its products and website to the language it uses when talking to customers. 
  • Channel strategies. Marketing leverages “channels” to reach a business’s audience, including social media, email, digital advertising, direct mail, and more. 
  • Public relations. Publicists will reach out to media outlets to raise awareness. 
  • Customer acquisition and retention. This involves specific tactics to get someone to buy for the first time—and beyond. 

These activities are usually assigned to various specialists on a marketing team—from social media strategists to brand managers—or, for small businesses, might be consolidated into a single marketing manager role. 

Key differences between sales and marketing

Sales and marketing may overlap in some of their goals and responsibilities, but there are a number of important distinctions between the two. 

Scope

  • How they’re similar: Marketing and sales strategies each work to target prospects and convert them into paying customers. Sales and marketing share the ultimate goal of selling, which increases a business’s revenue. 
  • How they’re different: A sales team’s and a marketing team’s scopes can differ in terms of who owns which part of the funnel. Traditionally, marketing strategies focus on the upper portion of the funnel, and there’s a handoff to sales somewhere in the middle of the funnel. Sales then handles the bottom of the funnel. 

Tactics

  • How they’re similar: Both sales and marketing appeal to customer wants and needs. 
  • How they’re different: Often, sales tactics may involve one-on-one contact with leads, including in-person meetings, product demonstrations, or attending conferences to engage with customers directly. Marketing tactics involve wide-reaching actions like direct mail campaigns, radio spots, search engine optimization (SEO), social media ads, or brand ambassadors to reach a broad audience. Marketing tactics may also involve automation, to allow marketers to serve content to leads more efficiently. 

Tools

  • How they’re similar: Sales and marketing both benefit from a variety of digital tools that organize and track data.
  • How they’re different: Since sales often focuses on direct interactions with customers, they need tools for relationship management. Customer relationship management (CRM) tools, which collect, organize, and analyze information about customers and their journey, are often the cornerstone of their tool set. Since marketing casts a wider net to reach customers on various channels, they need tools to get insights, measure performance, and manage campaigns

Teams/roles

  • How they’re similar: Sales and marketing professionals follow a hierarchy of responsibility where each employee level has its own goals and objectives to meet to drive engagement and profit. In some cases, both departments are responsible for lead generation and nurturing customers long after a sale. 
  • How they’re different: Sales and marketing require different areas of expertise and experience. Marketing teams may include roles like writers, graphic designers, and illustrators, and have individuals who specialize in social media, video, content strategy, and SEO. The sales team puts the marketing team’s work into play, ensuring customers make the final decision to invest in a product or service. Good sales reps are adept storytellers with high confidence and excellent communication skills. Sales professionals must know how to both pitch a product and how to deal with people one-on-one. 

Managing sales and marketing teams

There are a few strategies for managing the sales and marketing teams to help streamline your success. 

Identify tensions 

Marketing and sales can sometimes butt heads. If overall sales are low or a new product doesn’t perform as expected, marketers might lay blame on the sales professionals for their ineffective selling strategies. On the other hand, if sales are poor, salespeople may feel like marketing isn’t providing enough qualified leads or even reaching the right audience. A lack of communication or understanding of the specific roles of each department can also cause tension, with both sides unclear about the responsibilities of the other. 

Align the communication 

Strong communication can be an effective way to align your marketing and sales teams. Aligning both departments with regards to the customer journey and a clear delineation of what is expected of each team can help clarify objectives and make better use of available resources. Service-level agreements, which clearly define the terms of a partnership and outline the specific goals of each department along with accountability options if targets are not met,  might be helpful. Ensuring that data and research are shared across the teams is also crucial. 

Know what to prioritize

Not all companies can—or want—to have both sales and marketing. Some businesses focus on marketing efforts, and charge marketers with the responsibility of both growing their reach and converting people to purchase. For some, the rise of digital commerce has diminished the need for dedicated sales departments. Many customers (specifically in the beauty and fashion markets) no longer need a person to help sell them a product when they can make their own purchases online. For some businesses, this can help them streamline their necessary expenditures and figure out where else to allocate their time and attention. 

Other companies focus on sales efforts—a B2B company that sells a specialized product to a niche audience, for example, might invest in a sales team first. For these companies, a single sale might yield high revenue and a long-term relationship.  

Final thoughts

Sales and marketing are heavily intertwined fields with their own separate objectives. Essentially, marketing is the launch pad of a sales plan, while sales is the actual execution. Aligning these departments can facilitate harmonious cooperation, which can help a company grow and succeed over time.

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