Upside-Down Thinking by Patric Fransko
by Patric Fransko
December 9th, 2015

Here’s the Difference Between Marketing and Sales

If there’s one consistent misunderstanding that I encounter in business, it’s that people don’t differentiate between marketing and sales within an organization. Some think they are basically the same thing, which is a mistake. This mindset is as old as business itself and many of the subtleties are quite detailed; however, here are some simple ways to define what classifies as “sales” and what is considered “marketing.”

Sales and Marketing are two pieces of a puzzle. They work together.

Sales and Marketing are two pieces of a puzzle. They work together.

First, here are the definitions I like to give the two terms:

Marketing: The process of creating interest in a product or service within a defined/targeted group.

Sales: The process of turning an interested prospect from a defined / target group into a customer.

There are many functions in these operations that these basic definitions seem to gloss over, but I feel these capture the over-arching goals of the two roles within the company. The goal of marketing is to determine the target audience for the product, then create awareness and stimulate interest. The goal of sales is to convert interested parties into buyers. Whether it’s through nurturing a lead that was generated by the marketing or cold calling on a prospect, sales is all about closing transactions.

Now that we have some basic definitions in place, let’s discuss the distinct roles within the company that marketing and sales should fulfill. Notice I said “should” as even when the definitions are understood, the fulfilling of the roles is often where the confusion sets in.

The Role of Sales

Sales is the easier of the two to define. This department’s focus is more short-term. The team is tasked with contacting clients and prospects, making sure they have the information they need to make a purchase decision and then closing, or attempting to close, the sale. The sales department’s job is to move the client or prospect through the sales cycle with the tools available to them.

What Marketing Looks Like

Marketing is more multifaceted. It encompasses everything from increasing brand awareness to stimulating a particular action from a target audience through campaigns. Marketing has a more long-term focus on generating interest in your brand, product or service. If the department is operating effectively, it should be helping the sales department by creating interest in the product or service within the target audience. This would make the sale easier. Additionally, the marketing department is also responsible for providing the sales team with the tools they need to fully inform the prospect on the product or service.

Come Together, Right Now

These two departments need to work together to fulfill their roles effectively. Often, the sales team is a terrific source of information from the field and can help marketing fine-tune their plan. Also, a prospect that the sales team couldn’t close can be recycled back into the marketing plan so the sales department can have another opportunity to close that sale in the future.

One Last Word

There’s one last point on this. Some companies try to make their marketing department act as their sales department. Instead of creating effective branding or building product awareness, marketing efforts are used to blast out sales messages. The role of marketing is not to make the sale, but to tee up the sales department to make the sale. When you use marketing to try and make the sale, you’ll end up with an irritated client or prospect that will tune you out. In this case, not only have you not made the sale, but you’ve also seriously impacted your ability to close a sale with this client or prospect in the future.

I hope this helps you keep the two straight as you build your business plan for the future. While these two functions are inter-related, they are unquestionably different. Each one needs the other to be fulfilling its distinct role in order to increase your sales and create happy customers.

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  1. Fantastic!

  2. Great article, great definition and great advice too!

    I also suggest a differentiation between Sales and Business Development (in most places they are assumed to be the same thing) as well as sales and product management and Market Development vs. Business Development.

    This will help to choose appropriate career paths with full understanding.
    Isaac Thande.

  3. excellent article. I can agree more with your distinction between the roles. The hard part is having organizations try and mix the two roles which normally causes confusion within the ranks and with customers. Nice job

  4. I agree, but would like to add that ‘Marketing’ starts even before brand awareness in targeted audience. It involves activities even before the product is conceptualized and starts from the research stage until close of sales leaving customers satisfied.

  5. Terrific and simplistic definition / distinction of sales and marketing….it is easy for the two to become intertwined but yet they are distinctly different.

    Best regards,
    Mike Sheridan

  6. Thanks for the feedback and kind words Olusola and Rafiq. I also agree with you Rafiq that Sales and Business Development often gets mixed together as well. Thanks again for the feedback. Glad you both enjoyed the article.

  7. Well written! The differences are brilliantly depicted. I believe that given the digital world we live in now, it is even more important to keep these roles clearly defined, Yet the integration of these 2 functions to is even more critical.
    Thanks for a great read

  8. Thanks for info..

  9. “The role of marketing is not to make the sale, but to tee up the sales department to make the sale.”………Love, Love, Love, this quote from the article….Thank you for sharing.

  10. Very interesting article – the reality is that the majority of the time Sales also need to create awareness and stimilate interest simply because Marketing don’t message rightly the targeted audience. Plenty of companies out there are missing business opportunities because of this.

  11. Thanks for the kind words and feedback Mike, Heidi, Sachet and Patricia! Glad you liked the article.

  12. Great article. I believe we’re all remiss in thinking who does what, when and how. In my experience cross functional collaboration is a win win win for the company. Sales need marketing to effectively promote and attract interest to the brand or product, marketing need sales to assist in what’s working and what isn’t.
    Feedback on both sides will enable a more successful team.

  13. Great feedback Michael! Glad you liked the article.

  14. Basically I see sale as a part of marketing processes. Marketing should determine who, in wich environment will represent Product & service to existing und potential costumers. But marketing focuses primery on market analyses/segmentation, creating of awareness, creating and communicating the value. And sale set focus on tarning interested prospects into the customers – as you mentioned. That’s why it make sense to seperate sale from marketing in business.
    Greate article!

  15. Marketing is about planting seeds for future growth. Advertising is about getting a response to clinch a sale. Leon Levy Klingshield South Africa

  16. Thanks for the feedback Rusudan and Leon. Glad you enjoyed the article.

  17. this is the best concise description of the two I’ve found yet. Thank you!

  18. Your welcome Evelyn. Glad you liked it.

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