How do you define the difference between sales and marketing?

We had an interesting conversation with a client last week during which he posed a question that got me stumped – what’s the difference between marketing and sales?

Having worked in marketing for ten years and studied for a CIM qualification, I was adamant that there was a clear distinction between sales and marketing, in fact more than a clear distinction, the two functions may often be lumped together but are in actual fact very different beasts.

And often different beasts that don’t see eye to eye! Call a marketeer a ‘salesperson’ or describing their job function as ‘selling products’ is likely to lead to a frosty reception.  But that said, as we had the discussion with our client I couldn’t put my finger on the one point that clearly clarified the difference.

So I went away determined to collect my thoughts and find a suitable answer for next time the question was posed.  I went home and dug out my old CIM workbooks to find the definition of marketing that we learnt in our very first ‘marketing fundamentals’ class, the definition that by the end of the year we could all repeat word for word!

The CIM definition of marketing is ‘The management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably.’

The definition of sales is much harder to find, but one good example I discovered is ‘Sales is converting an inquiry or lead into a contract or shipment.’

When read together, these definitions could lead us to see marketing as knowing what the customer wants and sales is delivering it.  But is it really that simple?  What about companies that have no sales team or those organisations with no marketing department?

To find an answer I wanted input from real people, so I turned to LinkedIn.

I asked a marketing group what their opinions were and got some fantastic answers… and a few more questions.

Some of the great points raised were;

  • You must differentiate between B2B and B2C – business-to-business relies more heavily on sales and business-to-consumer on marketing
  • Marketing can talk to a massive audience whereas sales is one-to-one
  • They are opposite ends of one process which is begun by marketing and completed by sales
  • Sales may eventually be replaced by online transactions, but marketing will only become more important
  • Did you know that the UK’s Chartered Institute of Marketing started life 101 years ago as “The Sales Managers’ Association”?
  • Marketeers are interested in long term growth whilst sales focus on immediate gain.
  • Sales is part of the promotional mix of marketing, and therefore sales is a subset of marketing meaning there is no difference, other than marketing is the whole lot and sales is just a small part!
  • Marketing cannot effectively reach many decision-makers without getting the Salesperson on board
  • Why make things complicated? Isn’t it simple: Marketing = pull. Sales = push

All these points are valid and add to the discussion of how to define the difference between marketing and sales, they certainly gave me great food for thought.  When I posed the question, I had (most probably naively) expected to be able to come away with a clear, concise answer that marketing is X whilst sales is Y with the difference being Z.

This obviously isn’t the case, it seems that the difference is not just between B2B and B2C, but from individual company to individual company. The requirements of different markets necessitate different responses, sometimes marketing led and sometimes sales led, but where the line between the two functions falls can sometimes be hard to establish.

I feel that this blog post has barely scraped the surface in producing a conclusive answer, but realise that you all have jobs to do so must draw to a close here.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject, I suspect it’s one discussion that will rumble on for some time yet!