The Difference Between Marketing and Sales

Recently, a billion dollar company commissioned me to lead a workshop on marketing with their top 50 salespeople. Their CMO told me to be sure to explain the difference between Marketing and Sales. So, I reached out to my LinkedIn network and groups with a simple question, “What’s the difference between Marketing and Sales?”  Here are highlights from over 140 responses.


Different Focus and Priorities

A few people said there is little difference between Marketing and Sales. For example:

“All Selling is Marketing, and all Marketing is Selling.”

But most people pointed out the differences in focus and priorities:

“Marketing and Sales can be very similar. But when you break it down, Marketing occurs on a mass, less personal scale. Sales is very personal, high touch, one-on-one look at a prospect’s needs.”

“Sales is selling a product or service. Marketing is selling a brand, a vision, a feeling. Marketing is the 'why' and Sales is the 'what'.” 

“Sales closes the deal; Marketing creates the environment for Sales to happen.”


Off the Battlefield

In describing the difference between Marketing and Sales, many people used language and analogies with a military theme.

“Marketing is the master plan, the reconnaissance, and the strategy behind the operation. Sales is the boots on the ground that makes it happen.”

“Marketing is targeting your quarry. Sales is going in for the kill.”

Think of target shooting. Marketing gets the proper gun and makes sure it's ready to fire. They make sure the right ammunition is ready and loaded. They tell the sales person what the target looks like and where to aim in order to get the best score. Sales takes the weapon, aims and pulls the trigger to hit the target.”


Explanation Through Analogies

Many used analogies to explain the difference between Marketing and Sales, including several with a farming analogy.

“Marketing fertilizes, Sales harvests.”

“Marketing is the tilling of the soil and the planting of the crops; Sales is the harvesting of the crops. And you have to have both.”

Of course, there were sports analogies:

“Marketing puts the ball in play. Sales puts the ball away.”

A few theatre analogies:

“Marketing is the backstage [and] the script. Sales people are the front men, the performers.”

There was even a misguided seafood analogy:

“Marketing is the brain, Sales are the mussels!”


Working Together

One common theme is that Marketing and Sales need to work together. As several people articulated:

“The two work in concert to execute the battle plan together.”

“Marketing & Sales are inextricably linked - partners - in order to meet sales goals. In addition Marketing influences other aspects of commercialization - Publicity/ PR, LifeCycle Management, Advertising, etc.”

“Marketing AND Sales are the front door, working together, to identify prospects and communicate what the company offers to its customers with Ops, Finance, IT, etc., as the back door to support everything.”


What I Learned

First, I learned that LinkedIn is a terrific source of opinions and information. (Thanks to all of you that responded to my inquiries.) Second, I learned that the definitions of Marketing and Sales aren’t clear. These definitions vary by industry, B2B vs. B2C, and the experience of the respondent. Many definitions reflected traditional organizations, while others reflected less structured, more contemporary organization structures. What is encouragingly clear is the overwhelming agreement that Marketing and Sales are both important and need to work together.


About the Author

Matthew Sawyer is Managing Partner of Rocket Market Development LLC, which helps companies reach sustainable revenue growth by identifying market opportunities and providing strategies, processes, and resources for success. Matthew is an Adjunct Professor of business strategy at Parsons School for Design and teaches strategic communication at Columbia University.