So, Really, What is the difference between Sales and Marketing?

There is a difference between sales and marketing.  Really, there is.  Even if job boards will show up lots of commission sales jobs under a search for “marketing.”

My degrees are in  marketing and management (undergrad) and marketing (grad).  I taught graduate and undergraduate students.  One of the biggest and most confusing discussions among students was if there was a difference between sales and marketing.

I tell them to think of sales and immediate feedback, reward, if you will, and an immediate “thing” to walk away with.  I give my students the image of the little kids in the summer with their homemade lemonade stand or the high school band holding signs for a car wash.  There is a service or product for sale – right now – and a price set – if you purchase right now.  I tried to stay away from the “used car salesman” type analogy, although, that would also work for the illustration.

Most sales professionals – from business-to-business, pharmaceutical reps, insurance, or retail shoe stores – are on commission.  They have a “goal” that must be reached within a certain time frame.  They, by nature, are aggressive, after all, their bread and butter depends on you buying what they have to sell right now, regardless if it is the right product for your needs. Sales is immediate, instant gratification, right-now, short-term in view.

Marketing, on the other hand, is more long-term in approach.

Marketing (brand managers, product managers, marketing managers, etc.) are approaching things with a strategic, long range view.  They are more concerned with things like image, equity, and relationships.  Yes, they want you to choose their brand (product or service) over a competitor (think Coke and Pepsi), but they are interested in how their brand intersects with your life and how.  They want to know why you choose Coke over Pepsi, why people are willing to pay more for Abercrombie t-shirts versus one from JCPenney.

Marketing is about lifestyle and awareness.

We, marketers, want you to purchase our product, that we then track to understand the demographics of our customers.  We create categories and needs.  We tell a story and remind you of that story and how your life fits into the narrative.  Marketing is about feeling and aspiration, the wanting of the image that goes with shopping at Target versus Wal*Mart or Whole Foods Market versus Shop & Save.  It is the illusion, in some ways, and the illustration in others.  Marketing reminds you of where you are and who you are, as well as gives you a glimpse of who you can be…with my brand, of course.

To think of the difference, think short-term (sales) versus long-term (marketing).  Think tactical (sales) versus strategic (marketing). Think comic strip (sales) versus epic novel (marketing).  Think reality show (sales) versus cinematic movie (marketing).

In the world of business, entrepreneurship, and enterprise, there is room for both, it is just important to understand both and never confuse them.  It takes years to be an observer of humanity and society and translate those observations into trends and future products versus convincing someone to buy something immediately, even if it is not meeting their needs.

Sales and marketing can learn from each other.

Marketing can learn from the way sales can observe who is really ready to buy and identify immediately what objections may exist…and offer immediate and plausible solutions (like in-store financing, discounts, etc).

Sales can learn from the way marketers observe society and understand broad, strategic trends that direct the precise creation of brand images, colors, trademarks, and registrations.  Sales can understand the why behind their brand being better than another for a customer’s need and help translate that in terms the customer can understand.

The difference between sales and marketing can be summed up by this visual – imagine a farmer’s market and someone trying to sell all the eggs in their basket right now to the customer versus educating the customer about why your local farm, organic, vegetable fed, uncaged chickens produce a superior product – and have that customer come back week-after-week for just YOUR eggs…this is the difference between sales and marketing…in a nutshell!







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