There is no greater impediment to the advancement of knowledge than the ambiguity of words. Thomas Reid
Photo credit: Gerard Stolk (vers Noel)
The trouble with most of us who speak in the English language is that we assume that people actually understand what we are saying. This last semester, as I set out to teach a course on International Marketing, I happened to ask the class casually, “How many of you understand the difference between marketing & sales?” The faces, more than the raised hands, clearly communicated the confusion over the two. So as I set out to clarify the difference, I learned a thing or two and reckoned I’ll share that with you.
Let’s get the basics out of the way. And in the interest of not reinventing the wheel, I’ll share what I reckoned was a good definition from Diffen.com. As they summarize it
Marketing The goal is to generate awareness and interest in the product/service and create leads or prospects, by influencing the perception and behavior of the target customer group.
Selling is focused on converting prospects to actual paying customers. Sales involve directly interacting with the prospects to persuade them to purchase the product.
This means the activities done by marketing and sales can be quite distinct
- consumer research to identify the needs of the customers
- product development – designing innovative products to meet existing or latent needs
- advertising and digital marketing the products to raise awareness and build the brand.
- pricing products and services to maximize long-term revenue.
||focused on converting prospects to actual paying customers. Sales involve directly interacting with the prospects to persuade them to purchase the product.
So far so good. Now that we are clear about definitions, does this help us figure out when does your business require marketing (or sales) and how much of it does it require? As we set out to answer this for some examples, I realized that there was some nuance to this, especially when it came to a matter of
- target customers – are yours’ consumers or other businesses
- sales channels – do you sell direct or through channels
Of course, neither of the above is an either/or answer. You could have both consumer and business sales (think airlines, catering or training classes) and could be both direct or channel (advertising, over-the-counter medications).
While the role of marketing remains building awareness and generating demand – its relative contribution and nature of activities depend on which of these combinations your business falls into. With the rise of internet and e-commerce, certain categories of consumer-targeted businesses can operate without any sales force at all. Similarly, business-focused sales channels, which are businesses themselves such as aggregators or distributors, rely primarily on the marketing of their principals to drive demand. Even these folks have to market themselves to stand out from their competition.
Here’s a useful framework (and some examples) to think about this. What is the product or service you are selling and to whom are you selling it and how will you sell it to them? And what marketing will be directed towards whom? And what sorts of sales activities and personnel will you need to meet your goals?
Here are two different examples of companies that sell primarily to consumers (airlines, cars) or businesses (Facebook ads) and what they do for sales & marketing. Of course, all these businesses serve both consumers and businesses to varying degrees.
I’d love to hear how this looks for your business. Happy hunting.
“Marketing vs Sales.” Diffen.com. Diffen LLC, n.d. Web. 18 Aug 2017.< http://www.diffen.com/difference/Marketing_vs_Sales >