Many people want to know which is more important, marketing or sales. There is a (mostly good-natured) competition between the two disciplines, and it’s a question small business owners have to consider, because they frequently wear both hats.

Most small businesses focus on sales. This makes sense. If sales aren’t going well, you uh…don’t make any money.

The problem is, if you don’t have a steady influx of new leads, even the best sales processes can’t help you.

Sales is a Clear Path Forward

There’s another reason businesses focus on sales, though, and it could be limiting your revenue.

Sales is a clear path forward. It’s basically only one thing, selling. If you own a small business, you know it’s vital, so you push forward with sales.

Marketing on the other hand is about knowing your audience, and what they want. This takes a lot of forms:

  • Branding
  • Demand generation
  • Lead generation and qualification
  • Competitive intelligence
  • Pricing
  • Channel strategy

It also takes a lot of effort. Not that sales don’t require effort, of course it does! But you get cash in hand immediately, which is not the case for marketing. Because of that, people try to pretend it’s optional.

To me, both are important, but marketing should come first.

Marketing is the Foundation

Marketing requires a clear message, carefully chosen tactics, and a strategic plan. That’s a big lift for a small business. It seems expensive, and maybe even optional. I prefer to think of it in another way.

I think of it as an investment that will increase in value over time.

My parents were in banking. A lesson they gave us kids was the importance of saving. I got my first job at 14 and I was obligated to save a third of my paycheque. It seemed draconian at the time. I wanted my whole paycheque for concert tickets, and black lipstick.

I haven’t always been able to keep my savings to this level, but I have done a good job of squirreling some of my income away, and it has saved my butt again and again.

There is nothing more freeing than being able to walk away from a bad job because you have enough money in the bank to pay your bills till you find something better.

Marketing is a Hedge Against Tough Times

I tell my clients the same thing for their marketing efforts. Robust marketing is like building up that savings account. You’re constantly generating more leads, leads than can keep your business afloat during lean times.

By having a steady stream of incoming business, you can offload toxic clients without worrying about making payroll or keeping the lights on. You can concentrate on the day-to-day challenges of serving your clientele, because you know you have a plan for the future.

The Time to Build the Ark is Before it Rains

Creating a sustainable marketing system is a hedge against lean or difficult times ahead. If business slows down, you have the means to return to growth as long as your marketing plan is running efficiently. During boom times, quality lead generation is a way to capitalize on your current success, and store it away for the future.

A version of this post was first published on Whole Team Habits.