Image by: Michael Johnson

The terms ‘marketing’ and ‘sales’ are often used interchangeably, even by people who should know better – correct them, and you’ll usually be reprimanded for pedantry.

In the simplest sense marketing is all of the activities (consumer research, advertising, product refinement, pricing and sales) that creates interest and demand for a chosen product. Sales on the other hand, are the last stage of the marketing where that demand is physically converted into profit.

So you are unlikely to get any sales without marketing and any marketing efforts you undertake are going to be fruitless endeavours if there are no sales as an end result.

In reality, though, the two activities often appear to overlap – partly because marketing people will often possess certain skills desirable in a salesperson (and vice-versa), and partly because of Wittgenstein’s family resemblance. If you stretch any concept as far as you can, you can get it to overlap with another concept.

Here are some of the genuine distinctions between the two realms.

Desire Creation Vs. Desire Fulfilment

The whole marketing process is one of desire creation, the not-inconsiderable task of making consumers more interested in your product then any of the possible alternatives. In the lingo this process of desire creation is about generating leads.

Sales is the essential moment where that customer desire needs to be fulfilled through the codification of a contract or the simultaneous handing over of money and products. While marketing is about the idea of creating a brand that is attractive and resonates with people, sales is the inter-personal process of convincing someone that your marketing claims are actually true.

1 To Many Vs. 1 To 1

This last point leads us on to one of the fundamental ways in which marketing and sales differ in practice. Marketing is a necessarily broad process that is looking to appeal to as many people at the same time. This means that its language is very inclusive and tends to focus on things that are understood to motivate us all (the desire to impress members of the opposite sex for example).

Sales differ in the fact that it is a one to one process between the sales person and the potential customer. This requires the language suddenly transforms into that of exclusivity because the sales person is trying to convince the customer that the product is the only one that is right for them due to a list of reasons that are specific to the customers situation.

A general principle can be that the more specific and targeted your campaign is, the more it can be said to be Sales rather than Marketing. A personal email is more about Sales; an automated newsletter is Marketing. This cuts both ways, of course – if I were to organise a local event with Keele Conferences (the closest conference venue to me, at the moment), it would be much more about Sales than if I were to organise a national event at an enormous London venue.

Data Vs. Relationships

Due to the difference in the amount of people that marketing and sales are trying to influence at any one time, they both have different foundations upon which they are built. Marketing depends on data, about customer trends, customer tests, website analytics, wider market statistics and demographics, in order to best ensure that the desire creation affects as many of the target group as possible.

Sales do depend to some degree on data but the personal relationship between the customer and the salesperson is much more important. A sales person will be focusing their attention on, and analysing the behaviour of a much smaller group of people then marketers, so there needs to be clear personal link between them and their targets.

Long Term Vs. Short Term

The final fundamental difference between marketing and sales is the time-scales involved. While it is may take a few different meetings for an individual sale to be agreed between the two parties involved, marketing is much longer term in the fact that it is likely to be continuous. A company may undertake a number of different marketing campaigns but the process of desire creation is always going to be needed to generate sales and therefore revenue.

The relationship between marketing and sales is one of two processes that are inherently linked but are also very different in what they try to do and how they go about trying to do it. So the next time recruitment phones you up and offers you a sales position based on your marketing experience, you will be able to politely tell them that the two things are not equivalent.

What do you think of the distinctions I have drawn here, and do you think that anyone with sales experience can do marketing and vice versa?