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Marketing and Sales - What's the Difference?

Updated on October 31, 2012

Marketing and Sales - The Crucial Difference

Marketing gets people interested. Sales helps them to become customers. When we fail to understand this basic difference, we lose customers and we lose money.

Marketing and Sales - We Need Both

Together, marketing and sales are a pipeline. What's in the pipe? Cash! Cash from our customers coming in to give us money when they buy our products and services.

We get cash when our customers buy and item or sign a contract. But what brings the customers to that point? First marketing, then sales. Similarly, we put gas into our car at a gas station. But what puts gas in our car? Oil wells, refineries, pipelines, trucks, and a gas pump. Please see the comparison in Table 1: The Marketing Pipeline and the Gas Pipeline.

Table 1: The Marketing Pipeline and The Gas Pipeline

Find the gas
Find the Target Market
Strike Oil
Get the Customer Interested
Turn Crude Oil Into Gasoline
Provide Sales Support
Get the Gas to the Gas Station
Get it to you
Get the Customer Focused on the Decision
Make Sure Pumps Are Working
Open Gas Station
Car at the Pump
Pumping Gas
The Marketing and Sales Pipeline works just like the pipeline and processing that takes crude oil out of the ground, refines it to gasoline, and brings it to your gas station.

Finding Your Customers - Like Prospecting for Oil

Marketing is to customers what an oil well, oil refinery (above) and tanker trucks are for gasoline. Marketing gets customers to your site or store. Oil companies get gasoline to the gas pump.
Marketing is to customers what an oil well, oil refinery (above) and tanker trucks are for gasoline. Marketing gets customers to your site or store. Oil companies get gasoline to the gas pump. | Source

First Marketing, Then Sales

The gas company has to make the gas before they can sell it to you. In the same way, marketing has to make interested prospects before the prospects will become customers and pay you cash.

Improving Sales

This distinction is important for a simple reason. We know when we need to improve sales. But is the problem really in sales, or are the salespeople doing just fine, and the problem is earlier in the pipeline - in marketing? By distinguishing sales from marketing, we can find the real problem and fix it, instead of throwing money where the problem is not, and seeing no improvement.

I Learned the Hard Way

I started my own business as a trainer and consultant in 1993. I got lucky: I had a marketing company setting me up with classes for the first 7 years. I wrote courses, flew on airplanes, and taught classes. When I taught classes, I showed prospective clients that I knew my stuff. I was actually being paid to market my consulting services!

When my relationship with that marketing company ended in 2000, I had to figure out how to do my own marketing and sales. And I didn't even know the difference!

Fortunately, I had two friends who were top-notch sales trainers. They checked me out. I was great at sales!

So why wasn't I making any money? Because I didn't know anything about marketing!

Once I knew the difference, I saw that marketing is preparation and support for sales. Sales is the gas station. Marketing is the prospecting, the oil drilling, the refining of crude oil into gasoline, and the delivery of the gas to the gas station.

What Marketing Does


  • Identifies the target market. That is, it identifies the people or businesses who will buy our products or services, our prospects.
  • Reaches the target market. People or businesses in the target market become prospective customers when they become aware that we exist. Once they know we are here to serve them, they become prospective customers.
  • Gets them interested. Marketing, through advertising, promotion, public relations, and networking, gets people interested in what we offer.
  • Supports sales. Salesmen and women should focus on the customer. So marketing should provide the salespeople with all they need to explain the products and services to the customer.

To learn more marketing theory, read Marketing Psychology for Small Business. For a guide to planning and succeeding in all your marketing, read Small Business Marketing Strategy - Do's and Don'ts.

Sales - Pumping Gas

Sales is the gas pump - the tail end of your marketing pipeline, where the deal is done and the money rolls in.
Sales is the gas pump - the tail end of your marketing pipeline, where the deal is done and the money rolls in. | Source

What Sales Does

Sales picks up where marketing leaves off:

  • Sales knows the products, services, and prospective customer concerns. By studying the sales support materials, salesmen and saleswomen should know our products and services, and should be ready to answer questions from prospective customers and guide them to making good decisions.
  • Sales helps the prospective customer understand and evaluate. Prospective customers need to come to understand our products, services, and company, and be confident in their choice. Or, if we are not a good match for them, we want them to see that early and decide not to buy, but maybe to refer others to us.
  • Sales keeps the prospective customer focused until they decide. Nobody likes to be pushed into a decision. And yet, if a prospective customer loses focus, he or she will just walk away without buying. So the salesman or saleswoman needs to keep the customer focused until the customer convinces himself or herself to say "Yes, I'll buy!"
  • Sales closes the deal. Sales moves the customer through the process of making payment or signing a contract so they receive our goods and services.

The Transition From Marketing to Sales

When we have a specific prospective customer in hand, we are at the transition from marketing to sales. The level of interest of the prospect indicates what type of sales effort is needed. There are four possibilities:

  • Bad lead. Here, marketing has failed. The prospective customer is not in the target market, and no good sale is possible.
  • Cold lead. This is a prospect who is in the target market, but who doesn't know us, doesn't trust us, and may not be looking to buy anything right now.
  • Warm lead. This is a prospect who is interested in some way. Either they know the value of our company, or they have a current need for our products or services.
  • Hot lead. This is a prospect who is looking to buy now. We just have to make sure they buy from us, and not from a competitor. Turn them on and close the deal!

Sales people should know which kind of lead they are getting. Sales methods are very different for cold, warm, and hot leads. Salespeople should be skilled at the type of sales right for the prospects that they are given.

Internet, Social Media, & Mobile Marketing: It's the Same!

So far, we've been talking as if there is a department called "marketing" and a department called "sales," with salespeople in it. But these days, everything can be automated. Even when it is automated, and there are no sales people, the distinction between marketing and sales is just the same.

Internet Marketing and Sales

On the Internet, marketing is everything that gets people to our website. Sales is the website, from the customer's arrival to the shopping cart (or contact page).

Social Media Marketing

Social media is generally used for marketing. We use Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter to bring people to a website where we do our sales. Sometimes, the sale can be made right on a Facebook page that has been set up for sales, like a website.

Mobile Marketing

Mobile marketing is fast, because our customers are on the go. The process of setting up the mobile marketing to reach prospective customers and get them aware of us is marketing. And once they are aware, getting them to buy from their iPhones or Androids, or to show up at our store or restaurant, that's sales.

Technologies change, but the line between sales and marketing stays the same. Why? Because the concepts of sales and marketing are based in the psychology of decision-making. That stays the same as long as we are selling to people, no matter where, when, or how we close the deal.

Site Navigation Tip

A good website works for both the well-informed customer and the uninformed customer. It works for the enthusiastic customer and the doubtful customer, too.

The well-informed, enthusiastic customer should be able to find a direct, clear path to the catalog and the shopping cart to close the deal with as few clicks as possible.

The enthusiastic customer with questions should be able to see and read images that give confidence and answer questions, such as FAQ about About Us pages.

The well-informed, doubtful customer should see testimonials and endorsements that convince them to buy.

The uninformed, uncertain customer should be engaged and even entertained so that they stay, learn, get excited, and then buy.

Design your navigation and content to convince all your prospective customers.

Diagnose Your Sales: What's Not Working?

If you're reading this article, you probably either want to set up a sales and marketing system, or to fix one that isn't working. Now that you know the difference between sales and marketing, you can do just that.

Let's say that sales are low, and you want to change that. Before running around with quick fixes, ask these questions and find out what needs to be fixed, sales or marketing.

For a Team of Salespeople

For your salespeople:

  • Do they know all they need to know about your products and services? If not, train them.
  • Do they have all of the appropriate marketing and sales materials for themselves and their prospective customers? If not, improve those materials and make them available.
  • Do they have an effective, efficient sales management (CRM) system? If not, provide it, so they can focus on the customer.
  • Do they have training in effective selling techniques that work with your target market? If not, provide the right type of training.
  • Are they given appropriately qualified cold, warm, or hot leads? If not, improve your system of leads.

It may take some research to answer these questions. For example, you may need to find out why prospects who don't buy choose not to buy. Survey research may be in order!

For a Website

To find out why a web site is not producing enough sales, we need to evaluate the website statistics:

  • Is enough traffic coming to the site? If not, do better marketing to bring people from your target market to the website.
  • Is the right traffic coming to the site? This is a harder question to answer. But if you see that people are arriving at the site and leaving almost immediately, then that is a sign that your marketing or advertising is off target. People leave when they don't see what they want. So if they leave quickly, maybe your ads are giving an impression that you are selling one thing, when you really sell something else.
  • Is your site driving people away? Either go to your site, imagining yourself as a prospective customer, or do an actual study, inviting people to look at your site. Is the site irritating or hard to navigate? Is it ugly or offensive? Is it confusing? Are there simply too many clicks? Is there too much information, or too little? If any of these are issues, redesign the site to create an easy flow to the shopping cart. Make sure there is enough information for the client, but not too much. Set up excellent navigation.

Finding and fixing the real problem is a lot cheaper and more effective than throwing money at the wrong problem.

Improve Sales Results

Which of these steps will improve your sales results?

See results

Improve Sales and Marketing: Take Your Next Step Now

Is your thinking clear now? Can you draw a clear line between sales and marketing? If you can, then you know, or you can figure out, what you can do to improve sales results.

Unfortunately, many companies do not work to clearly line up marketing and sales, so its hard to find the weak link. And the same is true with Internet or Social Media marketing and website design. When we understand how the marketing pipeline works from target market through marketing to sales to a closed deal, money in the bank, and a happy customer, we can fix what isn't working and improve sales results.

What's your next step?


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    • SidKemp profile imageAUTHOR

      Sid Kemp 

      5 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      Hi Paul. Just a clarification - I did not suggest you provide a call-in phone number. I suggested that you call some of your members. For example, for an annual renewal campaign that is low cost and high contact, you might email everyone twice, then mail to the people who didn't renew, then call the people who didn't renew after getting a letter. And you might provide some "early renewal gift" as well.

      Providing inbound phone contact is beyond the means of many small companies as well as small not-for-profits these days. What matters is that we create paths of response and service we can reliably provide and perform well.

    • promaine profile image


      5 years ago from New York

      Wow. This is excellent advice, and I can see how it would work in the business world. For a small non-profit (like I've worked with), we would not provide a phone # to everyone, but access and respectful communication are key. Thanks!

    • SidKemp profile imageAUTHOR

      Sid Kemp 

      5 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      Paul, this is a great question, and thanks for asking. I help non-profits whenever I can. Fundamentally, there is no difference in sales and marketing to make money in a for-profit business and in seeking donations or action in a not-for-profit organization. The process is the same because it is based in the fundamentals of the psychology of influence. And these remain the same no matter what you are hoping the people you want to influence will do.

      In the case of a renewal or donation or action campaign for a not-for-profit, the marketing is done. Your members are warm leads, ready for a sales process. Use respectful, appreciative communications - never take a member for granted. And help them find their own reasons for doing the thin you suggest. Then make it very, very easy for them to do it. If possible, reach out to them in multiple ways (mail, email, phone) and multiple times, without cramming stuff down their throats. And always send a thank-you note, or, when appropriate, a gift. And recognize them publicly whenever you can.

    • promaine profile image


      5 years ago from New York

      Hi SidKemp,

      This is a really helpful hub. I've seen too many organizations, including non-profits, where someone would insist we "need to do more marketing" with nothing specific. This really lays it out in a useful way. But how is this different for a non-profit? (I've worked with membership non-profits--a shared interest that bring everyone together and sends them a nice newsletter and journal in their mailbox.) Thanks for any thoughts! Paul


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