On September 23, Earth entered its second equinox of 2019, initiating autumn for those of us living in the Northern Hemisphere. Perhaps you remember this from your middle or high school earth science classes, but an equinox occurs when the terminator that divides night from day on Earth is a perfectly straight north-south line. In other words, everyone on the planet enjoys 12 hours of daytime and 12 hours of nighttime (hence the term equinox, which comes from the Latin equinoxium, meaning “equality between day and night”).
Most businesses have a similar dividing line, and it occurs between sales and marketing. Very few, however, have complete equality between these two functions, and that’s perfectly okay. What is important is understanding the difference between sales and marketing and accounting for both activities in your business planning.
Defining sales and marketing
There’s a lot of confusion about the roles of sales and marketing, and people often mix them up. So, we’ll start with some basic definitions.
Marketing is all about attracting new customers. Marketers work to reach, inform and persuade potential new customers within their given market. They do this through market research, brand and product development, public relations, content production and sharing, social media and advertising.
According to Hubspot, “Marketing encompasses all activities that help spark interest in your business. Marketers use market research and analysis to understand the interests of potential customers. Marketing departments are responsible for running campaigns to attract people to the business’ brand, product, or service.”
Put simply, marketers generate leads.
Sales is all about transforming those leads or potential customers into actual customers by converting interest into sales. In the process of doing so, sales professionals reinforce marketing messages.
Hubspot defines sales as “the activities that lead to the selling of goods or services. Salespeople are responsible for managing relationships with potential clients (prospects) and providing a solution for prospects that eventually leads to a sale.”
Also put simply, sales turns leads into closed deals.
How are sales and marketing the same?
Both marketing and sales share the goal of maximizing revenue for their companies, and both do this through carefully managed relationships with customers and by staying on message and on task.
On the surface, day-to-day-activities may seem quite similar since both marketing and sales staff do things like make documents and communicate by phone, internet, text, chat and email with customers. They may even work with the same customer management databases and similar marketing materials.
How are sales and marketing different?
Marketing tends to focus on long-term revenue generation using one-way communication from the business to many potential customers at once. That communication typically contains little customized content and is not specifically targeted (although this is changing to become more personal over time thanks to the internet and targeted marketing). Marketing generally promotes a brand and its products and services. It details features, benefits and pricing. In marketing, the business does more of the talking while the customer does more of the listening.
Marketers spend time optimizing keywords, SEO and producing relevant web, print, blog and social media content to engage potential new, current and returning customers. They track performance metrics like website traffic, conversion rates and social media engagement.
In contrast, sales tends to focus on short term revenue generation typically through personalized two-way communication — often in the form of one-on-one conversations — between the business and its potential customers. Yes, the business still does some talking, but it also does a lot of listening to the customer in the process of getting said customers to realize how a product or service meets their specific needs well enough that they’ll actually purchase it.
Salespeople spend significant time in one-on-one meetings helping a customer “solve” a problem, managing inventory and orders and doing invoicing. Their performance is evaluated by metrics like sales quotas for a period of time (month, year or season).
There can be a big or small time gap between when most of the marketing happens and when the actual sale happens.
A final important difference is that, in general, marketing techniques tend to change more over time as different channels of communication constantly evolve whereas sales techniques are more consistent given the fundamental consistency of human nature across time and places. Those who are good at marketing and those who are good at sales often have different personality traits and prefer to work and communicate in different ways. They may be compensated differently with marketers tending to draw a salary and salespeople being more likely to be paid — at least in part — via commissions.
What happens when they are out of balance?
When sales and marketing are out of balance, their work may not be complementary, and it may even be in opposition; both scenarios hurt a company’s overall revenue generation. Marketing may not understand why sales can’t just take their leads and close a sale while sales may think that marketing is not really taking their feedback into account when producing their marketing materials. Sales and marketing are out of balance when they fail to align messages, have inadequately differentiated roles or are working toward different or even conflicting goals.
Internally, being out of balance looks like duplicated efforts or missed and dropped leads due to confusion about who is doing what and when.
Externally, a lack of balance produces confusion among customers in the marketplace. What customers are sold in terms of features, benefits, cost and/or timing does not match what they were marketed, resulting in ultimately disappointed customers.
Getting the balance just right
In an ideal world, marketing and sales efforts align. That doesn’t mean the amounts of money spent have to be exactly equal or that each department has an identical number of staff. It simply means that a business is spending the right amount of resources on both fronts to meet its overall revenue goals as efficiently and effectively as possible.
There may be times when a business is intentionally spending more on marketing or more on sales. For example, a startup may initially have to focus efforts on marketing to build enough brand awareness and buzz to attract the attention of potential customers whom sales can then convert to actual customers. On the other hand, a more established brand needs to spend less on brand positioning and can focus instead on generating more sales from established customers.
The reality is that it takes multiple contact or interactions to ultimately close a sale – some of those contacts will come through marketing, and some will come through sales.
When marketing and sales are in balance, leads flow in thanks to excellent marketing, including strong outreach and consumer education. Customers become interested and engaged as they move toward buying. This is where sales comes in as customers then get more direct one-on-one communication and come to realize exactly how the offered service or product will help them solve their problem or meet a need. Finally, customers convert, and, voila, sales start adding up.
Together, well coordinated marketing and sales produce more leads, create more customers and generate more revenue. That’s because marketing is always looking ahead and creating new potential customers for the future while sales involves closing deals with those new and returning customers. Well defined protocols for lead development and management and for measuring and rewarding sales and marketing performance keep everyone on track.
When sales and marketing work well, it creates a positive feedback loop. Not only is good marketing bringing sales good customers, but sales passes along feedback to validate (or not) what marketing is doing so marketing can appropriately change direction going forward as needed. Evolving toward better marketing means still more good potential leads for sales to convert. Sales then becomes more efficient, and the whole company makes more money.
Balance and rebalance your sales + marketing
The changing seasons serve as a good reminder that you must constantly refine your business strategies. In fact, as you celebrate the equinox, take some time to reevaluate and rebalance your sales and marketing efforts. Even better, put a reminder on your calendar for every spring and autumn to take a look at these two important functions. Strive toward an overall balance, and you’ll not only smooth out the ups and downs of your business, but you’ll also proactively develop and grow your business over time by generating more leads and converting more potential customers into sales.
Final Thought: Business development vs. sales
While some organizations interchangeably use the terms “business development” and “sales,” they are not the same. In fact, business development lies somewhere in between marketing and sales. It may be handled by either department or separately.
Business development builds upon marketing’s brand development and positioning work. It’s charged with identifying and creating new ways of doing business such as through new markets and new distribution channels, typically via new or tighter partnerships rather than by going directly to new customers. Tending to be more process-oriented, business development creates new paths and partnerships through which marketing and sales can do their jobs, thus spurring business growth within and between all involved organizations.