What is the distinction between sales and marketing?


What is the distinction between these two? In today's era it seems one overlaps each other and I'm wondering whether in a startup these roles can be covered by one person. Is it effective? Is there any case where it is better to separate it into to two different person?

Marketing Sales

asked Nov 2 '09 at 20:46
1,342 points
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11 Answers


There are basically two definitions of marketing: In the "pragmatic" definition, marketing is a management activity covering fields related to revenue. This is typically summarized by the 4 P's: Price, Place (ie. Distribution), Promotion, and Product. Sometimes, additional P's are added. As a management activity, the steps usually include measuring the 'Is' situation and the 'Ought' situation, constructing a plan to get from 'Is' to 'Ought' and controlling the effectiveness of the plan. Rinse, repeat.

I need to stress this, since marekting is often confused with promotion.

Selling is a process to get leads sign a contract and becomes customers. Typically, this includes understanding the prospect's problems, presenting a way how the product solves these problems, deal with any objection a prospect mentions, and finally get the prospect to sign the contract.

So, they both deal with similar problems, but from different points of view: Marketing looks at the aggregate result. Sales often look at the individual results. Consequently, they may have different goals. Whether they differ, depends on your distribution policy:

  • With direct marketing -- such as sales letters or web pages --, you typically do not have direct contact with a lead. Then, marketing needs to adopt many sales techniques in the promotion policy. Thus, there's seldom any conflict between marketing and sales and it's not a problem to have one person do both.
  • With direct selling, a sales man has direct contact with a lead. Here, the goals of sales men may conflict with marketing goals, since sales man often like to deviate from marketing policies to close the deal. This includes lowering the price, adding free give-aways, etc. In a small startup, however, most marketing is done by the team, with the sales guy only does some additional promotion. As long as you have an eye on the general direction, there should be no serious problems in the beginning.
  • With intermediate selling, someone outside the company has direct contact to the prospect (retailers, affiliates, etc). They, too, may have an incentive to violate marketing policies (lowering the price, presenting your luxury brand alongside common brands, etc.). You often need to emphasize promotion to customers and a strict distribution policy to prevent such problems.

Your distribution policy finally depends on the product. Some need personal sales men, some do not. If you need seperate sales men, it's often advised for marketing people to do sales from time to time, just to keep contact with the customers' wants and needs.

Hope that helps.

answered Nov 2 '09 at 23:43
Claus Schwarm
1,599 points


In a small startup, you shouldn't worry too much about the distinction. It's everyone's job to get revenue, whether by making something or selling something.

But here's a rule of thumb: Marketing gets them into the CRM, sales gets them to buy. Just remember that everyone does all these functions!

answered Nov 3 '09 at 03:14
16,231 points
  • But then the sales guys will use the customers list from the CRM to sell the product right? – Jpartogi 14 years ago
  • Right, salesguys typically myopically work from CRM. – Jason 14 years ago


I think of these areas as quite different. Marketing people think about positioning and messaging, and in many companies are directly involved (or control) what products the company creates, based on their understanding of the market. Sales is about just that - sales - getting customers to buy the product.

You might argue that in many internet-based companies, sales "goes away" and is indeed driven by the marketers, and that may be true. On the other hand, I often find that even in this model, the people and their mind-sets are different. Sales-oriented people are driven by quotas, targets and volume-driven bonuses much more than most marketers.

In a startup, the roles may have to be combined, though look at your candidates - or your partners - carefully. It may make more sense to have your product chief also be the marketer for a while, while she or he may not make the best sales chief.

answered Nov 2 '09 at 23:17
Manuel M
263 points


For me, I always remember it as:

Sales sells the sizzle while marketing figures out which cut of meat the customer wants.

The more formal definitions are:

Sales is the advocate for the company. They are primarily focused on selling the companies products and services. The needs of the customer is secondary to this function.

Marketing is the advocate for the customer. They figure out the customer pain (e.g. needs) and try to fill them profitability with products. All other aspects of marketing (promotion, pricing and place) are all about telling the customer that the company can fill their need.

In todays world, Sales and Marketing tends to mix around a bit. So, clear definitions tend to get blurry.

answered Nov 3 '09 at 00:00
Jarie Bolander
11,421 points


Here's how I think about it:

Marketing = Finding prospects for your offering.

Sales = Converting these prospects into customers.

answered Nov 3 '09 at 15:18
Dharmesh Shah
2,865 points
  • The more I think about it, the more I see a flow in it. The sales guys gets the effects from the marketing guys? Why not make this as one piece flow instead? – Jpartogi 14 years ago


First and foremost, in an entrepreneurial environment look at marketing and sales as "functions" as opposed to "departments."

The overall function of marketing is to generate qualified leads. This is done by developing programs (internet, direct mail, trade shows, advertising, etc.) that create awareness and interest in the company and its products and services. Every program should have a “call to action,” that enables prospective customers to learn more about the company, products and/or services. This provides an opportunity to get more information in front of the prospect and then to be able to use that as a springboard to a follow-up call and potential face-to-face meeting. In short, qualified leads. And this lead generation should be tracked by each program to determine success rate.

The overall function of sales is converting those qualified leads into actual sales. And that should also be tracked for sales' associated success rate. Sales responsibilities are revenue generation and to build and grow a customer base.

In an entrepreneurial environment, both functions are necessary, but usually there is a sales person (who might be the CEO, early on) but not a marketing person. That function, which is more creative and esoteric than sales, can often be outsourced. But more important, if you have a salesperson, who is an effective closer, you don't want he/she working on anything but revenue generation, which is the lifeblood of the company. So to answer a question you raised about making this a one piece flow, if at all possible, you don't want sale people doing anything but getting in front of potential customers. If they're doing anything else, they're playing out of position. Find a way to get the marketing done, internally, externally, but not by sales.

answered Nov 4 '09 at 01:13
Lonnie Sciambi
369 points


short answer:

sales = Find "physical" customer, sell to physical customer, negotiate with physical customer, deal with incoming physical customers.

marketing = Make potential buyers want to become customers before you interact with them personally and before you even know who they are (ads, viral, etc).

answered Jun 28 '11 at 23:27
Ron M.
4,224 points


I've heard it put shortly and sweetly like this:

Sales is troops on the ground, getting your product into customers hands, and getting paid for it.

Marketing is the process of creating and providing covering fire to give your sales force credibility and the ability to close the deal.

answered Nov 3 '09 at 04:00
250 points


"Marketing" is getting exposure for your business.

"Sales" is acquiring customers and putting money in the bank.

answered Nov 3 '09 at 04:24
Ben Mc
421 points
  • Do you mean exposure of the product? – Jpartogi 14 years ago
  • It doesn't matter. Marketing is the process where you expose your business, service or product to the masses. Put up a billboard, run a 30 second TV commercial. Sales is when you close the deal. Market so they find out about you, then sell them when they walk in the door (or visit the website). – Ben Mc 14 years ago


As a techie studying an MBA I have to issues with some of the responses, but rather than troll, I will throw my own suggestions into the mix.

Marketing is a strategic task which decides where and how you are going to compete. Essentially it is deciding/choosing what market(s) look attractive for the company, what are the right products or services to offer customers and how you intend to differentiate from other competitors.

Selling is trying to turn the marketing strategy into revenue by shifting widgets or services. Selling can be complex in itself with most organisations building and maintaining relationships with their customers.

The important thing is that marketing is a superset of selling. There is much much more to marketing than sales, promotion or PR. Whenever a business makes a decision which isn't wholly driven by requirements (like cost or physical limitations) marketing is occurring whether it is 'called' marketing or not.

answered Nov 3 '09 at 22:35
61 points


there are more schools of thought on the distinction between the two.
its about what you adopt for your business.
i personally like thought that marketing is everything in your company that customers come into contact with. all these things might make or break the sale. sale is the result of marketing.

answered Nov 4 '09 at 22:43
131 points

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