BLOG: Marketing versus Sales

Have you ever walked into a store looking for a specific item only to leave a few minutes later because the product is not available? Congratulations, you have experienced the classic struggle between marketing and sales. Major brands pay thousands of dollars for their products to appear in movies, television shows, on YouTube advertisements, and on influencer’s social media accounts. Each year advertising spots during the Super Bowl, the largest yearly-televised event, cost upward of three million dollars. Why spend all this money on marketing? Sales.

Marketing exposes consumers to products and services and gets the people to go out and buy it, i.e. pulling it off the shelves. Sales pushes products through the distribution channel so it is on the shelf for you to exchange money for the item. When a store does not have what you are looking for, this illustrates that the marketing worked and pulled you into the store to buy, but the sales team failed and did not push the product into the store.  While commonly mistaken as achieving the same outcome, marketing and sales fulfill different but complementary purposes.

Marketing is a strategic endeavor similar to the game of chess. In chess, the goal is to checkmate the opposing King in as few moves as possible. The objective of a marketer is to establish their brand as the market leader in their industry, effectively “checkmating” the competition. This requires thinking ahead and anticipating trends and competitor movements. For the sake of visualization, imagine a chessboard. This board represents your industry market and the pieces symbolize your marketing resources. Each piece moves differently but also work together to achieve the end goal: winning the market.

  • The king represents your brand reputation, which companies protect at all cost.
  • The queen is the strategic marketer who evaluates all possible outcomes and plans contingencies.
  • Rooks, bishops and knights represent the various marketing channels available to build awareness. This includes websites, brochures, webinars, social media, television and radio advertisements, print, and so forth. These are all the possible avenues available for you to present your “king” to your target audience.
  • Pawns are the value proposition communicated by the rooks, bishops and knights. Unlike other pieces, pawns only move in two directions: forwards and backwards. If the “king” is attractive to customers, then the pawn moves forward. If a product loses its appeal, the pawn goes backwards.

A good marketing plan moves all these pieces across the board in a strategic manner in order to achieve the number one status. Like a master chess player, a strategic marketer needs to know where the brand is currently performing and where they want it to go. Hence advertising across channels. These channels raise awareness and make consumers more likely to buy a product or service. The more consumers associate their needs with your product, the greater amount of market share you achieve, i.e. your “king” moves forward.

When we observe a chess grand master, it quickly becomes apparent that they are thinking several moves ahead. Pursuing the most obvious move could lead to trouble in the future. The same, of course, applies to selling. The best sales people pursue long-term strategies - and they give themselves options that allow them to anticipate and adapt to their consumers future behavior. When consumers hear about a product they wish to purchase, they go shopping. The sales team is responsible for anticipating this behavior and making sure the product is available for purchase. If the product is not available for purchase, then the sales team failed to plan.

Sales and marketing complement each other. Marketing “pulls” people into the sales pipeline by creating a demand for a product/service. Sales “pushes” people by creating demand at the end of the pipeline. In a business to consumer model, the sales team is responsible for making sure the product ends up on store shelves. In a business-to-business model, where goods and services are sold directly, marketing generates the leads and sales owns the customer. Essentially, sales is a transactional relationship between two parties where the buyer receives goods or services and/or assets in exchange for money. By the time a buyer talks to a sales representative, they are already interested in the product due to marketing. It is the sales team job to make sure the buyer leaves with the product in hand or signs a service contract.

Today, marketing and sales are intertwined due to the rapid rise of online shopping. Now that products and services are buyable in one click on a website, the push and pull between sales and marketing is obfuscated but still important. Marketing drives people to seek out a product online. The sales team makes sure the consumer completes the purchase. This means optimizing websites for ease of use, streamlining customer service, and making sure the product is available for purchase. Now marketing and sales teams focus on closing deals sometimes without ever meeting the consumer.  Regardless of company size, it is vital that the marketing and sales team work together in order to achieve market saturation. Just as in chess, sales and marketing strategies are only as strong as the sum total of all the moving parts.

Virginia SBDC