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Today we often hear “marketing” and “sales” used interchangeably. This however, confuses one with the other when they actually have distinct characteristics. It is especially important for startup entrepreneurs to know how to separate them. Once this becomes clear, they can then approach each with purpose and understand how they need to work symbiotically to achieve success.

So, what’s the difference?

Very simply, marketing encompasses everything you do to reach and engage prospective clients.

Marketing is typically a media-driven function. It involves the use of print, online, and word-of-mouth communications to drive brand, product, and service awareness.

Marketing-related activities may include:

  • Conducting market research to determine needs within your target market.
  • Setting standard pricing for products and services.
  • Raising awareness of your company and its products and services within your target markets using various media and platforms.
  • Creating collateral and communications to support yours and/or your salespeople in their efforts.

Sales encompasses everything you do to seal the deal with the customer.

Sales is typically a people-driven function. It involves human-to-human connections to build and nurture relationships.

Sales-related activities may include:

  • One-on-one, face-to-face interaction with prospects and customers.
  • Careful evaluation of specific customers’ needs.
  • Solutions-selling to meet specific customers’ needs.
  • Proposing special pricing when situations require straying from standard pricing.
  • Asking for the sale and getting a contract signed.
  • Follow-up phone calls and email messages to keep the lines of communication open.

James Heaton, in an article for, explains that, “... sales has the power to change conditions, to transform a situation through the skills of the salesperson. Marketing, however, generally does not possess such transformative power. Marketing needs to work with conditions as they are. One could simplify and say: Sales is persuasion. Marketing is understanding applied.”

Blurred lines

So with social media being brought into such a prominent place for businesses, even though marketing and sales have distinct characteristics, the lines between them have to a large degree become blurred. In the past, sales professionals were primarily accountable for establishing and maintaining relationships with prospects and customers. But now, that responsibility also falls on the shoulders of marketers using channels such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google Plus, and others.

Whether you are personally responsible for your small business’s marketing and sales or if you have employees performing the functions, you need a strategy to ensure your efforts between marketing and sales are aligned.

Without sales, marketing efforts run short. Without marketing, sales suffer.

Art Saxby, writing for, clarifies that marketing is for today and for the future. He uses a hunting analogy, explaining, “Marketing directs sales as to where they should be hunting and what ammo to use. Note, however, that if marketing becomes a sales support function focused only on the now, the future can become lost.”

But Saxby continues, “Not even the best hunter can bring home dinner if they are shooting blanks at decoys. Markets are constantly changing. The job of marketing is to stay ahead of the changes, and help the hunters see where they should be hunting and provide them with the right ammunition. If marketing is only focused on delivering the ammunition for today, nobody will see where the industry is moving or where the company needs to hunt next. This limits growth not only for sales and marketing, but also for your entire organization.”

If you need guidance in how to make your marketing and sales activities complement each other so you can build and grow your company, contact Northern Arizona SCORE. Call 928-778-7438, email or go to With expertise in every aspect of starting and operating small businesses, SCORE mentors are a wonderful resource to help you succeed.


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