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Who Cares about the Difference Between Sales and Marketing? (No One)

by Matthew Grant  |  
February 1, 2013

I've talked to a lot of guests on Marketing Smarts about the differences between sales and marketing, and how to negotiate the conflicts that can arise between the two functions. Then I spoke with Dan Pink and realized that, aside from people in sales or marketing, no one cares about this distinction!

Shocking, I know. Here is how Dan put it:

This distinction that is bandied about between marketing and sales, to me... they're not exactly the same, but they're kind of sort of similar. But debating the theological distinctions between the two doesn't do a lot for me. And I'm not sure it does a lot for readers.

"To me as an outsider," he added, "the distinction isn't that relevant."

People Outside Your Company Don't Care

Years ago, I worked for a company that based its business on four principles. One of theme was, "We need to have a holistic approach towards everything we do."

The idea behind this principle was simple. While we may make a distinction between recruiters and salespeople, IT and finance, this office and that office, field and HQ, etc., to the outside world, we were just one company.

Dan was essentially making the same point when I interviewed him. Companies may struggle with the relative responsibilities of the marketing department and the sales organization. People can argue about whether sales should report to marketing (as Lou Imbriano recommended on our show) or whether marketing (in a B2B context) needs to focus primarily on sales support.

But the fact of the matter is your customers don't care about how you are organized internally. They don't care about reporting structures, lead management processes, or whether sales and marketing have established mutual SLAs (as they have at Hubspot) to improve efficiency and collaboration.

Your customers only care about the quality of your products and the experience they have when they interact with someone at your company. (And frankly, they will have no idea what department that person is in and will only care who that person's boss is if they are especially dissatisfied with the service received.)

Forget About It

Given claims that customers are already close to 70% of the way through the purchase process before they engage a salesperson, I feel it's safe to say that marketing (whose content is generally shepherding people through that 70%) has taken over what used to be a sales role (educating the prospective customer). It would also not be too much of a stretch to conclude that the difference between sales and marketing is breaking down based on evolving customer behavior.

That, however, would mean missing the point here.

What I'm suggesting is that the distinction between sales and marketing can be useful from a management perspective but irrelevant from a buyer perspective, as Pink pointed out. Therefore, whenever you find yourself arguing about who should report to whom and who is responsible for what, you need to take a step back and say: How does this possibly matter to the customer?

If it doesn't matter, forget about it!

If you would like to hear my entire conversation with Dan Pink, you may listen here or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode!

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My name is Matthew T. Grant, PhD. I'm Managing Editor here at MarketingProfs. I divide my time between designing courses for MarketingProfs University and hosting/producing our podcast, Marketing Smarts. You can follow me on Twitter (@MatttGrant) or read my personal musings on my blog here.

If you'd like to get in touch with me about being a guest on Marketing Smarts or teaching as part of MarketingProfs University or, frankly, anything else at all, drop me a line.

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  • by Elaine Fogel Fri Feb 1, 2013 via blog

    Matthew, I totally "get" where you and Dan are coming from - from the external perspective. Customers and clients shouldn't have to care who helps them, no matter who they end up speaking to when they call or contact a company. Frankly, whoever receives the inbound inquiry should own the outcome.

    But, from an internal perspective, marketing and sales are wholly different. I agree that they should be working holistically and not in silos. Yet, their roles are symbiotic.

    With input from the sales professionals, marketers do the due diligence, research, capture leads, develop strategies and tactics, create sales materials, etc. Sales professionals then have the tools to perform their important roles in relationship marketing. Evaluation and adjusting course are shared responsibilities.

  • by Alison Frederick Mon Feb 4, 2013 via blog

    I always say that marketing makes the phone ring and sales closes the deal. Marketing's job is to get people interested-- let them know the company exists, stay top of mind until they are ready to buy, and educate them about the products/services when they are ready to buy. I have worked in both marketing and sales, and the process works best when each funnction respects each other and knows that the end game is the same-- to bring in revenue.

  • by Matthew T. Grant Mon Feb 4, 2013 via blog

    Hey Elaine - I totally agree that, from an operational standpoint, people are going to be responsible for different functional roles within a company and some people will be focused on sales-type activities and others focused on marketing-type activities (just like some people will be focused on HR-type activities and others on accounting-type activities).

    Talking to Dan, however, reminded me how much I tend to talk about these distinctions as if they were absolute, rather than operational or convenient. By calling the distinction "theological," I believe he was asking us to question the distinction not just from an external perspective, but even from an internal perspective. Because some marketing activities can feel sales-y and some sales activities can feel marketing-y, I think he was right to say that the distinction is, at least at certain points, blurry.

  • by Matthew T. Grant Mon Feb 4, 2013 via blog

    Thanks for the comment, Alison.

    I think the fact that marketing and sales are so dependent on one another points to the possibility that they both belong to a single function "marketingsales." Which is why people can say "everyone is in marketing" or "everyone is in sales."

    If you break the functions down into their nitty-gritty components, you may identify some activities that are definitely sales (asking a person, one on one for money) and some that are definitely marketing (working with an agency to develop collateral), but others, like lead nurturing, that, depending on how it happens, could fall into either bucket.

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