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The Difference Between Sales and Marketing

It’s not uncommon for tension to exist between the sales department and the marketing department, mainly because each is looking for different outcomes, and each has different methods of achieving them.

Sales is all about the end result: getting the buyer over the line to complete the transaction and close the deal.

Marketing is all about the journey the customer took to get to the endpoint, and how their experience can continue long after the endpoint.


Good salespeople are genuinely interested in how well the product or service fits the buyer’s needs, and, to a lesser degree, if the buyer can afford it or is creditworthy enough for terms. If it’s all a good fit, the sale concludes, and the job is done. Move on.

Marketing takes a different view. They’re aware the transaction has to take place as that pays the bills, but for them, the sale is only part of the journey. Other considerations are how the description of a product or service affects the way the company looks, or whether the customer’s experience and satisfaction level would lead to another sale.

Given the activities and goals are so different, it’s odd that the term, ‘sales and marketing’ is [pretty well] universally adopted as though they are one and the same. In smaller companies this often actually true, but even in large organisations, they can combine the two terms as a description of the overall function.

The value of marketing

A sale rarely leads to another sale, or to an up-sell without using marketing to add value — even if the marketing input is provided by a salesperson.

Equally, some sales appear to happen by themselves, especially with a long-term established product (think: chocolate). But without marketing activity in place to begin the process and to keep the product/service in the minds of potential customers, repeat business is scarcer and less reliable.

It’s tough because now there’s very little left in the way of loyalty. Humans are notoriously forgetful and lazy, so they’ll just buy from who, or where, is most convenient.

Companies have to fight for every sale now, not just the first, so products and services have to be visible anywhere the potential customer is likely to look. These days, that’s multi-channel visibility too, not least of which is age-old brand awareness — keep the name in front of people.

The big players, especially in consumer products, fully understand the value marketing provides in maintaining product visibility, and they have the budgets to match. Smaller companies with smaller marketing budgets have to think smarter than this. For them, it’s all about the micro experience. Working on customers one person at a time, one sale at a time.

It’s all about perspective

The table below provides some insight into how sales and marketing people think about the functions of sales and marketing:

The chicken or the egg

The primary purpose of marketing is to pique interest that leads to enquiries. It’s at the point of enquiry that the sales department takes over to convert the enquirers into customers by completing the transaction.

Marketing activity can begin before a product even exists. It can be as much about determining the need for a product and the scale of the market opportunity before the product is in production, as it is about creating awareness and opportunity for an existing product.

Sales, however, can’t happen until there is a product to sell (unless taking pre-orders for a forthcoming launch) and a customer-base is there to buy it.

Marketing takes a wider view of attracting the interest of larger groups, while Sales focuses mainly on only those qualified to buy.

Understanding Price vs Value

Ultimately, the price is the amount of money a buyer pays to enable them to take away the product. However, the level of satisfaction associated with the amount paid is its perceived value, not its price.

The question of perceived value is a simple enough concept to grasp as we all experience it all the time. Whether we’re shopping for food, home electronics, holidays or cars, we misunderstand value. It is often abused by both Marketing and Sales — although way, way more by Sales!

Value is personal to the individual, which is why two people rarely perceive the same value in a product or service. The phrase: ‘value for money’ serves no purpose in moving a potential customer towards a sale because only they know what they value.

It’s hackneyed, it’s cheesy and it’s a cliché, yet it remains a stock phrase in marketing circles because humans are easy to trick. Just why do we believe (and subsequently buy) the latest washing powder will wash our whites, whiter than white when that’s precisely what we believed the previous version would do? And the one before that. How much whiter can our clothes get?

The difference between sales and marketing

Example: buying a second-hand car. 

The Sales approach to selling: affordability

The customer’s mindset (focused on value and excitement, not price): I have some idea of the car I want to buy, but I’m not yet certain. I have a flexible budget. I want to be wowed. I’m nervous but really excited. I can’t wait to take it for a drive and then show it off to my friends and family.

The salesperson’s mindset (focused on price, not value): Here comes another prospect to buy a car. I need to establish the maximum they can afford and persuade them the price [of the vehicle] is right so I can close the deal and complete the sale.

The conversation begins with money and qualification; “how much are you looking to spend today?” instead of value; “do you have a car type in mind, and how much difference will it make to you?” The salesperson continues in a persuasive style that edges the buyer towards a sale, instead of playing to their desires by repeating their own words and phrases about their needs.

This is a buyer’s worst nightmare because the salesperson is not interested in what the buyer actually wants, why they need it or how excited they are by the prospect of owning a new car. The salesperson is interested only in closing the deal so they can move on to the next prospect, who is standing over there, and doing it all over again.

The result is a buyer who feels uneasy, protective over how much they can afford (remember, this is not the same as how much they are prepared to spend because that’s based on perceived value), and will probably continue to look around or go elsewhere.

Most of us hate to be sold to.

The Marketing approach to selling: value

A far-more successful approach is based on understanding the buyer’s sense of value. Doing so can easily result in the customer leaving the showroom having bought a bigger, more expensive, higher-specification car than they originally intended, yet is both delighted and excited with their decision to buy.

They take photos of the car and can’t wait to tell their friends and family about the new car they’ll feel so proud to own. Why? Because of the value they placed on what they’re buying, not the cost of it. This is their perception of value for money — not the salesman’s, and not yours.

We’ve all heard people say (or said it ourselves), “I know it’s a lot of money, but…” or, “I know I can’t really afford it, but…” when they’ve spent more on a purchase than they originally intended to, yet are still really happy they did so. That’s because it was a value-based purchase.

Conversely, when we hear people say, “that’s expensive,” or, “I’m not paying that much,” this is rarely about the cost of the item because, what they actually mean, is, “I don’t place a high enough value on that product to pay the asking price.”

Some people don’t spend money on designer clothes, fine dining, jewellery or art, yet they travel abroad on family holidays, drive a nice car (or two) and have huge flat-screen TVs in their house and multi-channel subscription streaming services. Their choices are simply a display of what they value the most. Spending £240 on a pair of designer jeans is no different. To the buyer, it represents excellent value for money because of how it makes them feel.

Setting out your stall

For a car showroom, marketing is demonstrated in several ways. These include organising advertising; setting-up the window displays and signage; cleaning the cars inside and out until pristine; putting up banners and posters.

It will also include making sure a variety of drinks are available; cleaning the forecourt and making sure prospects feel welcome, at ease so and happy to come in and look around. It’s all about creating interest and drawing-in the browsers.

The sales department’s job is only to convert the lookers into buyers and, when the shiny new car is being driven home by its new owner, the salesperson’s job is done. It’s a win-win.

But is it really over?

What about the welcome/information pack left in the car; the letter they receive a few days later thanking them for the purchase and wishing them many enjoyable miles; the refer-a-friend code that will see them pocket £200 on a successful sale; the reminder sent when their car needs a service; the “any problems, we’re only a phone call away,” and so on? That’s all marketing, and it’s that long-term thinking designed to create another opportunity for a second or third sale further down the line, AND referrals.

Sales and Marketing teams working together

Nobody understands the mood or the mindset of buyers like a front-line salesperson does.

They’re out there and in the moment, listening to prospects’ needs. They read body language. They listen for telltale phrases. They know what’s going on, and what people do and don’t want. Yet it’s so often the case that Marketing never thinks to ask Sales about this before they create a marketing campaign.

Equally, it’s reasonable to think the sales department would be keen to ensure the marketing department is focusing its campaigns around the knowledge and information gained [by sales], to help make the sales process smoother.

Whether separate or combined, the two departments need to work together, holistically. It’s not meant to be a competition or one-upmanship, even though salespeople typically take all the glory for closing the deal.

Without salespeople to sell, there’s no point in carrying-out marketing. Without marketing activity to whet prospects’ appetite and pique their desire to buy, sales are much harder to achieve and will, potentially, be of lower value too.

Key points to take away, whether you’re in sales or marketing

  1. Keep in mind that you ultimately want the same thing, but that you’ll go about it in different ways.
  2. Make friends with the other department and get them to help you.
  3. Keep your egos out of it: share what you know and learn what they need.
  4. Create campaigns together, not separately, so you both win big.
  5. When the pandemic is over, shake hands. Until then, shake hands.

With more than 30 years experience in business and marketing, Clive is the visionary behind The Marketing Alliance, launched in 2018. Clive leads a curated tribe of accomplished marketing and business support professionals who consistently delight clients through their creativity, innovation, strategy and an unwavering commitment to excellence.
Find out more here


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