Marketing and Sales: Does This Mean War?

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I’ll answer the question in the headline, but first.

It is the most common thing. A small business owner freely admits they know nothing about marketing.

Usually they are selling themselves short.

Some business owners started out as marketing people.  But usually, they succeeded in business by being really good at some product or service. Accounting or Carpentry or they built a better Widget for Toasting Waffles.

I meet these people all the time. They sure know their business! Get them started talking about Accounting or Carpentry or their Waffle Widget. Impressive!

In a small business, they are the salesman, or the main salesman, or they used to do all the sales themselves.

So, I can promise you, when they claim to know nothing about Marketing, they are, happily, mistaken.


Marketing is the art of offering something that people will respond to. And it is an art. Somehow, you get people to clip the coupon and send it in, or pick up the phone and call, or click on the “buy now” button.

Tell me what is the difference from what you are doing as a salesman?  Not much, I’d say.

Sure I’m exaggerating. But a successful salesman knows what the prospective customers need to hear and want to know.

Clients ask me what they should say on their website. I tell them, say what you say to prospective customers. It’ll work.


There are a few big differences.

First of all, marketing has to find and develop the prospects. Sales doesn’t start without a prospect to hand. Unless of course, you are doing cold calling, but that is really Sales infringing on Marketing territory.

This fits precisely the basic concept of “Marketing” – a market being originally, and still, a place where buyers and sellers can find each other.

The second is a favorite distinction of mine. Marketing is wholesale. Sales is retail.

Selling is basically a one-on-one, personal communication. Marketing is basically a broadcast, get the word out to a bunch of people at once. It isn’t personalized.

It is true, these days we have more and more capability to personalize marketing messages. I had an ad delivered to me on Facebook. It was advertising “Byrd Family Hoodies.”  I got one. Has the Byrd Family Coat of Arms (crossed automatic weapons) and the Byrd Family motto “Never Mess With a Byrd”.

But I digress.

A website is never really a sales operation even if it is an online store. It is not, fundamentally, a one-on-one or personalized communication.

The third difference is, of course, that sales closes the deal. Marketing’s job is done when you have someone interested enough to engage about a possible sale. The job of Sales isn’t done until cash is in hand.

So marketing starts earlier and ends earlier, Sales starts later and ends later. But they are both part of a continuous spectrum of engagement.  And there is a large amount of overlap and use of similar concepts and communication. It is just in Sales you are talking to one person at a time, not one million.


I said I’d get to that.

There’s an aspect of the relationship between Sales and Marketing. I’ve rarely seen this noted or remarked on, but many years of experience consulting both Marketing and Sales operations, of all sizes and many different industries, has led to this observation.

There is a dynamic tension between Sales and Marketing which is apparently incurable. It might be too dramatic to say some fundamental aspect of human nature is involved. But I’ve seen it consistently in many different settings.

Marketing complains that Sales wastes the leads they work so hard to generate.

Sales gripes that the quality of leads is awful, how are they supposed to sell to these people??

Of course they are both right – and they are both wrong.

The fact is that Marketing is first trying to generate a volume of leads. Of course they don’t want to generate garbage leads. But there is a wide range of lead quality from “flaming hot” to barely room temperature.

It’s a fact that Marketing is going to have much less control over the quality of leads than over the quantity.

That doesn’t mean they have no influence. They shouldn’t be advertising for home improvement services with bus ads (few bus riders own their own homes). Or promising free money to the next 80 callers.

But any marketing that produces a quantity of great leads, is probably going to also produce a much larger quantity of mediocre prospects.

So Sales should count their blessings if they have lots of leads, including a decent percentage of good quality leads.

I used to run into this with Dentists. They always wanted every person who called to be a prospect for a $20,000, full mouth restoration project. It doesn’t work that way. I mean, was the ad supposed to say “don’t call us if you only want a cleaning and one cavity handled”?

But. If the leads are too scarce or the quality genuinely poor, then Sales has a serious beef with Marketing. Marketing is letting the team down.

The flip side of this of course, is that Sales can be shaming Marketing for poor quality leads. The real problem is, they just don’t know how to sell. Marketing has the right to insist that the leads they work so hard to generate, not be wasted. So this cuts both ways.

If you are responsible for Sales, for Marketing, or for both in an organization, this is worth taking a closer look at. Even if you are the sole person doing both of them, it just might lead to improvements. You can’t handle a problem if you don’t correctly identify the problem. So find out if your problem is in your Sales or Marketing.

The truth is, Sales and Marketing should be working together. As in the first part of this essay, Sales knowledge of your markets can greatly enlighten Marketing. Good Marketing makes Sales job enormously easier.

So, yes, I’ve seen Marketing and Sales at war with each other. But much better if they are on the same team.

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