Sales is a Tough Job. Strong Marketing Makes it Easier.

I was at an event recently. The professional kind with a buffet line and well-dressed people balancing small plates of food while maintaining a white-knuckle grip on a cocktail. The topic of marketing came up, mainly because I’m a marketing guy and I started it. Then I hear this:

“Sales and marketing are the same thing.”

I politely disagreed.

My new friend countered. “I know, but these days all sales agencies call themselves marketers.”

He was right about perceptions of sales and marketing and the semantic games that sales agencies play. The line between sales and marketing, for some, is pretty blurry. But when it comes to substance–the purposes, strategies and tactics of sales and marketing–he’s completely, indisputably wrong.

The job of sales is to sell. Products and services may vary and the sales cycle may range from a few minutes to more than a year. But the bottom line is sales creates revenue through transactions.

Marketing’s job is future sales.* It is foundational to discovering and nurturing future buyers. It is a cost of continuing to be in business.

And yet, some very smart people ignore this. They say something like, “I spent $X on an ad and didn’t see a $XXX increase in sales.” At the risk of saying something blindingly obvious, that’s not how it works. If there was a formula–spend X to create a multiple of X in sales–all of us could simply plug in the numbers and spend our way out of a sales slump. That hasn’t stopped some from trying and becoming cautionary B-school case studies.

Let me say it again, another way: Marketing is a necessary expense. More importantly, it’s foundational to the success of sales and intersects with every aspect of most businesses. Marketing doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

Let’s unpack those three ideas.

Marketing is a necessary expense, even if you believe that your next customer is out there looking for you. Because that mythical customer isn’t looking for you. She or he may not even know they need your product or service, much less that you exist. Marketing creates the conditions that allow customers to find you, highlights your relevance, and persuades them that you can deliver value. There are sales managers who continue to persist in believing that their teams can do all this.

Marketing is foundational to sales. I’m a giant fan of salespeople. I root for their success and celebrate their big wins. I know that even with the best marketing, sales can be an incredible challenge. That’s why so much of our work comes from conversations with salespeople and research into their challenges. That knowledge also challenges us to deliver smart, creative marketing programs that are designed to ultimately make their jobs easier. When we know the obstacles facing salespeople, we can do more than shout, “Sell more!” We can focus our efforts on solving specific problems that prevent them from selling.

Marketing intersects with every part of most businesses. Businesses have a lot to juggle, and many of those things intersect. Think of a simple web site. A business may perceive it as a lead generation tool, but it probably serves several other equally important purposes like workforce recruitment, customer service, product support, and industry advocacy. We’re conscious of these areas of overlap and work across multiple business units or departments to solve sets of problems, including those clients may not have identified. Factor in the whole toolkit associated with marketing–social media, CRM, digital asset management, dealer training and the like–and there’s a powerful incentive to be vigilant about extracting the most value from marketing activities.

A Parting Thought: Marketing is Complex. Sales is Simple.

Simple, yes. Easy, no. I know that salespeople have a difficult, high-pressure job and I respect that. But measuring the effectiveness of sales is relatively simple: How many dollars, by sales unit, at what margin. The actual formula may vary, but it follows a simple template.

Measuring the effectiveness of marketing is more complex. Marketing activities sometimes can’t be measured and when they can, the wealth of data makes it difficult to pick the right metrics. Then there are key marketing strategies like brand building and creating awareness; the cost of quantifying those exceeds the marketing costs alone for many companies, so there’s only a vague, unreliable idea of the impact of activities on each. No wonder so many decision-makers throw up their hands and decree, “I’ll know our marketing is working when our sales increase.”

In a weird way, we want the same thing. We want the marketing we do to lead to future sales. But it takes a dialog about that in-between time, where the customer journey goes from awareness to consideration to pre-purchase, to get there. That’s the dialog we want to have with our clients.

*I’ve written this before in a discussion of marketing ROI.

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