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Sales vs Marketing

Sales vs Marketing

Sales vs Marketing

Sales vs Marketing has been a heated debate that’s raged on for a long time. I’ve heard stories from both sides. Marketing teams that think their sales teams are egotistical divas that don’t do anything. And Sales teams that think their marketing team just sit around making pretty pictures and relaxing all day, terming it ‘the creative process’. 

Having worked in both functions, I used to see a chasm of difference between sales and marketing for years. Nothing annoyed me more than when people termed it ‘sales & marketing’, or suggested the 2 were one department. The two were so completely different in my mind, where for me as a marketer to be branded a ‘salesman’ was the height of incredulity. 

However, the more experience I’ve gained at senior level, the 2 departments are almost synonymous with each other (Sorry Past Me!)

The goal is ultimately the same. To reach the right people with a specific problem, and demonstrate how your product can help them solve their problem.

The area that differs is then in the execution. Sales do this on a one-to-one basis, while marketing is on a one-to-many basis (though it’s becoming more personalised). To understand this a bit better, let’s take a look at a typical sales & marketing process. 

The Sales-Marketing Process

If we look at a traditional sales funnel, there’s 4 key stages.  Sales vs marketing funnel

    1. Awareness/Prospecting: The prospect becomes aware of your brand – most likely through ATL advertising or outreach programs. 
    2. Consideration: The prospect engages with the brand – usually through content or a conversation
    3. Intent: The prospect has decided they need a solution to their problem, and are browsing different providers – maybe had a sales demo, like your product and wish to purchase. 
    4. Conversion: The prospect finalises their decision to purchase from you.

You may call them something different, but the 4 stages are widely accepted. The crossover between sales & marketing is usually around the intent stage. 

N.B. At this stage it’s worth specifying that while process is accurate for nearly all buying processes, I’m talking about B2B or large B2C purchases (where you need sales teams to be involved). Of course, with online purchases,  the control of the funnel is largely shifted to marketers.  

There are also 2 further steps after the conversion. I’m going to come back to these in a little bit. First, I want to briefly discuss how Marketing and Sales teams traditionally engage in this process. 


Marketing is traditionally concerned with the upper stages of the funnel at the top: Awareness/Prospecting and Consideration

In these stages, everything the prospect knows about your company and product has been put out to a target segment, rather than a specific individual – be it a print ad, a website visit, viewing online reviews or reading a piece of content.

These are all designed to engage a lot of people rather than tailored to a specific individual. (Platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn with highly targeted personalisation are changing this slightly, but it’s still targeting on mass just to very niche segments. There’s no one-to-one communication).

The goal of these stages is to communicate the value proposition to your target segment. You need to understand the problem that your ideal customer is having and convince them that your product solves that problem and that your company is a viable option to buy from.  And this is typically looked after by marketers. 


For sales people, their role in this process is largely concerned with the narrowest steps in this funnel. They come in once marketing has identified and nurtured prospects to the point where the prospect realises they need to solve a certain problem, is aware of your product and brand, and is ready to speak to someone directly. Typically, in the intent stage. 

Following a successful product demo, the prospect progresses to the conversion stage. This is where you negotiate on price and complete the sale. 

So this is the typical split – sometimes it’s slightly different, particularly if more of the distribution channel is digital. However, if these two functions view themselves as separate and never overlap, then it will cause real problems for both sales and marketing. 

Where do Sales & Marketing overlap?

When sales is involved in marketing

For marketers, imagine hosting an event, or exhibiting at a trade show. Yes, marketing are responsible for deciding whether or not to do the event, negotiating for the event and hosting it, but it’s the sales people who are on the stand engaging in the top/middle of funnel activity. Telemarketing is another great example. On the phone, you want typical sales people. People that can open doors, build relationships quickly, and control conversations through difficult objections.  

When marketing is involved in sales

And for sales people, when you’ve spoken with the prospect, arranged the meeting, gone on site, how do you present the product? Who makes the pitch deck? Who gives you leave behinds or business cards so that prospects can get back in touch? It’s a typical marketing function. 

The point of intent

However, the point of intent is where the rubber really meets the road. The handover point. Marketing departments are known for having large budgets to attract new prospects. Each new opportunity that is handed from marketing to sales has a cost and a value attached to it. The prospect is going through a buying journey, and they’ve asked your company for help. 

It’s the responsibility of marketing to ensure that your company really can help them, and for sales to respect the effort that has gone in to getting the prospect this far. It may have taken years from knowing your brand to being ready to enquire – and that needs to handled properly and respectfully. 

Too often, sales people blame marketing for poor leads, and marketing blame sales for not following up on the leads they brought in. And this is where the sales vs. marketing debate gets really in the way. 

The reality is that while yes, Marketing is traditionally involved in more top of funnel activities and sales in more bottom of funnel activities, both play important roles within each stage of the whole process. And this is very well highlighted in post-conversion stages.

Post-conversion Stages

Post-conversion, the sales & marketing function continues to engage with the customer. I’ve labelled the 2 steps:sales funnel

  1. Retain: Ensure the customer is happy with the product/service, and either keeps the product, or repeatedly purchases the product/service 
  2. Grow: Present the customer with more products/services your company offers and grow the account so they buy more from you

And this does depend on how your organisation is set up, but typically you would have an Account Manager responsible for these stages – this could be a specific role, or could remain the sales person that converted the sale. 

However, marketing plays an important part here. As do the product, support and implementation teams, of course. But marketing should be responsible for the overall customer experience. 

The customer’s perspective

If you imagine the customer’s journey here. The whole process is like trying to get into an awesome party in a mansion.

The top 3 stages are like being on the outside looking in through a window. The party inside looks amazing from you think you make out, but you can’t see the whole picture. Then the conversion stage is like being let in through the front door. And now, the customer can clearly see what is actually happening inside the mansion. 

And the important thing here for marketers is that what it’s made to look like from the outside needs to match what’s actually happening the inside (or the party inside needs to be better than how it looks from the outside).

That is something that even the best account managers can’t fully control. And this is where marketing plays arguably the biggest role. Once the prospect is converted, are they still receiving an excellent service? Are you still adding value to them?

Marketing teams need to continue to engage with customers and make them feel part of the company. This is where it’s so important that the company culture internally is a good one. Because once you let customers in, it’s really easy for them to tell what’s really going on. And if it doesn’t match their expectations, they relationship can sour quite quickly if you’re not careful. 

Sales vs Marketing – Who Wins?

The main thing I’ve realised since being in a senior leadership position in marketing, is that both sales and marketing functions rely on each other a lot. So much so that it’s almost pointless to try to draw the distinction. Let alone have a Sales vs Marketing discussion.

Both want to achieve the same goal of acquiring new customers and growing the accounts, but have different roles in achieving this. 

Marketing are responsible for nudging large quantities of people in a certain direction, while sales teams have the sharp end of the stick to work with specific individuals. Both parties do a lot of work ‘behind-the-scenes’ that others can perceive as not doing lots. 

But it’s when both parties collaborate as a team that the customer wins. And that’s what really matters. The customer having a positive experience and solving their problems with your product.

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About the Author

Alex Knight

Following Alex's experience in music, customer service, journalism and marketing management, Alex Knight is the creator of A Knight, Marketing Blog to help inspire better marketing in small businesses.

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