The difference between sales and marketing

May 26, 2009

Many people who start a business do so because they have a skill, knowledge or interest in a particular area. Unless they have worked in sales or marketing, most new entrepreneurs have an initial fear of selling. Most new entrepreneurs do not even know the difference between sales and marketing and whereas I may be about to upset the entire professional marketing community, I will at least try to explain the difference.

Marketing is the study of a (more specifically to you: your) market. A market is made up of three broad components: your customers, your competitors and your company (known as the 3 C’s). The main focus is on the customers, so if you can identify different sub groups of customers you get niche markets. The purpose of marketing is to try and identify what are the different customer types relating to your goods and services, their different tastes, needs and especially, how the different customers want to access the goods and services from you. Marketing is a ‘macro’ exercise. It is about starting with large groups of the population and breaking them down into relevant sub groups and even smaller sub sets of people interested in your product or service.

Selling is a one-on-one process; it is the ultimate ‘micro’ activity’. Marketing should help you identify why you are going to talk to this person/company and what you might be able to broadly offer them and why. Selling is about communicating with the person. Let me start by saying that selling is not about forcing people to buy something they do not want. In fact, the most difficult part of selling is understanding the process. Sales people ‘ask questions’ of their clients, they do not ‘tell’ people anything. The process is to ask the client relevant questions as to their need and allow the customer to come to an understanding of their need. The salesperson is not an active part of the process which is about the client learning about their needs and what solution you can present. You are purely a channel of communication, if this is done correctly.

As I have said before, five people can start the same business at the same time in the same area. One will succeed the others will not. The one person who understands their market and how their customers want their goods and services is the one that succeeds. The biggest early mistake made by new businesses is to start thinking of themselves as the centre of the business. Successful businesses focus entirely on their customers and nothing else.

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