The differences between marketing & sales are not only significant, failure to accept and manage these differences can lead to disappointment, unnecessary turnover and even business failure.

For many executives, the differences between marketing & sales may seem unimportant or even irrelevant. The data, including excellent market research, and our extensive experience have shown that many misunderstandings and disappointment have at their root-cause the failure to understand, accept and implement systems to accommodate these differences.[i]


Marketing, in its strictest sense, is the management of the interface between an organization and its markets. Every organization, including mission driven, not-for-profits has markets. Markets are groups of individuals or organizations that consume, and often pay for products and services. Marketing includes all the interactions between a provider of service and those who consume and/or pay for that service. Everything from the website, to how the invoices look, to how the phones get answered. Anything that can support or modify your perception among your markets is included in the purview of marketing.


The typical role of marketing is to identify markets (who needs / wants us), create awareness (do they know about us), manage brand position & preference (do they like & want us), and generate qualified leads. These activities are intellectual, and so the skills associated with success are analytical.


Sales, on the other hand, includes the behavioral skills associated with securing commitment. Once a qualified lead has been generated by an organization’s marketing efforts, the process of converting that interest into commitment is the domain of sales. These skills include listening, empathetic conversation, optimism and perseverance.


What’s in a name?

We often meet professionals whose title is “Marketing Manager” or “Director of Marketing” whose real job is almost exclusively sales. Similarly, we see positions titles with some combination or permutation of “sales”, “representative”, “customer service”… the list goes on. What’s far more important than the titles are the understanding of the incumbent, and the  expectations of his or her supervisor. This understanding / expectation mismatch has been the reason for far too much unnecessary turnover in these positions.

Here’s the test: Ask the person responsible for marketing and / or sales a few confidential questions, like “Describe your job”, and “How is success measured now” as well as “Are these the correct measures of success”.  At the same time, ask his / her supervisor or manager the same questions. We’ve been doing these “alignment studies” for decades and the results never fail to generate deeply useful results. These answers predict which operations perform better and worse and deliver opportunities for staff and management to better align their roles and tasks.


Who succeeds at Marketing v. Sales?

Because the tasks and roles associated with success in each of these domains – marketing & sales – are so different, it’s extraordinary when one person can successfully fulfill both.

Marketing requires a highly analytic and patient mindset. The ideal personality profile of a marketing expert is someone with a deep commitment to being correct. Sales on the other hand, requires a personality that’s committed to lasting relationships, that can hurtle itself against rejection, day after day and (somehow) continue doing this for years. To put it in psychological terms, marketers should be realists, while salespersons must be optimists.


For recruitment, management and retention purposes, this distinction is critical. Chief executives and those responsible for operations, are often highly structured and disciplined. For them, the profile of a marketer resonates. Professional marketers deliver rational, left-brain types of reports and analysis which are often reliable and predict future. Successful salespersons, on the other hand are optimists who always believe that just one more phone call, or just one (something) will convert that prospect into a committed customer. (How could the salesperson believe otherwise and continue to function?) Yet a successful operation requires both personality profiles in order to succeed; it shouldn’t matter if the salesperson is late with his report, if he can consistently convert qualified leads. And it shouldn’t matter if the marketer is unsuccessful at closing a sale, if she can develop and manage lead generation systems that produce lots of qualified leads.

To learn more, or to engage an alignment study, email, or call +1-617-719-9530.



[i] Shapiro, BP, and Doyle, SX. Make the Sales Task Clear Harvard Business Review No 83615, November-December 1983.