So, What's the Difference Between Sales and Marketing?

So, What’s the Difference Between Sales and Marketing?

As a business owner, you probably know that a strong sales technique is critical to driving revenue and growth for your business. However, if you don’t have an effective marketing strategy in place, you will not have customers to sell to. That said, you must learn to balance marketing and sales to guide leads into becoming customers.

In this article, we’re going to explore the definitions of sales and marketing, how both are required to turn potential customers into actual customers, how to combine the two, and finally, how to find balance when you don’t have the funds to cover an entire department for both. 

Sales or Marketing?

By the most basic definition, the primary difference between the two is how close you are to converting a lead into a customer.


Marketing describes the strategies used to reach your leads and get them interested in your products/services. Typically, there are quantifiable targets to help you determine which of your marketing efforts produce results and are the most cost-effective.

Depending on your business, you may use a variety of marketing efforts, including:

Of course, these are just some of the most common marketing efforts you might use. You can be creative and find many other options.


The act of sales is when you have convinced a lead to buy your product/service. Often, some interaction is involved in persuading them that you are the solution they need. In most cases, sales are ultimately a result of marketing efforts. The marketing got the lead to come to you, and you get them to buy. Some of the most common sales strategies include:

  • Abandoned cart emails
  • Networking
  • Meetings
  • Direct sales
  • Promo events/fairs
  • Cold calls/warm calls
  • Retail interaction

Again, this is not a comprehensive list of sales techniques but some of the most common ones.

Turning Leads into Customers

To turn a lead into a customer, you need multiple contact points. Contact point examples include marketing, social proof (recommendations from friends), or even online search results.

As your potential customers travel through this process, they are known as cold, warm, and qualified leads.

  • cold lead is not familiar with your brand and has no opinion. They don’t plan to buy anything. Perhaps you have their contact info, but you have not taken steps to convert them.
  • warm lead has heard of your business and might be somewhat interested in making a purchase. Perhaps they have reached out to you to learn more about your business directly or through social media.
  • qualified (hot) lead is familiar with your business, knows what they want to buy, and is ready to purchase—but they need convincing that you are the answer to their needs.

Your marketing strategy will lead you through the process of converting a cold lead into a qualified lead. The sales techniques take over from there, turning them into actual customers.

Combining Marketing & Sales

By combining the efforts of your marketing and sales teams, you can easily reach leads at all three points along the journey. Of course, this means they must be communicating with each other. They should be working together to create a strategy to reach leads at all three levels.

Here are a few ideas:

Strategies for cold leads: direct mailers, digital ads, sponsored social media posts

Strategies for warm leads: personal follow-up emails, sales letter, invite to special seminar/training session

If the above efforts ultimately result in a qualified lead, here are some ideas:

Strategies for qualified leads: one-on-one call, in-person meeting, limited-time discount offer, present proposal/contract/estimate

How to Balance Sales & Marketing

In many cases, startups and small businesses don’t have the funds to cover payroll for separate sales and marketing departments. Instead, they may rely on one or two individuals to handle both. While this might make it easier to develop a more thorough sales and marketing plan, it often means that the equation is unbalanced—one part of the process gets more attention than the other.

Also, if your sales team is commission-based, there could be a personal motivation to focus on the quick sale rather than a long-term relationship- and brand-building. 

If you’re having difficulty balancing the two, consider taking some time to learn more about sales tactics, brand messaging, and marketing materials. Then, once you and your staff feel like you understand and are skilled with both sides, you can find the balance to create a system that consistently turns your potential customers into actual customers.

The key here is acknowledging that sales and marketing are two unique disciplines that require the appropriate education and experience.

Of course, you also have the option to outsource either sales or marketing to an external firm. Leveraging a marketing agency, for example, can be an excellent way to harness outstanding, experienced talent without carrying the entire overhead expense.


As we mentioned, you need a strong sales technique to convince people to buy your products and services. However, you need marketing to get people to the point where they are considering buying. Many times, people think these two are interchangeable. However, they are genuinely different. They are two steps to the sales process that complement one another. Once you understand this, you can quickly develop and employ strong marketing and sales strategies to convert potential customers into actual customers.

To learn more about marketing your small business, check out our What you need to know to market your small business article.

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