Sales vs. Marketing

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The sales vs. marketing distinction must be fundamentally understood by every salesperson. How are sales and marketing related or connected? How are they different?

Marketing and Sales Conversion Process

Marketing and sales are two sides of the same coin. Together, they convert the universe of suspects for a company’s offerings into customers:

Suspects → Prospects or Leads → Opportunities or Deals → Customers

It is in this conversion process that the relation and difference between the two functions become evident.

Sales is a part of the marketing discipline yet emerged into a different field unto itself.

What is Marketing?

Marketing is the set of activities involved in the first conversion above.

Marketing defines the targets or suspects for a company’s offerings and systematically converts them into prospects or leads by raising awareness of and generating interest in the same.

Marketers use a process called segmentation, targeting, and positioning (STP) to pinpoint the target market segments with unmet needs that a brand should address and serve.

Following the STP process, products and services are defined and developed as part of a marketing mix that best addresses the needs of the target segments.

What is Sales?

In terms of the marketing vs. sales contrast, sales is the set of activities involved in the next two conversions above.

Prospects or leads are qualified and potential sales opportunities. Opportunities enter the sales pipeline or funnel and through a series of pipeline stages convert into sales.


The handoffs of prospects or leads between marketing and sales happen as follows.

First, marketing runs campaigns to generate marketing qualified leads or MQLs from suspects.

MQLs are prospects or leads who have interacted with marketing content in the form of physical brochures or the website.

A typical example is when someone sees your company’s Google Ad online and by clicking it visits a landing page on your website where they fill out and submit a contact or lead form.

Next, marketing passes on the MQLs to sales. Sales does a visual checking to either accept or reject them based on pre-defined criteria. Accepted MQLs are called sales accepted leads or SALs.

Next, sales works on the SALs to qualify them.

Post qualification, the SALs convert into sales qualified leads or SQLs.

The rejected MQLs and SALs that do not convert into SQLs are worked on again by marketing, this time through long-term nurturing campaigns.

Long-term nurturing includes email marketing and remarketing campaigns in digital marketing.


In the marketing and sales conversion process above, not all suspects you start off with convert into customers. There will be a gradual drop-off in number through the various stages of the process.

The reduction in the count is best conveyed visually through an “inverted funnel” representation of the process called the marketing and sales funnel.

Suspects enter the top of the funnel (TOFU). A lesser count of prospects or leads enters the middle of the funnel (MOFU). An even lesser count of opportunities enters the bottom of the funnel (BOFU).

It must be evident now that marketing works on suspects in TOFU whereas sales works on prospects or leads in MOFU and opportunities in BOFU.

Buyer’s Journey

Although we converted the marketing and sales conversion process into a marketing and sales funnel above, the funnel is also called the customer funnel.

The inverted customer funnel essentially represents prospective customers’ readiness to conduct a sales transaction. A lesser number “exit” the funnel at the bottom than those who “enter” at the top.

The customers who conduct the sales transaction, in the end, go through a cognitive journey themselves. This is known as the buyer’s journey.

The classic A-I-D-A model best describes this journey a buyer takes.

A. First, the buyer becomes AWARE of the problem they have.

I. Next, the buyer shows INTEREST in exploring alternative approaches to solving their problem.

D. Next, the buyer expresses a DESIRE in some specific solution(s) or offering(s) to their problem.

A. Finally, the buyer takes ACTION in purchasing or buying the solution(s) to their problem.

This understanding of the buyer’s journey informs the approach that marketing and sales must take in the various stages of the marketing and sales conversion process or funnel.

In TOFU, for instance, buyers need to become aware of the business problems that your product or service addresses.

Therefore, marketing develops appropriate content to educate them.

Typical top-of-the-funnel educational content that marketing builds and makes available on its company website includes blogs, articles, videos, infographics, and FAQs.

Two Sides of a Coin — Must Work Closely But Don’t

In theory, sales is a part of the marketing discipline.

Marketing literature includes personal selling in marketing communications along with direct marketing, advertising, sales promotions, and public relations.

In practice though, because of the specialty required, sales has evolved into a discipline unto itself and is organized into a separate function from marketing within companies.

This is especially the case in B2B sales.

In the overall conversion process, leads is where the two functions overlap and are often at loggerheads in any company.

The two teams rarely agree on the quantity or quality of leads.

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