The Great Divide: Sales vs. Marketing

Organizations often use the terms “Sales” and “Marketing” interchangeably, as if these functions represent a singular perspective for the business. Yes, the two functional areas should work in tandem toward strategic company goals. Today, it’s even more critical that both create, support and execute on managing the customer experience. It’s really not a “Sales” vs. “Marketing war.

In reality, Sales and Marketing are dissimilar, require specific skill sets and have paralleled, but distinctively different, perspectives.

In today’s environment, companies are challenged with how to effectively shift their corporate culture away from a sales-focused structure and move toward customer-centricity. It takes leadership, a strategic roadmap, orientation and collaboration across the organization. Our experience demonstrates that effective customer marketing solutions leverage the uniqueness and knowledge of both the Sales and Marketing organizations throughout the customer experience.

Here’s a quick look at the differences of these important functions and how each are essential contributors in an organization’s transformation. And, why it’s not a “Sales vs. Marketing” challenge.

Sales:  Selling products/services to customers

Whether it’s a B2B or B2B2C environment, the role of an organization’s sales team is to:

  • Understand the product/service differentiators within the category(ies)
  • Generate and approach qualified customer leads
  • Develop a rapport with customers and/or channel partners
  • Identify best solution to fit customers’ needs and influence purchase
  • Overcome objections, negotiate price/terms and close sale
  • Focus on the here and now, and serving as the brand’s representative

The sales perspective does surround customers. However, the primary focus is on a week, a month and a quarter so that revenue generation, and the related customer journey, will not lapse during these periods. 

Marketing:  Looking toward the future

Key responsibilities of the Marketing team are to:

  • Understand the marketplace and competitive sets
  • Create marketing strategies and tactics that strengthen customer relationships once fostered by Sales
  • Ensure exemplary customer experience and own the complete customer journey
  • Gain customer insights and identify opportunities/gaps and share with Sales
  • Analyze performance of marketing initiatives to ensure profitability  
  • Focus on the future by defining the brand’s positioning and guidelines, while directing its evolution

Development of overarching marketing strategies leads the company to where it should be in the future and how it will carry its customers along the way. To accomplish this, Marketing takes an active role in directing the organization. This includes assisting the entire organization to determine how to modify its product positioning and offerings, pricing and communications so that each meet the needs of its customers.

Without Marketing, Sales Suffers – and, vice versa

The marketplace is in constant transition.  Competitive products enter, acquisitions and mergers are ever-present and customers shift their loyalty across (or to other) brands. Through collaboration, Sales and Marketing can support and enable the shift from a product-centric focus to customer-centricity. 


Marketing’s role is to anticipate trends and stay ahead of the changing conditions by obtaining customer insights through research, analysis and input from Sales. This approach helps to arm the Sales team by identifying where they should direct their attention and provide the right tools and resources – based on customers’ needs. If Marketing only focuses on delivering “today’s” need, organizations will miss where the industry is heading or where the company needs to concentrate the sales effort. The result?  Limited growth.

On the contrary, if Sales leads the direction of the organization, the focus becomes exclusively on product sales, revenues and YOY growth – transactional-driven vs. customer-centric. Every Sales organization possesses a solid understanding of the “here and now” needs of its customers. And, the Sales conversation with a customer is intended to lead to a sales transaction. Therefore, customers can never be completely open about their needs and wants while talking directly with the sales person. Yes, we know that consultative selling is a major emphasis today. Sadly, it also tends to mask the fact that it’s not placing the customer first in its approach, but still product first. Marketing can help close this gap by providing input and guidance to the Sales team.

Marketing’s responsibility is to convert the market understanding into effective tools and tactics (customer marketing initiatives, relevant customer-centric programs and promotions to increase market share) to attract the market, build (often digital) relationships and develop leads. This also provides the Sales team with valuable resources to guide where they should target their effort. Should Marketing act exclusively as a support function focused only on the “here and now”, the vision for the future will get lost.

The skills required to focus on the “here and now”, with the push for sales, are different. In many ways, they are contrary to the skills of looking to the future and the customer perspective of Marketing. 

The Solution for Sales vs. Marketing:  Working together, not in silos

It’s clear that Sales’ focus has to be on driving the business today, while Marketing must to be focused on the “future” – understanding the direction the organization should take. 

It’s not a war of Sales vs. Marketing. The two divisions collaborate best by voicing their perspectives and addressing the full needs of the customer, both today and tomorrow – and all focused on aligning the organization through its transformation.

Taking on an initiative to shift an organization’s corporate culture takes focus, commitment and will most assuredly include challenges. However, the outcome will be stronger customer relationships followed closely by sustained revenue growth and profitability.