What's the Difference Between Sales and Marketing? A Simple & Easy Primer

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Meredith Hart
Meredith Hart



What's the difference between sales and marketing?


Marketing informs and attracts leads and prospects to your company and product or service. Sales, on the other hand, works directly with prospects to reinforce the value of the company's solution to convert prospects into customers.

Sounds simple, right?

While these two business functions are different, they both share a common goal: to attract prospects and convert them to customers, ultimately generating revenue. The State of Inbound Report 2018 found that organizations with a service level agreement (SLA) between marketing and sales are three times as likely to be effective -- but surprisingly, only 26% of respondents have a formal SLA.

So, what do these business units do, and can they work together? Let's demystify the difference between sales and marketing, and learn how to align the two.
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Sales is a term used to describe the activities that lead to the selling of goods or services. Salespeople are responsible for managing relationships with potential clients (prospects) and providing a solution for prospects that eventually leads to a sale.

And marketing encompasses all activities that help spark interest in your business. Marketers use market research and analysis to understand the interests of potential customers. Marketing departments are responsible for running campaigns to attract people to the business' brand, product, or service.

There are a few general differences between marketing and sales. For example, marketing focuses its efforts on the general public or larger groups of people, while sales targets smaller groups of people or subsets of the general public.

But, how else do these two business functions differ?


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Marketing vs. Sales

To create a cohesive partnership between marketing and sales, we need to understand the core elements of each department.


Whether you're writing a marketing or sales plan, both will include details about the history of the company and its overarching goals and initiatives. Then the plans dive into the aspects of the plan that are specific for each department.

The marketing plan lays out what the product is, its price, who it'll be sold to, and where it will be sold. This is also known as the 4Ps of marketing: product, price, place, and promotion. Goals are set, marketing channels are chosen, and a budget is made for the campaigns the marketing team plans to pursue.

Sales plans include details about the sales process, team structure, target market, and goals. Plus, the sales plan outlines the action plan, tools, and resources that will be used to hit these targets.


What are the key goals that marketing and sales set? Both departments have the primary focus to generate revenue for the company.

The primary goal of marketing is to look big picture and promote the company, product or service, and brand. Marketing departments are responsible for pricing the products and communicating how the product fills customers' needs and wants. And its goals are often longer term because campaigns can span over the course of many months.

For sales, the focus is to hit quotas and sales volume goals -- and these tend to be shorter term. Sales goals are often measured month over month. Targets are defined, and sales management calculates how much their department, teams, and individual salespeople need to sell to meet the overarching goal.

Tools and Resources

A CRM database is a tool that can be used by sales, marketing, and the company as a whole. The database helps all departments manage relationships with contacts, no matter which stage of the customer lifecycle they're in.

Social media can also be leveraged by both business units. For marketing, social media can be used to promote content and for sales, it can be used as part of a social selling strategy.

Plus, there are tools that are specific to each department.

Marketing Tools

  • Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO)
  • Search engine optimization (SEO) tool
  • Project management tool
  • Data reporting software
  • Content creation tool

Sales Tools

  • Meetings app
  • Documents tool
  • Invoicing software
  • Email management tool
  • Inventory and order management software

The introduction of resources to a marketing or sales strategy is particularly dependent on new technology. For example, AI and live chat are newer tools that marketing and sales can use to develop relationships with leads. This type of personalized communication wasn't possible until recently, and companies can adopt new software and technology as it's created.


Marketing teams can take different strategic approaches depending on the type of campaign and customer they're targeting. Common marketing strategies include:

  • Internet marketing
  • Print marketing
  • Blog marketing
  • Search engine optimization
  • Social media marketing
  • Video marketing

Similar to marketing strategies, sales methods can vary depending on its industry, products, market, and target customer. Some of the most popular sales methodologies are:

  • SPIN Selling
  • Solution Selling
  • N.E.A.T. Selling
  • Conceptual Selling
  • SNAP Selling
  • CustomerCentric Selling
  • Inbound Selling
  • The Challenger Sale
  • The Sandler System

Each of these sales strategies helps a buyer to solve a problem, achieve a goal, or satisfy a need. And hopefully, the sales team's selling technique will lead to a sale and a new customer.

Sales and Marketing Alignment

So, how do we get rid of this marketing vs. sales storyline and create a partnership between the two? This can be done by aligning the two departments.

A service-level agreement (SLA) is a contract that establishes a set of deliverables that one party has agreed to provide another. This is one of the best ways for marketing and sales form a partnership.

In the SLA, both departments will define their shared goals, identify the buyer personas or ideal client profile, and standardize lead definitions. It will also set protocol for lead management, and outline how sales and marketing performance will be measured.

When sales and marketing are aligned, the business is poised to attract and qualify more leads and generate more revenue. To learn more, check out this ultimate guide to sales strategy next.

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Topics: Sales Strategy

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