The Difference Between Marketing and Selling

May 14, 2019

Marketing and Selling are routinely used as interchangeable synonyms for the same business concept. In reality, there are significant differences between the two terms. The development and implementation of an effective marketing strategy rely on the respective brand’s ability to differentiate between selling and marketing.

Marketing Vs Selling

At a fundamental level, the concepts of marketing and selling could be defined as follows:

  • Marketing definition:

     Broad efforts to boost a brand’s position, prominence, PR, select the right market, product, service, price, distribution channels, enhance the customer journey and user experience  

  • Selling Definition:

    Exclusive focus on selling more products and/or services

The concepts of marketing and selling are interconnected in many ways, though refer to very different processes within a wider business strategy. Marketing is an umbrella term that encompasses an extensive range of strategic, advertising, promotional and PR tasks – selling being just one component of a marketing strategy.

A Detailed Definition of Marketing

In a little more detail, marketing is a multi-dimensional process that concerns the improvement of business performance and profitability by boosting the brand’s appeal and value in the eyes of the customer. As a result, any activities or processes geared towards image enhancement, brand development, customer loyalty, and general customer satisfaction could be considered marketing tactics.

The concept of marketing begins with the target audience – identifying the requirements of the customer, creating strategies to engage them and ultimately profiting through customer satisfaction. The more effective the marketing strategy, the more likely the customer is to remain loyal to the brand.

With marketing, it’s a case of heavily researching the customer’s wants, needs, preferences, and general behaviors. This information can then be used to present the product, the service and/or the entire business in the most appealing manner possible at the right time, in the right place, through the right channels, with the right Value Proposition. After which, sales occur naturally and loyalty is nurtured.

A Detailed Definition of Selling

The formula is somewhat reversed with the purest form of selling. Rather than beginning with the target audience and positioning, the selling process starts with the product or service value itself. 

A selling strategy aims to coax, convince or persuade buyers that they want or need whatever’s being sold. Instead of identifying the needs of the customer and aiming to fulfil them, selling works the other way around – the business attempts to create a sense of need to sell more products.

Though highly effective for improving conversion rates and generating revenue, selling alone isn’t a workable strategy in the absence of marketing support. Hence, selling forms just one part of a wider marketing strategy, which must be carefully balanced with other complementary techniques.

How to Distinguish Between Marketing and Selling

One of the most effective ways of distinguishing between marketing and selling is to consider the marketing process in its entirety. Businesses and marketing consultants often have their own unique approaches to the marketing process, but the fundamentals of the formula remain relatively static.

Here’s a more detailed breakdown of the typical marketing process for the modern business:

  1. Audience Identification

The first and most important step in the process is to identify a viable market for your product or service. If there are no customers waiting to buy whatever it is you’re selling, the rest is inconsequential.

  1. Demand and Competitive Analysis

The existence of an audience and demand for a product or service doesn’t confirm its appropriateness for your business. Extensive competitor analysis must also be carried out, in order to ensure the market isn’t already saturated or impenetrable.

  1. Product or Service Design and Development

Every aspect of the service or product design and development process should be tailored to meet the requirements and preferences of the end-user. You first establish their needs, then create something that satisfies them.

  1. Marketing and Promotion

After which, it’s a case of creating a marketing strategy to effectively present your product or service to your target audience. The key to success lies in showing the customer how their life will be better with your product or service in it.

  1. Customer Support Provision

Immediate and on-going customer support can be the ultimate deal-breaker for a marketing strategy. The more capable and committed the support you provide, the easier it becomes to nurture loyalty.


The Difference Between Marketing and Selling

In contrast with the above process, selling is – as the name itself suggests – simply a case of exchanging products or services for money. A basic transaction, wherein the customer receives something in return for their payment. Given the nature of the marketing process, this ‘sale’ represents almost a final step and is typically the result of successful marketing. The final step would be getting the existing customers’ experience as great as possible so your customers can refer other potential customers to your company with pride.

Selling is a part of marketing but is fundamentally reliant on other interconnected components. In most instances, selling products is impossible without an effective marketing strategy. Every sale contributes to the success of the business but must be approached in a manner that promotes loyalty and customer satisfaction. Selling without building trust and online social proof becomes problematic in the digital era.

Technically speaking, selling products is relatively easy if the value you deliver is well taken. After all, you can simply tell your target audience anything and everything they want to hear – even if it’s far from true. Though for obvious reasons, if you underdeliver or mislead the potential customers this would likely have a detrimental effect on customer loyalty, brand image and the wider performance of the organization. Therefore, the Sales Process must be closely coordinated with the Marketing Team so the right Brand Message is delivered, the expectations are set correctly, the Value Proposition is communicated.


Key Differentiators Between Marketing and Selling

An easy way of getting to grips with the difference between marketing and selling is to consider the latter as a more physical process. That being, the logistical movement of goods or services from the seller to the buyer by way of a sale. You pay, you receive something in return – this is a ‘sale’.

By contrast, marketing encompasses absolutely everything the organization does to both reaches and appeals to its target audience. Sales are needed to generate revenue, but marketing is a broad process that focuses on satisfying the demands of the customer and sustaining the organization long-term.

Some of the most important differences between selling and marketing are as follows:

  1. From beginning to end, marketing prioritizes customer satisfaction. The cycle begins by establishing the requirements and expectations of the customer, continuing to the provision of products/services to fulfill their needs and ends with their satisfaction and loyalty. Selling focuses less on customer satisfaction, more on revenues and profits.
  2. The success of a selling strategy is typically measured on sales volumes and revenue generated. With marketing, the way the audience perceives the value, the reasonable customer acquisition cost (CAC) per marketing channel, high Customer Lifetime Value (LTV), great Value Proposition (VP) and Unique Selling Proposition (USP) design, and high customer satisfaction levels indicate the campaign’s success.
  3. An effective marketing strategy is built entirely around the expectations and desires of the customer. With selling, techniques are devised to closing more sales of a product or service the business wishes to offer.
  4. Sales often focus on generating immediate revenues in a somewhat time-limited manner. Whereas an effective marketing strategy can nurture the kind of long-term loyalty that translates to on-going prosperity for the business.
  5. A marketing strategy that includes an effective sales strategy can ensure the business benefits from both. Nevertheless, a business is unlikely to succeed by focusing exclusively on sales without a wider long-term marketing strategy in place.
  6. Marketing considers the consumer first of all and values the customer as the single most important entity at the heart of the business. With selling, the customer is the final link in the chain, whereas the products or services being sold are the crux of the strategy. 
  7. A sales strategy may be considered successful even if the overwhelming majority of buyers are dissatisfied with their purchases. With marketing, even the most enormous sales volumes may be considered inconsequential if customer satisfaction ratings are low. 
  8. Marketing is considered an indirect activity, in that it promotes the business and its products/services without necessarily resorting to the hard sell. By contrast, selling is a direct activity – the business proactively attempting to persuade the customer to make a purchase.
  9. Sales strategies can be great for generating immediate interest and driving sales in a time-limited manner, through communicating the value to Prospects (Value-Based Selling), or through special offers, discounts, free gifts and time-limited promotions (Transactional Selling). Marketing focuses more on long-term business performance and continuous viability and profitability.
  10. More often than not, marketing focuses on the future of the business, its products/services and its target audience. Selling is more concerned with the immediate moment than what may or may not happen tomorrow.


Marketing and Selling Combined

Based on my experience consulting companies from Small to Large, in many organizational settings, the sales and marketing departments are separated. The reason is that each of the two responsibilities demands a unique set of skills and competencies for successful strategy development and implementation.

Compare the characteristics of an effective salesperson and an elite marketer and the differences become immediately apparent. To succeed in sales, you need to be an incredibly confident and assertive communicator, be perceived as an expert, possess advanced communication skills and be a naturally persuasive and influential individual. You also need to be able to ‘spin’ whatever you have to work within a manner that appeals to the prospective customer.

With marketing, it a little less ‘hands-on’. Excellent communication skills are a must, but marketers need to be somewhat more empathetic, analytical and forward-thinking. Their role is to consider the bigger picture for the business long-term, as opposed to doing whatever is necessary to close immediate sales. Marketers are critical thinkers with the ability to put themselves in the customer’s position, nurturing relationships through understanding rather than persuasion.

In any case, selling forms an important part of the marketing process, so the two go hand-in-hand.


Is Selling More Important than Marketing?

Speak to a sample group of small business owners and they’ll typically tell you the same:

Sales matter more than marketing.

The reason is that with limited time and money to invest in marketing, their performance and success are measured entirely on sales. From a logical perspective, sales is the Income Statement top line – and running a business often becomes a pursuit for the Revenue. If you don’t sell your products or services, you don’t generate the revenues you need to sustain your business.

So, just as long as they’re selling enough to get by, nothing else matters. Sales, therefore, is more important than marketing.

But while there’s a certain amount of logic to this conclusion, it’s a classic case of fundamentally flawed logic. Selling is important because it brings in the necessary revenues, but marketing is the process of designing the right product or service that’s in demand or generate the demand for the product or service, getting products and services known in the first place. Or to put it another way, you can’t expect to sell products or services if nobody knows they exist. Marketing comes first, ensuring you present something of value in accordance with the needs and desires of your target audience.

If they don’t want it or have no idea it exists, you won’t sell it…and your business will fail.

Irrespective of the importance of sales, therefore, you cannot realistically claim selling matters more than marketing. Sales occur as a result of effective marketing, which can also nurture loyalty and boost a brand’s wider performance. And, as already touched upon, marketing focuses on the long-term performance of the business – not the finite sales needed to keep it afloat temporarily.


In Summary…

Despite the inherent complexities within the fields of both marketing and selling, considering the two together is actually quite straightforward:

As it’s almost impossible to sell without marketing your products or services properly, marketing should be prioritized due to its strategic impact on the business.

This is particularly true when considering how an effective marketing strategy naturally encourages greater sales volumes and on-going sales. Selling and marketing may be very different concepts but are nonetheless intrinsically interconnected and interdependent on one another.



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