Why Marketing is not Sales

Posted on March 2, 2011

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But how Marketing can accelerate Sales many times over

I often meet professionals that are struggling with two related questions:

  1. Is Marketing any different from Sales?, and
  2. If they are different, how are they different?

These questioning professionals span multiple spectra – they work for start-ups, they work for established companies; they are CEOs, they are corporate rookies; they are Engineers, they are Accountants and surprisingly a number of them are Marketers. These are important questions to answer because they drive investment decisions and, equally importantly, they drive what are set up as measures of success, both for Marketing and Sales. So here’s my attempt to clear the air.

Let me begin with the basics. The adjacent chart shows the 5 steps that any consumer traverses as she makes the decision to buy a product (or a service). There are literally thousands of products that are competing for our attention; consumers are uninterested/unaware of most of them. It is only when a particular need needs to be satisfied that a consumer starts to become receptive to or actively seeks information on the relevant product category. This is the stage where the consumer may become aware of your particular product offering. Depending on the congruence of your product’s features and the consumer’s want, she may become interested and shortlist your product for consideration. The consumer then typically takes proactive steps to decide on which particular product to buy and hopefully she desires your product. The consumer’s next step is to take the necessary action to acquire the desired product. You need to stay with your consumer through each of these steps of the buying cycle, helping her make the comparison and drive her towards buying your product.

In a large number of organization, it is the salesperson who is tasked with the responsibility of working with the consumer as she traverses the buying cycle. Typically, a salesperson will be working with a number of consumers who are individually in different stages of the buying cycle and hence the salesperson needs a wide range of skills and resources to engage these consumers. In these organizations, Marketing typically plays a supporting role and helps create tools that Sales can use to engage consumers across the entire buying cycle. There is nothing inherently wrong with this model; it’s just not scalable. Salespersons are human beings and human beings have limited time and energy; a salesperson can engage only so many consumers. As business grows the number of the number of salespersons required go up proportionately. Anybody who has had to hire good people for their business knows that there is a limited talent pool to draw upon and it is not realistically possible to keep hiring ever-increasing number of salespersons to support a growing business. Moreover, if a salesperson is required to engage consumers who are in different stages of the buying cycle, the is constantly forced to make priority decisions; should he spend time with a consumer that is early in the buying cycle, requires a large amount of attention but is not likely to buy (if at all) in the near term or should he spend time with a consumer who is in the later stages, still requires a large amount of attention but is likely to buy in the near term. Engaging both consumers is probably equally important; the latter for delivering short-term revenue and the former for guaranteeing future revenue.

Marketing can help address both the challenge of scalability and the challenge of prioritization. The practice of Marketing and its techniques are ideally suited to engage consumers when they are mostly listening and learning. In the early stages of the buying cycle, consumers are looking for information that helps them contrast and compare. If appropriate content and useful tools to make use of the content are made available the consumer can do with minimal human intervention. Importantly, in these early stages, consumers tend to not want to deal with humans and avoid the pressure of having to make a decision before they feel ready. Now the role of Marketing expands from merely producing content and tools, to making the content and tools easily accessible, getting the content and tools in front of the consumer and getting the consumer to use that content and tools to move forward in the buying cycle. In technical terms, Marketing becomes responsible for Demand Creation. Sales can now exclusively engage only with consumers who are in the later stages of the buying cycle, focus on closing the sale and be measured for the revenue they bring in the near term; Sales is responsible for Demand Satisfaction

Thinking of Marketing and Sales as engaging consumers in different stages of the buying cycle will hopefully help decision makers make a better judgement of the kind of investments each of these functions need and set up appropriate measures to evaluate the performance of the two functions.

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Posted in: On Marketing