The difference between sales and marketing is simply scale

When I started in sales in 1986 one of the most important things to learn was how to get past the dreaded gatekeeper. Whole sections of sales training courses would be devoted to getting through to the decision maker and past their secretary. Their job of course was to do the opposite. It was an arms race, which mostly the secretary's won.

The gatekeepers were often so effective, and the clients so well protected that if you did manage to get past the gatekeeper you often got the deal.

Strangely enough something happened to to the gatekeepers. They got excessioned out of existence by technology. By the mid 1990’s every middle manager was stabbing at a typewriter with two fingers like a man attempting to spear a fast moving fish with a digit. Email had replaced letters and the brave new world of electronic communications was beginning to dawn.

Today almost no one has a gatekeeper, Linkedin has made everyone on the planet a single click away from being communicated directly with.

It should be a golden era for sales people, but it isn’t, in fact many businesses seem to believe they don’t even need a sales organisation any more. I’m sure they are wrong, but they will only be wrong if sales wakes up, understands the world has changed and that they need to reinvent themselves. If they don’t they’ll go the way of the gatekeepers.

Because the gatekeepers have gone, the clients are much better educated and street smart. Now sales needs to prove the point both with logic, but more importantly with emotion.


One way of thinking of the difference between sales and marketing is scale.

Marketing is a discipline of large numbers. Prospects, Leads, opportunities won / lost. These are all (hopefully) large numbers for any business. But they are anonymous. will tell you how many leads, at what stage. All very useful stuff, but it’s not specific to an individual deal.

Sales on the other hand deals in a few deals, but they are very specific. It’s the detail end of the scale. Will Mr Smith of company X buy product E,F and G by next Wednesday. The devil, and money is in the details. The trouble is, sales seems to have rather forgotten that.

This is one of the primary reasons CEO’s and CFO’s love marketing. With modern analytics marketing can tell management everything they think they need to know to two decimal places, and on a graph no less. Sales can’t do that. They have to talk specifics, it gets messy. I’ve met many a CFO who can’t understand how the deal at 90% closed suddenly was closed lost.

“How can that be!?!?” they exclaim, “it was 90% !!!!!”

Pointing out that it was at 90% because there was a 10% chance it would not close just doesn’t seem to work. In the world of Marketing’s big numbers one deal either way makes no difference. It’s in the noise. In sales it’s personal.

Hello we’ve never met. Would you like to be my friend? Let me sell you something

Today salespeople are acting like marketeers and thinking scale, which is a good thing, but you can’t act that way for the entire sales cycle. A good example is that person who you’ve never met who asks to friend you on Linkedin, then 1 minute later tries to sell you a thing. No no no, that’s a horrible thing to do, but way too many salespeople work on that principal these days.


Think of it like finding a mate. Sitting down, considering what you are looking for in a partner, then considering where they might hangout, frequenting those places, and building a list of possible partners then making yourself attractive to this demographic matters so they are interested in you, is one thing.

But at some point you’re going to have to actually speak to these people and build a human connection. In other words most of the process is marketing, the last bit, you know, where you actually “close the deal” is sales.

Next week I'll be talking about how Marketing without Sales leads to Sales Buckets rather than Sales Funnels, and how at some point in the cycle someone needs to actually pull a trigger.

The 3rd way

As I’ve discussed before the old manner of sales is dead, but the new way of treating sales like a marketing activity is a non starter as well.

Know the difference

For salespeople to be successful in their arena today they need to be part marketing, part sales and KNOW THE DIFFERENCE between those roles and play them accordingly.


Modern salespeople need to be micro-celebrities in their market. With 60% of the buyer’s journey occurring before the sales person even knows they exist, they need to be influencing the client, building trust, and framing the solution before they’ve even met the client. This can be classed as a marketing activity. But it doesn’t mean marketing should do this. They are too busy generating leads for the company. Salespeople need to take charge of their own destiny.

Rule of large numbers

Modern salespeople need to be able to interact with large numbers of prospects simultaneously. To scale in a world where everything becomes ever cheaper sales needs to touch groups of clients regularly without having to see personally. Podcasting, blogging, group events are all examples on how to influence clients at scale.

Clients selling

Modern salespeople must leverage their existing clients to sell on their behalf. I would argue this is the single most powerful use of salespeople today. Empowering existing clients to be advocates is the most scalable and powerful use of salespeople.

ABC (Always Be Closing)

Closing. Closing is often considered a nasty turn of phrase in the modern world. After all no one likes a pushy salesperson trying to close the deal. It’s one of the reasons sales gets paid so well, people hate doing it and hate having it done to them. But there are good ways to close business, and have everyone in the negotiation come out feeling good about the process. Compelling events matter, and I’ll write about that another time.

About the Author: Simon Dudley

Simon is a contrarian. He makes a habit of being the guy who questions the orthodoxy, the guy who doesn’t believe it just because the good and the great said it’s true. This has not always been good for his ascent up the corporate greasy pole. However it’s been very good for his employers if they are prepared to listen.

The Book The End of Certainty "How to thrive when playing by the rules is a losing strategy" explains why groupthink and the doing what you’ve always done is no longer the right move.

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