The Difference Between Sales and Marketing

Balanced marketing and sales strategies turn leads into customers

Colleagues having a casual stand-up meeting
••• Klaus Vedfelt/ Taxi/ Getty Images

Strong sales techniques are vital to driving business revenue and growth. But you won't have anyone to sell to if your business lacks an effective marketing plan. The balance of marketing and sales requires a comprehensive strategy that smoothly guides leads toward becoming customers.

Marketing vs. Sales

The difference between marketing and sales lies in how close you are to converting a potential customer to an actual customer.

Marketing encompasses the strategies you use to reach new leads and generate interest in your business. It should have measurable benchmarks so that you can judge which marketing choices are cost-effective and produce results. Depending on your business, this could include:

Sales is the process of actually convincing someone to buy from your business. It often involves some level of interpersonal interaction that persuades a lead to become a customer. Most of the time, these leads have been driven to you via marketing efforts. Your sales strategies may include:

  • One-on-one meetings
  • Cold calls or warm calls
  • Networking
  • Promotional events or trade fairs
  • Retail interaction
  • Direct sales
  • Abandoned cart emails

Cold, Warm, and Hot Leads

Turning a lead into a customer takes multiple points of contact. These can include any form of marketing, as well as social proof like recommendations from friends or online search results.

As potential customers progress through these points of contact, they are referred to as cold, warm, and qualified leads.

  • Cold: Leads who are unfamiliar with your brand, have no opinion on it, or don't intend to buy anything. You may know their contact information, but you haven't yet started the process of turning them into a customer.
  • Warm: Leads who have been exposed to some of your brand messaging or have heard about your business and are somewhat interested in buying. They may have followed you on social media or expressed interest in learning about your services.
  • Hot or Qualified: Leads who have a positive opinion of your brand, know what they would like to buy from you, and are close to making a purchase. They are ready to buy and need to be convinced that you are the best business to buy from.

Your marketing strategies guide cold leads through the stages necessary to becoming first warm and then qualified prospects. Sales techniques are what you use to close the deal and turn them into full customers. When a prospect reaches the warm or hot level, it's much easier for a sales professional to convince them to buy.

Integrating Sales and Marketing

Integrating the work of your sales and marketing teams enables you to reach prospects at all three levels: cold, warm, and hot.

If your sales and marketing teams are in different departments, those departments must communicate in order to be effective. Have them work together to create a comprehensive strategy for reaching prospects from all three categories of leads.

Some possibilities include:

  • Cold lead strategy: Send out a direct mailing, run a digital ad, or sponsor a social media post.
  • Warm lead strategy: Write a personal follow-up email, send out a sales letter, or invite leads to a special seminar or free training session.

If your warm lead strategy creates a qualified lead, it's time to proceed with closing the sale.

  • Qualified lead strategy: Conduct a one-on-one call; schedule an in-person meeting; offer a time-limited discount; or present a proposal, estimate, or contract.

Balancing Marketing and Sales

Small businesses and startups may lack the staff for separate sales and marketing departments, relying instead on just one or two people to handle both responsibilities. While this can make it easier to create a comprehensive marketing and sales plan, it can also mean that more energy gets directed to one side of the equation.

If your small business is having trouble balancing sales and marketing, invest the time and resources to learn about marketing materials, brand messaging, and sales tactics. When you and your staff feel equally skilled in both sales and marketing, you'll be able to balance the two to create a process that reliably turns prospects into customers.