Marketing vs. Sales

In Gino Wickman’s book, Get a Grip, a fictional company debates whether sales and marketing are the same thing, or different things. In the context of a company organization chart, that’s an important question. Do you have a Marketing Director and a Sales Director, or should one person oversee both?

What about your website? Is it for marketing, sales, or both — or are the two really the same thing?

Let me begin by sharing my personal definitions of these two terms:

  • Marketing: Be very good at what you do and let people know.
  • Sales: Align your offerings with people’s needs and help them buy.


Let’s imagine that you’re selling freeze-dried meals for backpackers. You know that backpackers want  meals that are lightweight, nutritious, and reasonably tasty. They can’t leak in a backpack or be time-consuming to prepare.

You’ve got the definition of “good” for your product and your customers, so make sure your product is in fact very good.

Now how will you let people know how good it is? Your website can do the job with content like this:

  • Information about the weight and packaging of your product, including photos of the product in its package, preferably in outdoor settings, peeping out of a backpack
  • Photos of your tasty meals being prepared with a fire or camp stove  by people who are actually out in the wilds after backpacking all day, not by clean models in a kitchen
  • Reviews by people who have actually packed, prepped, and eaten the meals
  • Nutritional information, complemented by articles on health relevant to backpackers

Knowing your customers well, you will also want to include information in your blog and social media that you know will interest them, including great backpacking trails, techniques and gear, and social issues that you know are of concern to your audience.

With quality content of this kind, you will build trust and authority, the cornerstones of modern marketing.

The Zero Moment of Truth

Today’s consumers like to get information when and where they want it. If they are interested in freeze-dried Chana Masala, they’ll Google it. They don’t want you to push ads in their faces, and they will ignore your ad for Chana Masala unless they are already in the market.

Once they’re in the market, though, they’ll do some research. Google has found that consumers now check out about 10 different sources of information before they buy. If you’re doing your search marketing right, you ought to show up — in the reviews they read, in the blog posts that come up in answer to the questions they Google, in the search results (and yes the ads) when they’re ready to buy.

Now does this mean that sales has changed completely? In some ways, yes. The internet and the mobile phone have created the Empowered Consumer, who does not rely on salespeople.

But that doesn’t mean that human beings have changed. Some of the points above should be familiar to old-school marketers:

  • People like to buy things, but they don’t like to be sold to.
  • People need to see your message 7-12 times before they take action.
  • People prefer to buy from companies they trust.

None of that is new. What’s new is that BUY NOW messages are perceived the way pushy salespeople used to be. Shoppers don’t need to see an ad a dozen times, because they have the power to seek out their own 7-12 connections with your message. Social media has made it possible to ask 795 of your closest friends, plus the bloggers you feel really close to, instead of just the friend who’s in the store with you and your mom.

That’s what has changed.


Once your consumer knows that she wants your freeze-dried meals, your website can be a salesperson.  It should be easy for her to find your Chana Masala, both on the search engine results page and in your website.

Just for the purposes of this discussion, I did a quick search for freeze-dried meals to see how well the industry was doing on sales.

I clicked through the first ad I was offered, and here’s what I saw:


Yep, I clicked on an ad and saw a 404 error. What’s more, my search was for freeze-dried meals for backpacking, and I’ve ended up at a prepper site. I don’t feel that this company is in tune with my needs, so I bounce away.

I already tried just clicking the first thing I see and that didn’t work, so I’m going to look more closely before I click. Here’s my SERP:


Now, you can’t rely on your own decisions to show what your customers might do, and of course different people get different results when they search. But I saw the same ad I had already clicked on, ads for food with a 25 year shelf life and for freeze-dried foods in cans — and then, with great relief, I saw a listing for REI. I know and trust this company. They’re for backpackers. It’s not #1 on the page, but it is certainly the clear best choice for me.

The pictures on the right? I don’t even have to read the copy to see that they won’t fit in my backpack. (I’m actually going to see the same pictures again as I shop, but I don’t look at them at all right now — I have something in mind and they don’t match it.)

This is a sales situation, not a marketing one. REI has already done their marketing, as far as I’m concerned. Now they have to go on to sales. Here’s what I see when I click through:


This is a sales page, so its job is to help me find the right products and to make it easy for me to buy. I can tell this company speaks to consumers like me. They’re offering me a discount when I want one, not when I’m looking for information and ignoring banner ads. They have a clean, easy to follow catalog page that also allows me to find things quickly — I can go straight to dinners if I want, I can specify that I want my meals organic or gluten-free or American made, and there is an easy-to-find search bar.

I searched for Chana Masala and found it immediately, with reviews and a bright orange “add to cart” button. The checkout process is easy, so I don’t get frustrated and leave.


But take another look at this product page. I can easily buy this freeze-dried meal and I’m at the end of my journey. Now REI is offering — in a visually more subtle way that you might not notice unless you click the picture and make it bigger — other stuff I might want. Maybe I’d like to increase my order and get free shipping. Maybe I want to become a member and get a discount. They could show me stuff that people like to buy along with Chana Masala. These are sales jobs. As long as they don’t actually pop up and distract me from the “add to cart” button, they won’t do any harm.

Imagine all that festooning a blog post. In fact, let me show you a couple of blog posts from sites that got confused about marketing vs. sales:


This pop-up got in my face after no more than a couple of seconds — I hadn’t had a chance to read the first sentence of the blog post that I was hoping would give me some useful information about freeze-dried foods. They’re offering information that I might find useful at some other time, but it’s not what I want right now.


This site assures me that “NOW would be a good time to order,” but they’re wrong. I’m looking for information at this point. They can have those sales pitches in the sidebar — I’m going to ignore them anyway unless I’m actually ready to buy — but they shouldn’t have a sales pitch at the top of a page I hoped would give me information. I’m going to leave this page.

What do REI’s blog posts look like? They offer useful information in the place where I look for useful information. Sure, I can buy things from them if I want to — both my shopping cart and the FREE SHIPPING offer are in orange, though the cart would be a reserved gray if I didn’t have anything in it — but this is not the place for a sales pitch.


I think that a lot of the confusion about sales and marketing online stems from companies thinking about themselves, not their customers. What is the website for from the company’s point of view? To sell things! Not from the consumer’s point of view. They don’t care whether you sell things. They want to get answers to their questions, enjoy themselves, and — when they’re ready — find the goods and services they need. From the consumer’s point of view, your website is for providing useful and/or entertaining content about things they care about, including your goods and services. Do that, and you will succeed with marketing.

And sales.







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