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Sales vs marketing in 2020: What’s the difference? Blog Feature

Marcus Sheridan

Keynote Speaker, Author & Partner, Author of ’They Ask You Answer”, Presented 250+ Sales, Marketing, & Communication Workshops Worldwide

October 15th, 2019 min read

There is no doubt the internet has fundamentally changed the way people buy, and this upheaval has helped make fortunes for businesses who choose to stay nimble and adjust, even as the ground shifts beneath them.

Sales and marketing have been elements of business for centuries, but they are constantly evolving — perhaps at no point as rapidly as in the past twenty years.

Today, roughly 70% of a buying decision is made before a shopper talks to a salesperson. Customers are self-educated by way of website content. They are informed, savvy, and discerning.

Think of how it used to be. A person looking to buy a car would go to a dealership, learn about models and prices, maybe take home some marketing materials. They would then return, perhaps two or three more times, before making a purchase. 

Today, consumers not only know more about models and trim levels, they also know which dealership has the car they want, in the color they want, with the options they want.

It’s gone from “what can you tell me about your available cars?” to “I want the 2018 silver CRV with the all-wheel drive with the promotional financing offer on your website.”

Indeed, consumers expect that any necessary information will be accessible. They want access to reviews, cost, and comparisons online, and are skeptical of companies that seem to withhold information.

Typically, it is the marketing departments that publicize this information that helps begin the buying process. 

Thus, the line between sales and marketing becomes blurry. If the salesperson once was responsible for educating the prospect — but that’s now done via marketing — where does the line exist between one and the other?

What is marketing?

Simply put, marketing is any business action that creates interest or gathers knowledge about a potential buyer or customer.

In a more traditional model from previous generations, this meant creating advertisements and buying media space to get those ads in front of consumers. 

In the world of inbound marketing, this means creating content that informs website visitors about how your company’s products or services can help with their problems.

As the statistics mentioned above attest, marketing is taking responsibility for an ever-increasing portion of the sales process. Marketing teams are educating prospects so that they can quickly and smoothly move through the buying process without relying on sales reps in the way they did in the past.

If businesses are properly integrating a They Ask, You Answer methodology, the biggest questions in any prospect’s mind will be already answered on the company website. These “Big 5” topics are essential content, for they build trust with prospects by demonstrating transparency — and they are created by the marketing team.

Now, in some businesses, there is no sales department, and commerce relies solely on marketing. Think of Amazon. There is no one helping you make your purchasing decision. Instead, shoppers rely on customer reviews and detailed product descriptions. 

I believe this will become increasingly common in the future. After all, people are now buying used cars on their phone.

What is sales?

Traditionally, sales took over once a business knew a prospect existed. If an advertisement got someone into a store, a salesperson took it from there. 

At companies practicing inbound and content marketing, the salespeople still function in a similar way, but much of the heavy lifting is done by the website. In addition to all of the information a prospect may have gathered from online resources, they have also begun to trust the business that's shared that content.

Trust is the currency of all business. It is crucial, fragile, and slow to develop. If businesses can begin to cultivate trust by way of their websites, the sales process can be shortened accordingly.

Still, good salespeople are vital to a business. Sales reps are able to clearly, confidently, and efficiently help prospects become customers. At a point where customers are handing over money, it’s important that sales reps are there to operate with humanity and purpose. 

Traditionally, businesses have seen sales as the recipe for growth. When a company wants to grow, it looks to hire more sales reps. When in financial trouble, it will let go of marketers before downsizing sales. 

In conventional thinking, sales equals revenue.

The tools that help sales and marketing be successful

In order to be successful in the digital age, companies rely on software to help them to stay organized and efficient. For sales teams, this is a customer relationship management system, or CRM. This keeps track of all prospects, customers, and clients, with details about contacts, deals, and companies — and it allows for robust analysis and collaboration.

For marketers, the most important software asset is a marketing automation tool. This sends and tracks emails and other communications, provides analytical information, and automates tasks associated with campaigns.

Considering how essential sales and marketing alignment is in 2020, it amazes me that so many sales and marketing teams use programs that don’t integrate well with each other. 

At IMPACT, we use HubSpot, which is both an automation system and a CRM. The fact that it is used by our sales and marketing teams engenders alignment between the squads.

When a prospect has to be handed off from marketing to sales, an integrated software system enables a smooth transition. 

Team organization

Because of a pervasive overestimation of sales teams’ influence on revenue, most companies employ 10 sales reps for every one marketer. At some companies, it’s even more. I’ve seen instances where there are 20 salespeople for every one marketer. 

Think about what that imbalance demonstrates about what that company values!

What’s more, some companies don’t have any marketers on staff, choosing instead to outsource marketing efforts to an agency. 

By contrast, a company would never consider outsourcing the sales process. The very notion seems absurd. However, outsourcing of marketing is, in some ways, equally absurd.

Instead, some forward-thinking companies are opting for a blended revenue team, which eliminates the siloing that has divided sales and marketing for too long. 

Sales and marketing alignment in 2020 and beyond

I believe it is detrimental to businesses to continue to see marketing as an expense.

Rather, both sales and marketing should be seen as elements that bring in revenue. Think about it: If marketing is now responsible for a large part of what once fell under sales’ purview — and we see revenue coming from sales — then marketing, too, is driving revenue.

Times change. So, too, must organizations.

Going forward, marketing teams should no longer be seen as an expense, and they should take responsibility for expected revenue, proving their ROI in the process. 

Sales teams should avail themselves to their marketing colleagues and share their expertise. Sales reps have intimate knowledge of the questions prospects frequently ask during the buying process. This knowledge should yield content that further shortens the sales cycle. 

This way, sales comes to help in the marketing process, just as marketing has come to help in the sales process. Through collaborative effort, the teams get better and the company becomes more efficient, more transparent, and more successful.

A path forward

I once had a conversation with over a hundred representatives from a major company. All of the key leaders were there, and I was speaking to them about the future of sales and marketing. I recommended hiring decisions I thought they should make, and the whole room seemed to agree with me.

But they said “Marcus, we don’t think the CFO is going to go for it.” It turns out the CFO was in the room with us. I asked her directly, would you be willing to invest more fully in marketing, to align your teams, to commit to being transparent and educational?

She said, “you know how it is. Seeing is believing. I need to see it work before I’d fully invest.”

To me, that was like asking a farmer to see produce while not being willing to invest in seed. You can’t see the crop harvested if you’re unable to plant the seed.

In order to successfully move into 2020 and beyond, companies need to take a leap of faith. Great success can happen — big things can grow — but not until you plant the seed and invest in thinking differently.

The future: A blended approach

Let’s say you want to buy a swimming pool. You go online to a trusted site and it asks you a few questions right off the bat. What size are you looking for? What’s your timeline and budget?

Now, traditionally, these are the exact same questions usually asked by salespeople.

Here, though, the answers lead you to different webpages designed specifically for the options you selected. All of the information is served up to you on-demand, in the comfort of your home, at your own pace. You’re in complete control.

You progress until you reach a point where the site can make a recommendation and you can make a decision.

Now, is that a sales or a marketing process?

It’s a new kind of sales experience designed by marketers to cater to a modern buyer.

In 2020 and beyond, it will be harder and harder to distinguish between sales and marketing. Smart companies will organize their teams accordingly, with aligned professionals who recognize the changing notion of modern business.

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