Marketing vs. Sales: What's the Difference?

May 14, 2020
marketing students in classroom

Concordia University Texas students can concentrate in one of four areas for the Bachelor of Business Administration, and one of the options is marketing. In the job market today, many employers use "marketing" and "sales" interchangeably, but they're not the same thing.

It's important to understand the differences between these two disciplines, especially when you apply for jobs.

What Is Marketing?

Marketing, according to the American Marketing Association, is "the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners and society at large."

In other words, marketers develop creative campaigns, which are delivered through a variety of mediums (TV, social media, print materials, etc.) to persuade customers to consider purchasing a product or service. Marketers identify different groups of customers most likely to purchase a product or service (target markets) and customize campaigns to reach each market.

What Is Sales?

Salespeople work directly with customers. According to Chief Outsiders, "they knock down the doors, overcome objections, negotiate prices and terms, and often work internally" to make sure their customers' needs are met. They consistently engage with potential and current customers through various methods, including face-to-face meetings, emails and cold calling.

What's the Difference?

Marketing and sales teams are working toward the same goal — to sell a product or service. But the way these two fields achieve this goal is different.

Marketing Sales
Main Purpose Get customers interested in product or service, direct them to sales Persuade customers to purchase product or service, maintain relationships with customers
Customer Interaction Indirectly through marketing materials (brochures, advertisements, social media, etc.) Direct interaction in person, through email and over the phone
Potential Roles
  • Creative Manager
  • Director/Vice President
  • Graphic Designer
  • Media Buyer/Planner
  • Social Media Manager
  • Web Designer/Editor
  • Webmaster
  • Writer (Content)
  • Associate
  • Team Leader
  • Branch Manager
  • Regional Manager
  • National Manager
  • Vice President
  • Director
Unique Skills
  • Brand Strategy
  • Graphic Design
  • Programming and Software Development
  • Social Media Strategy
  • Interpersonal Relationship Skills
  • Customer Service
  • Selling
  • Negotiation and Influence

Marketers develop and implement campaigns to drive potential customers to the salespeople, who then build relationships with the customers, answer their questions and work to persuade them to purchase the product or service.

While marketing professionals and salespeople use many of the same skills, such as communication, strategizing, market research and critical thinking, they also require unique skills. Both fields are essential to organizations.

Why This Matters

Many organizations use "marketing" and "sales" interchangeably, but the two fields serve different functions. When searching for a job, you don't want to apply for a role that doesn't align with your knowledge, skills and interests. The job description should help you determine whether it's truly a marketing or sales role.

Additionally, whether you enter the field of marketing or sales, it's always helpful to understand and appreciate the role of a department with which you work closely. The most effective organizations have marketing and sales professionals who understand their roles and work well together.

For help with all things career-related, visit the CTX Vocation & Professional Development site.