Online Sales – Who Is Responsible?
When it comes to sales and marketing, the overlap can be confusing — not just for professionals in the field, but also for clients. Which is more important, marketing or sales? Where should I invest my budget? Who is responsible for generating sales? Is it the marketing team, sales team, or both?
I work for a digital marketing agency and a lot of times clients hold us accountable for online sales. When this happens, those clients are sometimes disappointed when online sales are not the immediate outcome of their digital marketing. The reality is, our team works as marketers first, not salespeople. Our efforts are to attract, educate, and then funnel users on to the sales team to close the deal.
What I do as a marketer can’t be defined just within sales. It encompasses much more than that. But again, in the context of online business, what is the difference between marketing and sales. Are they separate departments? Should they be working more closely together?
I started writing this post for clarity on the matter. Plus, I wanted a better understanding of both sales and marketing in order to understand the advantages of each and to figure out how they can better work together to benefit the business.
This blog is my attempt at ending the tension between sales and marketing.
By defining the roles of each, business leaders may just find that they can eliminate tension caused by the uncertainty of who is responsible for what. Plus, with this clarity, the business can get better results all around from both sales and marketing efforts.
The Sales vs. Marketing Conundrum
How do I get sales on my website? That is usually the first question clients ask when we meet. While marketers can certainly do a great job presenting products or services in a way to attract buyers, there are some other key components that will dictate whether their efforts are successful. The product they market needs to:
- Offer significant value to its market
- Be a product or service that’s in demand
- Account for the competitive landscape
No matter how good the marketing surrounding a product or service is, people won’t buy something they don’t value or understand. So it’s crucial to take time to develop a product or service that consumers will value first before passing the work of marketing and selling it along to your teams.
Businesses Need to Earn Revenue
I get it, clients want to know their ROI and I can admit it is harder for marketing to show that in some cases. The timeline of marketing can take a long time in some cases. Brand awareness and engagement don’t necessarily turn into cold hard cash straight away. This can sometimes make it difficult to quantify marketing.
On the flip side, when a business sells something like a teapot online, it’s much easier to quantify in reporting. This is where my conundrum starts. Both marketing and sales have value, but with eCommerce, it’s difficult to not lump marketing and sales together. The issue is that sometimes my efforts as a marketer are being fused with becoming responsible for eCommerce sales. But digital marketing is about more than just revenue returns. Right? Or is this just an excuse that I was making to not be held responsible? I thought maybe I was looking at the relationship between sales and marketing all wrong myself.
I went back to basics to understand the roles of marketing and sales, studying each of their processes. I wanted to figure out how they worked together so I could avoid feeling like there is a sales vs. marketing conundrum.
A Quick Overview of Marketing and Sales Management
What do sales and marketing do? I have a grasp on the marketing side, but I was still a bit fuzzy on sales.
- Do sales act as a function of marketing management?
- Should marketing and sales be seen as different departments or not?
- Does marketing occur before sales or after?
I like this definition, as explained by Philip Kotler (A.K.A. the godfather of marketing).
“Marketing and sales deal with the exploration and understanding of customer needs, with the response to them through the development, production, and sales of goods and services (including innovation implementation). It also deals with the impact on customers’ needs in accordance with the strategic purposes of the organization.” (Source)
What Is The Role of Sales?
Inbound and outbound sales, insider sales, and business development — there is a lot to define that goes into sales. However, I found this definition to be quite succinct: “Sales planning involves strategy, setting profit-based sales targets, quotas, sales forecasting, demand management, and the execution of a sales plan.”
This definition looks at sales holistically. And if you’re digging deep into defining what sales are, there are plenty of people asking great questions on Quora with some great explanations.
Types of Sales
To fully understand the value of sales, it is important to identify the different types of sales channels:
- Online sales (using eCommerce)
- Business development
- Inside sales
- Outside Sales / traditional sales
- Sales support
- Consultative selling
- B2B sales
- B2C sales
I’ll be focusing more on online sales because they have a large overlap with digital marketing.
How Have Sales Changed?
Selling Ice to Eskimos
Over the last several decades, sales have changed. Sales professionals are sometimes stereotyped as being aggressive to push sales and earn their commission. There were old sayings that “they could sell ice to Eskimos” that represent how some people felt about salespeople. Not that all salesmen are this way, mind you.
But early on, that was a more common approach. And the problem that surfaced with this model is that the end-user didn’t feel they were receiving any value beyond just being another number on paper to the salesman. Thankfully, the sales process has evolved for the better.
Relationship Driven Sales
Obviously, that old way of doing sales had to change. People were aware they were being “sold to” and that process wasn’t working to earn their trust.
The modern approach to selling focuses on offering value and building a relationship. Salespeople are knowledgeable about their products and concentrated on building trust and rapport with the client. They are now seen as helpers and they can even create a positive brand relationship for the consumer. And in many cases, the website now acts as the point of sale (POS) in a buyer’s journey.
The Internet’s Effect on Sales
Sales were forced to change due to the internet. It gave businesses the ability to sell and obtain leads through their own websites. And sales reps were starting to find their old role replaced by product pages, blogs, or instructional videos.
This is where the sales vs. marketing conundrum possibly sparked. Are websites replacing salespeople? Are digital marketers, who promote the website, the ones responsible for sales?
What Is Marketing and What Is Its Role?
AMA describes marketing as “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.” Words like “partnership” and “value” are key here.
Just like sales, marketing has also changed due to the internet. There is a shift in demand away from traditional marketing such as print, billboards, television, and radio.
Modern marketing uses the internet and everything connected to it. This includes your website, social media, and online advertising, etc. Digital marketing has the ability to be super personalized in a way that traditional marketing is not able to be.
How Has Marketing Changed?
The ability to measure and track have given marketers the data to make educated decisions on where to target and what messaging to use. Through digital marketing, we can easily see data such as:
- New or returning users
- Online interests
- Demographic data
- Behavioral trends
- Channels that lead to sales
A billboard can’t offer you that insight. The same can be said for TV and print. That’s why more budget is being allocated to digital marketing mediums.
According to the Washington Post, eMarketer expects companies to spend nearly $130 billion on digital ads, compared with about $110 billion on traditional advertisements (54.2% of the ad market vs. 46.8%, respectively).
What Is The Difference Between Sales and Marketing?
Now that we have an idea of the roles of each department, we can see how marketing and sales differ.
The Difference According to Kotler
Philip Kotler explains the difference between sales and marketing with an example. “Sales departments tend to believe that marketers are out of touch with what’s really going on with customers. Marketing believes the sales force is myopic — too focused on individual customer experiences, insufficiently aware of the larger market, and blind to the future. In short, each group often undervalues the other’s contributions.”
This example really resonated with me, because I’ve seen this happen and I’ve been guilty of it myself. But again, I think it’s time to understand each role so it can receive the appreciation it deserves.
The Difference According to Mike Shaw
The differences between the roles of marketing and selling are tied to the business strategy and maturity of the product. For instance, how you sell or market a brand new product would be different than if you were focusing on a product that was well-known and established.
However, in most cases, you can also look at it this way — the main differentiating factors between marketing and sales are their objectives.
Marketing Objectives vs. Selling Objectives
The objectives and functions of the sales department change during the course of a product’s life cycle. The size of your business can also impact what degree you market your products or services.
Small businesses are the backbone of the American economy and we can assume that not all have clearly defined roles for marketing or sales. This can be due to a lack of budget or internal infrastructure.
I honestly think this is where the confusion set in, with one person becoming responsible for many tasks. In most cases, a salesperson is told to manage the business’s marketing. So, eventually, businesses just started assuming the two are the same since it was all handled by that same employee.
However, after dissecting the role of each above, it’s clear they both have different goals, even if the same person is managing them. Let’s look at the specific objectives that marketing and sales work to accomplish.
Marketing Objectives: The 4P’s of Marketing
The marketing mix is a well-known concept that helps businesses in aligning their marketing goals. Specifically, the marketing mix focuses on four key elements:
- Product: Making people aware of the product or service you are offering.
- Price: Establishing the value of your product or service.
- Place: Utilizing distribution channels to get in front of potential clients.
- Promotion: Creating brand awareness, segmenting, positioning targeting.
Some of these elements can take time to establish, like brand awareness or segmenting. But over time, they can hold a lot of value for more than just what you’re selling. They can lead to increasing brand awareness or boosting the relationship customers have with your business, even when they’re not buying from you.
The objectives of the sales department are to generate revenue, which requires:
- Building customer relationships
- Increasing sales volume
- Reaching sales quotas
- Exceeding revenue goals
- Growing and nurturing lead generation
- Managing inventory
- Upselling and cross-selling
- Retaining clients so that repeat purchases occur
Sales are never just one-time events. They can occur often over a period of time and the salesperson is responsible for managing everything around that process.
The Marketing Funnel vs. The Sales Funnel = The Purchasing Funnel
The Overlap Between Marketing and Sales
Since eCommerce websites are able to sell directly to the user, the responsibility of the salesperson has changed. But so has the role of the marketer. As a result, digital marketing is also having to own more responsibility for sales.
Below is an image showing how marketing is impacting the purchasing funnel.
In terms of the purchasing funnel, marketing, and sales processes come in at different stages, based on their objectives.
Modern Marketing Usually Focuses On:
- Awareness: The customer is aware of the existence of a product or service.
- Interest: Actively expressing an interest in a product group.
- Consideration & Evaluation: Aspiring to a particular brand or product.
Whereas The Modern Sales Process Is More Focused On:
- Evaluation: Is this what I want? Is it the right fit? Will it do what I need it to?
- Purchase: Taking the next step towards purchasing the chosen product.
The Relationship Between Marketing and Sales
I like how Neil Rackham explains the typical relationship between marketing and sales.
“All too often, organizations find that they have a marketing function inside sales, and a sales function inside marketing.”
This resembles the majority of businesses. Departments overreach because they don’t trust or think the other is capable or willing to fulfill their responsibilities. It is not efficient and it causes great confusion.
I am not a huge Gary Vee fan, but I do like his explanation of how sales and marketing score at different times. Keeping this in mind, the sales and marketing departments should get to know each other’s processes intimately. That way they can understand where the user is in the purchasing funnel and create a seamless transition between their departments.
The Future of Marketing and Sales
Marketers should be held more accountable for sales. I can admit that.
While there is a difference between marketing and sales, the internet has shifted more of the sales responsibility to the marketer. The marketer has control over the website and the medium driving users to the website in a way the salesman does not.
However, I think it’s important that in light of how the internet’s evolved sales and marketing, businesses take the time to define the focuses of both teams to ensure expectations are clear and doable. Understanding what digital marketers vs. salespeople have control over and how it can affect revenue is what will enable both the teams to produce better results.
I don’t think that sales and marketing should be one department, but they should definitely be working closer together than in the past. Each service comes in at different points of the purchase cycle and has an important role in ensuring that revenue is created. Ultimately, both are responsible.