I had some fantastic comments on one of my recent blogs, and I have to say, comments I was not expecting! The post was about the supposed difference between marketing and sales. My point being, that all good sales people are marketers and vice versa, in fact, marketing and selling are essentially the same thing.

It’s fair to say that there was an awful lot of semantic discussion. Marketing is this, sales is that, which even now I read as merely different ways of stating the same thing. It seems in the UK though, there is definitely a bit of ‘snobbery’ when it comes to the terminology of sales and selling, with an awful lot of people happy to be labelled marketers, and not so much sellers!

Well, as part of my mission on this blog is to try to improve the image of sales people, I thought I’d explore this a little more. In truth every great sales person I ever worked with was a great marketer, even when some of those guys refused to believe that they were great sales people themselves. Some even refused  to call themselves sales people at all.

Speaking as a proud seller, and a qualified marketer, and I’ll go one step further, a sales person that sells marketing, the following is why I think great sales people are great marketers! And In my humble opinion (!) given that I sell marketing and advertising for a living, you’d think I’d know what I was talking about…

I learned, long ago, that marketing became what we know it today in response to increasing supply and competition for whatever products businesses were selling. It all started however, with the birth of the so-called industrial businesses. I like the story of the Ford motor car as an illustration.

According to myth (it never happened apparently) Henry Ford said ‘You can have any colour, as long as it’s black’ when referring to the model T Ford, the worlds first production line motor car. Its stands to reason as the first, ‘Old Henry’ simply had to make as many of them as he could, as fast as he could, and as cheaply as he could, in order to maximise profits. This is called ‘Production Orientation’ – Straight forward enough right?

However, after a while, the rest of the world caught up. And as a result, Henry needed to ‘drive’ his sales by demonstrating why his cars were better / faster / cheaper/ more reliable / sexier etc. This is called ‘Sales Orientation’. When an organisation needs to leverage its relationships, its production muscle, its distribution channels (showrooms etc) and anything else for that matter. There are many different ways to sell. Promotions (money off) Personal Selling (face to face) Telesales, retailing etc. Many organisations are still locked in Sales Orientation. Basically, if an organisation only makes the one thing, or series of things, and makes the things its always made (cars?) then it needs to sell.

The trouble is, even as a market leader, someone always comes up on the rails and steals your lovely market share. May be they do it cheaper / faster / sexier than you were ever able to. May be they are just smaller, and therefore more flexible and adaptable, and can do things the market wants quicker with less fuss and for less money. Whatever, you soon find your way into a battle for share and continued profits, or even a battle for declining profits.

The answer to this problem, is rather than to keep pouring product into a saturated market or finding increasingly cheaper ways to do it. Or even trying to ‘sell’ that product through ever increasingly desperate means, why not try to ‘invent’ new THINGS to sell? Or even, find new PLACES to sell them? In essence what we call ‘new product developement’ or ‘new market development’. Examples are easy to find. The Apple Ipod and Iphone for that matter, single-handedly created new markets where they had not existed before. And recently, despite having fallen behind in the smart phone marketplace, Nokia have made great strides selling ‘old fashioned’ handsets in markets like India. That’s just a phone that’s a phone type – remember them!

To a large extent, that’s it. Marketers will also talk about segmenting their customers and needing to find the right price for materials and the right techniques for manufacturing. How to sell the product, how to store it, how to ship it etc. But how much of this would you be able to accept is just smart selling? Making sure you are buying at low enough prices to max out on profits or finding more and better ways to find your clients in the first place? Even understanding your clients ‘better’ clearly gives you an advantage when it comes to making money.

All the great sales people I have worked with get this. They possess other qualities and perform in other ways that formal marketers would recognise. They solve problems for their clients, they think of new and innovative ways to communicate their sales message. They understand that price is a great way to position their product and circumspect manipulation of prices can encourage or stifle demand as required. They look for what we call ‘new business’. This is not only the continued flogging of whatever the usual ‘horse’ might be, but increasingly, they look to take their products to ‘new categories’ of clients that may never have seen a use for their products before. They’ll even think of new and innovative uses for their products to ‘increase shelf life’.

Sales people are also among the most realistically brutal when it comes to understanding where something that they are selling sits in the product life cycle. They know that products in ‘introduction’ need nurturing and encouraging. The market place needs education when it comes to a product like that, and all good sellers are great tellers! Once through the introduction phase, a product enters ‘growth’. ALL sales people recognise this as the time to drive the product hard, as it were. Now is the time to get out there and see people, PR your product, communicate with the market as to where to get it, generally speaking build the brand of that growth product, all the while constantly re evaluating what the price should be to ensure break even as soon as possible and healthy profit generation.

Once through growth and into ‘maturity’, our seller knows when he has a good thing going, and makes sure that this is the mainstay of his business. Maximising on profit with as little investment in further development as possible.

But sales people are also unsentimental when it comes to the ‘decline’ of that product. (Sometimes to) Quick to drop it in favour of the latest offering, you should have no fear a lame duck will be put out of it’s misery with little hesitation.

You may also recognise these periods in a product’s life cycle as the terminology of the ‘Boston Consultancy Group Matrix’. ‘Stars’, ‘Cash Cows’ and ‘Dogs’ are quickly recognised for what they are, and utilised accordingly. If that’s not marketing what is?

I don’t question the sophistication of marketers and modern marketing, rather I hope that marketers and those that aspire to such lofty aims can recognise the intricate skills and the subtle requirement for sellers too? Or even, dare I dream it, accept that actually, we are all in the ‘same game’!

Most marketers I know, and an awful lot of those that commented on that other blog, rather sniffily I thought, claimed to have no interest in the sharp end of the process, the ‘close’ as it were. They seemed to think marketing was in some way the beginning of the process and sales the end. Marketing would soften up a prospect and sellers ‘finish’ them off! Marketing identified who might buy, and sales people do the deed.

It’s just plain silly to differentiate in my opinion. Where on earth does the process start and end? And who is qualified to even begin to make that distinction?

That’s why I think great sales people are great marketers, and great marketers have been great sales people all along. At the risk of starting the whole thing off all over again, what do you think?

  1. Mike
    Mike says:

    great post… I think many great salespeople like you describe are inherent marketers but do not realise it. I am reminded of a hitch hiker on the side of the road with a sign that says Cardiff… that is your salesperson, often just one close and if that does not work then tough…next car. The next guy 100 metres up the road is both a salesman and a marketer- He has two signs- one 50 yards before him… that sits on the road that says Cardiff – I miss my mum… then you see him with another sign he is holding up Cardiff- Mum’s place please!!!

    I do however think that the combination you describe are rare… marketers are more strategic … many salepeople can not be bothered with that they are too tactical … If you do find a combination of both then hug them…

    • damiandowling
      damiandowling says:

      Interesting point Mike. Maybe I don’t see them as rare as thats what I tend to recruit and train for the most part! A bit arrogant may be? I don’t mean to be. Its worth finding these guys and ‘hugging’ them, and it requires you to be always on the lookout
      Actually, may be they are more rare than I thought!
      But I don’t think the ability to be strategic and tactical at the same time is a particularly difficult ask, and not exclusive to Business School graduates