The Great Debate: Marketing vs. Sales

Why do we bother running ads?

I am part of a new Marketing and Branding Committee at the firm I work for and we recently held our very first meeting. While I could not be more excited to get started on the process of growing and developing the firm’s marketing strategy, during our first meeting one of the very first things that we discussed was: what exactly is marketing? What should we focus on, where should we spend our dollars, what is our objective—these were all questions that came up as we conversed. Perhaps the most interesting topic that we discussed was the topic of the difference between marketing and sales.

To some, marketing and sales are the same thing—they are both ways to acquire new clients. To others, marketing is the advertising, videos and public relations; while sales is the networking and relationship building that truly reels clients in. Either way, I get the feeling that most folks believe that sales is winning the race by leaps and bounds when it comes to client acquisition. I mean, for our firm, something like 90+ percent of our clients come on board because of Professional Referrals (i.e. sales efforts). And there starts the debate, the question of, “if marketing rarely directly results in increased client growth, then why do we even bother doing it?”

Half of this statement is correct. Truthfully, marketing in and of itself likely won’t result in gaining clients—let’s be honest, no one sees an advertisement or watches a video and immediately picks up the phone to call and hire us. But that doesn’t mean that marketing should be tossed out on the streets, and I’m here to tell you why.

First, let’s define marketing and sales. Investopedia defines marketing like this: “marketing is everything a company does to acquire customers and maintain a relationship with them. Those are things like advertising, event planning, social media, and beyond. Even the small tasks like writing thank-you letters or playing golf with a prospective client can be thought of as marketing. The ultimate goal of marketing is to match a company’s products and services to the people who need and want them, thereby ensuring profitability.” Sales, on the other hand, is defined as, “what you do and say during the one moment that a client is deciding to purchase your product or hire you for your services.”

By those definitions we can see that sales is always marketing; but marketing is not always sales. Instead, marketing feeds or enables sales. Think about it this way—research shows that it takes eight points of contact to move a prospect to a client. That’s eight meetings or emails or calls before they’ll be ready to trust and hire you. Now, you may be thinking “that isn’t the case for us”—I’ve heard on multiple occasions that once a prospective client comes in the door for a meeting it is hook, line and sinker. This sounds like one, maybe two touches, right?

But think a little bit bigger for a moment. What do you think influenced those clients before they came in the door? Humor me as we travel through this hypothetic situation:

Jane Doe is a friend of one of Company X’s clients, we’ll call her Sally. One day Sally mentions to Jane, in passing, that she is heading to a meeting with her advisor at Company X (touch #1). The next week, Jane is reading City News and sees a well-designed, professional ad from Company X, she recognizes the name and turns the page (touch #2). Two weeks pass and Jane is browsing Facebook; she notices a video about investing that Sally had “liked” on Company X’s page and continues to scroll (touch #3). A month later, Jane learns that her elderly aunt has passed away and left her a large amount of money. While driving to the funeral, her husband John suggests they find an advisor to help them invest the money. Jane thinks of Company X and remembers that they had a video about investing (touch #4). After things settle down, Sally visits Company X’s website and watches the video she had recalled earlier that week (touch #5). She is impressed and mentions this to John, who browses Company X’s website and reads a few of their blogs on investing (touch #6). John and Jane are impressed with Company X’s professional website and level of expertise, so they call Sally to ask her a few questions about her experience with Company X—Sally raves about her advisor and provides them with the proper contact information (touch #7). John and Jane set up a meeting and are thrilled with the plan presented to them—what great service Company X has! They sign paperwork and become a client (touch #8).

Now, let me ask you this—if we were to ask Jane and John about how they found Company X, do you think they would detail the above experience or simply mention that Sally had referred them? I’d bet my next paycheck that they would say the latter—in fact, Jane and John might not even realize that touches 1-6 impacted their decision; but I’m here to tell you that they did. The little touches in the beginning of the story (i.e. marketing tactics) begin to warm the prospective client to Company X before they even realize it is happening; then the sales team (i.e. current clients and advisor teams) comes in and makes the deal. To me, it is logical that the sales team covers 90+ percent of client acquisitions—they are on the frontlines and have the most measurable results. But that doesn’t mean that their success wasn’t impacted by the brand and touch points that marketing works hard to build in order to warm prospective clients up to the idea.

Ultimately, I truly believe that sales cannot build clientele without effective marketing; and what’s more, marketing is useless without a sales team to implement the plan. They are not independent of each other; they are interdependent on one other. Only together can sales and marketing work to grow our business above and beyond.