Sales Vs. Marketing: Let’s Not Be Strangers

Marketing people sometimes consider sales people to be conservative and not too reliable. They believe the market intelligence or competitive intelligence brought in by sales people is too personal and biased to take into account. The truth is that sales reps are often best placed to read market signals. It’s especially when these market signals don’t fit into the current marketing plan that marketers are quick to ignore the signals and shoot the messenger.

Because marketing has become more and more important over the years, it took a while before the relationship between marketing and personal selling was truly established, as both departments (marketing and sales) generally saw each other as rivals. In the meantime however it has become clear that in the last decennia the 4 traditional P’s of marketing (product, price, place, promotion) have become less important for the commercial success of organizations. This has resulted in a better communication and relationship between sales and marketing departments.

There are various causes of the difference in point of view between marketers and sales people:


While marketers are forced to think long-term, most sales people tend to think in terms of months. Marketers write yearly plans, sales people have monthly targets. The short-term thinking by sales people can easily be explained by the way sales people are rewarded. While marketers get paid a fixed salary, most sales people have a base salary plus bonus or commission, dependent on their performance.

Sales remuneration intermezzo: Most sales people work on a commission basis. This means their salary is in direct relation to their sales results. The pro is that there is no limit on what a sales person can earn. It also means that you never know how much money you’ll make before the end of the month. In my opinion it’s safe to say that people who are not willing to work on a commission basis and are not motivated by this system probably don’t have what it takes to become a top seller.

Distance to the market

Most of the time marketers don’t have sales experience. This means they are not directly connected to the market and sales reality, resulting in unrealistic marketing plans and expectations. For this reason it is recommended to let the sales department contribute to the marketing plan and commercial strategy.

Micro vs. macro

Marketing people think in terms of market potential, market share, market segmentation, market approach, market analysis, market strategy etc. For sales people this information may seem abstract, as they are dealing with clients on a personal level. Clients who have specific needs, wishes and demands.

As you can see there are quite a few differences in how sales and marketing people approach the market and customer base. Therefore it’s important to gain a better understanding of each other’s world and exchange ideas whenever possible. We can learn a lot from each other, so let’s bury the hatchet.

Your turn now

What’s the relationship between sales and marketing in our current economy?
What do you think both worlds can learn from each other?
What are your tips for better sales-marketing alignment?


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2 Responses to “Sales Vs. Marketing: Let’s Not Be Strangers”

  • Bill Dorman on August 9, 2011

    Straight commission, no guarantees and I’ve been paid that way for 20+ years. And I can also say I have never had two paychecks the same amount………..ever.

    Sales is the heartbeat, we know what’s real and what works. I still think there is a disconnect a little bit with marketing and sales, but sometimes the products dictate that.

    I also know people who aren’t in sales thinks it is a lot easier than it actually is. All I can say is ‘if you are willing to go month to month w/ no guarantee, come on in’.

    I do believe in collaborative efforts however and strategies can be developed by bringing the two together. They are not that far apart; you just need to have realistic expectations from both parties.

    Good post Wim.

    • Wim on August 15, 2011

      You’re right Bill, sales is very much in touch with customer wishes and demands, and perhaps marketing should pay more attention to feedback provided by sales people. Sad thing is that often there is no feedback channel between both departments, as they operate completely independently.

      Thanks so much for weighing in!

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