An overhead shot of a row of three sales employees wearing headphones. They are sitting in front of large computer monitors, into which the headphones are plugged. A keyboard and wireless mouse sits in front of each salesperson. A man in a white button-up shirt leans over the person in the middle and points at something on the computer screen.
Although marketing and sales teams share the common goal of bringing in new customers, their workflows and responsibilities are different. — Getty Images/PeopleImages

Marketing and sales serve different functions. Generally, marketing activities build awareness of your brand to potential customers. Sales activities turn that awareness into a purchase, leading to a healthy profit for your business.

These two distinct business functions require unique skill sets. While some employees may be able to seamlessly cross over from sales to marketing (or vice versa), there are platforms, tools and methodologies that make sales and marketing teams quite different. Here’s how to understand where sales and marketing come together and diverge.

What does the marketing team do?

Marketing and sales share a common goal: to bring in new customers. It’s how they approach this goal that makes these teams so different.

If your marketing team exists — and that’s a big “if” for many small business owners — it’s likely to be in the form of a freelancer, an agency or a sales manager. Once you’ve grown in size, however, the role of the marketing employees becomes more clear.

“These new staff members conduct research to calibrate the size of the market, choose the best markets and channels, and determine potential buyers’ motives and influences,” wrote Harvard Business Review. “They work with outside agencies on advertising and promotions. They develop collateral materials to help the sales force attract customers and close sales. And, finally, they use direct mail, telemarketing, and trade shows to find and qualify leads for the sales force.”

[Read more: How to Build a Marketing Department for Your Small Business]

Essentially, the marketing team helps to spark interest in your product or service. Or, as Zendesk put it: “Ideally, a strong marketing campaign sets the ball for the sales team—now all they have to do is spike it.”

What does the sales team do?

Sales teams are more common in small businesses than marketing teams. Sales teams are responsible for nurturing relationships with customers or potential customers that eventually increase sales.

[Read more: How to Build a Strong Sales Team for Your Business]

This can involve a range of different activities. The sales team tends to be focused on short-term performance goals, which are concrete in comparison to marketing goals.

“Salespeople, in contrast, spend their time talking to existing and potential customers. They’re skilled relationship builders; they’re not only savvy about customers’ willingness to buy but also attuned to which product features will fly and which will die,” wrote HBR.

Finding alignment between sales and marketing can be achieved using a service-level agreement (SLA).

Marketing vs. sales skill sets

When writing job descriptions and thinking about who can help bring your business to the next level, it can be helpful to understand which skill sets sales and marketing teams bring to the table.

A marketing team focused on awareness needs a background in digital marketing, content strategizing, social media marketing, search engine optimization (SEO) and video marketing. The team also needs some expertise in tools that assist with content creation, SEO, conversion rate optimization (CRO) and data and analytics — tools like Google Analytics, InDesign and HootSuite, for instance.

A sales team focused on building relationships needs expertise in using different calendar and meeting apps, customer relationship management (CRM), invoicing, email management software and selling strategies such as PIN Selling, Solution Selling, N.E.A.T. Selling or Conceptual Selling. Some sales teams also need experience with inventory and order management software.

Where do marketing and sales overlap?

Finding alignment between sales and marketing can be achieved using a service-level agreement (SLA). This is a contract that establishes a set of deliverables that one team has agreed to provide the other. In addition, research shows that a 25% improvement in collaboration can lead to improved company morale, coworker integrity and increased revenue in the future.

The SLA should include a definition of shared goals, agreement on buyer personas or customer personas and lead definitions to help everyone get on the same page. Likewise, it should set in place systems and processes for handling leads and making sure everyone’s performance is measured fairly. This alignment ensures that where sales and marketing teams overlap, there’s collaboration rather than collision.

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Published March 31, 2022