Should you prioritise sales or marketing as a start-up?
Updated: Jul 7
Are sales and marketing two peas in a pod?
Sales and marketing are so closely interlinked, yet they often are two roles that get confused within a business. The boundaries become more blurred in small businesses particularly in startups, where you don’t have the luxury of designated personnel performing each function. In fact, they are two very different functions requiring different skills, and both are instrumental to the success of a business.
So let's look closer at what we mean by sales and marketing and how the roles should be integrated into a business and the skills required for both.
What do we mean by sales?
Sales is a short term need focusing on the actual transaction or exchange of money for a product or service. Or put simply, it is focused on the ‘now’ in order to keep the business afloat. Customer negotiations are led by sales, overcoming any objections and agreeing on the small print to deliver the actual transaction.
What do we mean by marketing?
Marketing is a longer-term approach focusing on customer needs, creating awareness of your product or service. Marketing is the start of the process which defines the brand, the message and who to target. The end result is to make sales easier and get the buyer to purchase.
Sometimes marketing can be considered as the ’pull’, whilst sales is the ‘push’. This can differ if you operate in the business to business sector, where the sales cycle is long and more complex, requiring marketing to focus on each stage of the buying process.
How do sales and marketing work together?
Marketing tends to focus on larger customer groups. It creates awareness and interest in your product or service using a mix of advertising, social media, email and PR etc. Marketing can not only generate the lead but ‘warm' the prospect up. It is at this point the lead is traditionally handed over to sales.
Sales is more direct and one to one leveraging interpersonal skills and relationship building. Networking, cold calling and face to face meetings are commonly used sales techniques.
The marketing role encompasses customer acquisition and retention. Customer loyalty is just, if not more important, considering it costs five times more to acquire a new customer than retain an existing one.
Often it takes both departments to move the prospect along the sales funnel and get them to purchase. At this point it is critical that a process is developed, outlining roles and responsibilities of both functions. It may be a different approach is required for each of your main customer segments. For example, you may split by cold, warm and hot prospects, as well as the potential value of the lead.
Top tips for success
If both businesses have a marketing and sales/business development department, then it is essential that both functions work closely together. Often, there can be friction when each role works in isolation. Here are some simple tips to improve the working relationship and maximise success for the business:-
1. Sit together and spend at least 1 day a week sat next to each other to improve communication
2. Share KPIs, reporting, results and evaluations to understand what you are all working towards, as well as key challenges
3. Create an internal SLA agreeing roles and responsibilities and your commitment to each department
4. Develop buyer personas together to mutually agree your target audience and leverage insights
5. Shadow each other to improve your knowledge and understanding – for example, client meetings/phone calls and customer focus groups
Do I need a sales strategy and a marketing strategy?
Absolutely. Sales can be reactive and disorganised without marketing. In theory, you are working tactically and in the dark without the right information and tools to do the job well. Plus, your target audience hasn't been clearly agreed and your brand and message defined. Whilst with no sales strategy, a business may struggle to convert leads.
What needs to go into a sales and marketing strategy?
Having a sales plan first and not a marketing plan can lead to short term gains and long term problems. Think of marketing as the big picture plan focused on the vision and where you want to be, whilst the sales plan will focus on how you will get there.
The following components should ideally go into each.
· Your sales objectives
· Customer profile
· Lead scoring
· Strategies & tactics
· Processes – systems, people
· Your marketing objectives
· Brand positioning
· Promotional mix/tactics
Is it possible to combine the roles?
Whilst sales must focus on the now, marketing must look ahead and focus on the future. Both functions are equally as important, but they do require different skill sets as I’ve defined below.
Marketing core competencies
· Analytical skills
· Written skills
· Financial planning and business acumen
· Communication skills
· Strong attention to detail
· Ability to critique
Sales core competencies
· Good listener
· Ability to think on your feet
· Excellent networking skills
· Great negotiation skills
· Strong communicator
Experience shows it is very rare for a person to be competent in both. The natural tendency is for a small business to prioritise and feel more comfortable with the sales side of things as it is more immediate and tangible.
Sales and marketing priorities
The following research gives some real insights into challenges and priorities that each function faces. From my experience working across different businesses, these are highly relevant to most organisations, regardless of company size and sector.
When surveyed, sales identified the following top priorities for marketing:
· Better quality leads
· More leads
· Competitive information
· Brand awareness
In the same survey, marketing identified the following needs from sales, in order of priority:
· More effective lead follow-up
· Consistent use of systems
· Feedback on marketing efforts and campaigns
· Consistent use of messaging and tools provided by marketing
This shows quality lead generation and follow up are the number one areas of focus for both sales and marketing. Close collaboration and putting clear processes in place would address most of these issues.
And to close
For a business to be successful, it must have both a sales and marketing plan which is aligned. It is impossible to prioritise one over another. If resources and budgets are tight look at interim solutions to ensure there is a plan and role for both. This may involve outsourcing part or all of a function, which could be more cost-effective and timely. Whatever, route you pursue, close collaboration between sales and marketing is critical.
What do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts. I've also developed a jargon buster for common terms used in both sales and marketing, as well as some tips on developing your sales pitch and infographic on how to develop a sales strategy.
For a chat about your any element of your sales and marketing, then please get in contact. I offer a 30 minute free consultation for any business.