Marketing vs. Sales: What’s the Difference?

Written by Coursera • Updated on Oct 29, 2021

If you’re considering a career in marketing or sales, here's a closer look at each of these important business units.

Three women and a man sit around a conference room table talking.

Marketing and sales are business functions that each communicate with customers, albeit in different ways. Generally, a marketing team focuses on developing messaging that attracts and engages customers, while a sales team works to turn those potential customers into paying ones. 

Despite their differences, marketing and sales are deeply intertwined. If you’re considering a career in either marketing or sales, each has a lot to offer in terms of opportunity, growth, and earning potential. Here’s a closer look at each unit. 

How communication works: Marketing vs. sales  

Marketing and sales sit at different ends of a purchase funnel—or the marketing strategy that outlines a customer’s journey from being interested in a product or service to ultimately purchasing it. 

At the top of the funnel sits marketing: they’re responsible for generating awareness or interest in a new product, good, or service. On the other end sits sales: they’re responsible for building on that interest by establishing a relationship with a customer and converting their interest into a purchase. 

Underneath each team’s separate strategies, both marketing and sales focus on communicating with customers—they just go about it differently.  

  • Marketers communicate with customers via print and digital campaigns, which can include ads, social media posts, videos, blog posts, and e-mails. These efforts are meant to alert potential or existing customers to a company’s new or existing products, goods, and services, or to build up brand awareness and brand loyalty. 

  • Salespeople communicate more directly with customers. They’ll use e-mail, phone calls, video calls, and in-person meetings to approach potential customers in the hopes of converting them to current customers. Once they’ve achieved that goal, they work to maintain relationships with existing customers. 

Marketing and sales work best together. For example, marketing can generate leads (known as marketing qualified leads) for sales, while sales can inform marketing about customers’ needs so they can develop more specific campaigns and messaging. 

Careers in marketing vs. sales 

A marketing career can take many paths, including: 

  • Strategizing major campaigns for brands, products, or services 

  • Communicating and engaging with customers using different mediums, such as digital marketing, social media marketing, and content marketing 

  • Researching potential markets, customer behavior, and product competitors 

  • Publicizing a company’s news and endeavors to press outlets

A sales career can also take a few different paths: 

  • Working with prospective leads in different ways—either outbound sales (finding customers through research and prospecting) or inbound sales (working with customers who initiate interest)

  • Developing sales strategies to better position a company’s offerings

  • Maintaining and managing relationships with current customers

  • Overseeing a specific set of clients aka accounts  

Take a look at some common marketing and sales roles below.  

Marketing job examples

Social media marketers use social media platforms to communicate with new and existing customers. They may end up contributing to a social media team’s strategy, writing copy for social posts, scheduling posts, and monitoring posts for engagement. 

Market research analysts collect and interpret data in order to make informed suggestions that influence a business’ product and marketing strategies.

Marketing managers are responsible for developing and overseeing the communication between a business and its customers. With a high-level overview of a company’s marketing needs, managers help develop strategy and campaigns, delegating tasks that their team executes. 

Sales job examples

Sales development representatives (SDRs) work heavily in outbound sales or lead generation. They’re responsible for researching potential customers and reaching out to pitch them on a company’s products, goods, or services. More than selling, they try to understand a customer’s needs in order to fulfill them. 

Account executives manage relationships with customers, fulfilling a yearly quota that brings in new business. Similar to SDRs, they pitch customers on a company’s products, goods, and services, but they also do more customer maintenance to ensure a long-lasting relationship. SDRs may be promoted to account executives depending on their performance at a company. 

Sales engineers specifically sell products, goods, and services that are more technical or scientific to customers. Because of the complex nature of what they’re selling, they need to have a more in-depth knowledge of an industry and its particular products, so they can effectively communicate the benefits of what they have to offer.  

Should I go into marketing or sales?

The answer to that question depends on a few factors, including the impact you want to have on a company, your personality and interests, and your skill set.

Marketing: If you enjoy being creative, collaborating, thinking about new ways to communicate, developing effective messaging, staying organized, and impacting a company by generating interest in its products or services, then marketing might be a good fit for you.

Sales: If you enjoy developing personalized relationships with customers, helping identify their needs and find solutions, being competitive about quotas, and contributing to a company's success by bringing in new customers and keeping current ones happy, then sales might be a good fit for you.

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Marketing salaries vs. sales salaries

Marketing jobsSalary (average base pay in US)Sales jobsSalary (average base pay in US)
Social media marketer$43,321Sales development representative$48,566
Marketing assistant$43,817Sales analyst$67,068
Public relations specialist$52,039Account executive$59,268
Market research analyst$60,280Sales engineer$94,002
Marketing manager$104,295Sales systems manager$118,371

*All salary data from Glassdoor (October 2021)

Key skills for marketing and sales

Marketing skillsSales skills
Analytical thinkingActive listening
CommunicationCommunication
Customer knowledgeCustomer relationship management (CRM)
CreativityNegotiating
Problem solvingNetworking
Technical skills (CMS, SEO, social media, data analytics, and more)Product knowledge and pitching

Marketing vs. sales degrees 

If you’re interested in a career in marketing, a degree in marketing can help you learn about the key strategies and developments that may help you succeed in this line of work. But you don’t have to limit your options to a marketing major alone. Degrees in communications, public relations, or business can also provide a helpful and related pathway. 

If you’re interested in a career in sales, a degree in communications, business, or finance can provide a strong foundation. Similarly, if you’re interested in becoming a sales engineer, a degree in engineering or computer science may help you develop the knowledge you’ll need to sell more complex products.  

Get started in marketing or sales

If you’re looking for a place to start, consider earning a professional certificate, like Salesforce’s Sales Development Representative, which introduces you to the entry-level work SDRs do in tech. Northwestern's The Art of Sales specialization reviews the tools and techniques that can improve sales performance.

To build a foundation of job-ready skills in marketing, browse an array of marketing courses, or consider a credential from industry leader Facebook on Marketing Analytics or Social Media Marketing, all available on Coursera. 

If you’re not sure whether marketing or sales is the better career path for you, completing a course in both areas can help you determine which might be the best fit. 

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Written by Coursera • Updated on Oct 29, 2021

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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