Marketing vs. Sales: What's the Difference?

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Both marketing and sales focus on the customer, but they go about it in different ways. Here's a closer look at each of these important business units.

[Featured image] Two people from the marketing team meet with two people from the sales team at a conference table.

Marketing and sales departments each focus on customers, albeit in different ways and at different customer journey stages. Generally, a marketing team develops messaging designed to attract and engage customers, while a sales team works to turn those potential leads into paying customers. 

Despite their different goals, 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—which begins when a customer expresses interest in a product or service and ends when they make a purchase. At the top of the funnel sits marketing: the team responsible for generating awareness or interest in a company's products or services. On the other end sits sales: the team responsible for establishing a relationship with customers and converting their interest into a purchase.

Each stage of the funnel requires communicating with customers:   

  • Marketers communicate with customers via digital and print campaigns, including ads, social media posts, videos, blog posts, and emails. These efforts are meant to alert potential or existing customers to a company’s new or current products and services or build up brand awareness and brand loyalty. 

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

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

Careers in marketing 

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

Marketing job examples

Social media marketers use social media platforms to communicate with new and existing customers. They may contribute to a social media team’s strategy, write copy for social posts, schedule posts, and monitor posts for engagement. 

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

Marketing managers develop and oversee 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. 

Learn more: Marketing Careers: 6 Areas to Explore

Careers in sales

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 also known as accounts  

Sales job examples

Sales development representatives (SDRs) work 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. They try to understand a customer’s needs to fulfill them. 

Account executives manage customer relationships, fulfilling a yearly quota that brings in new business. Like 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 sell products, goods, and services that are more technical or scientific. Because of the complex nature of what they’re selling, they need to have 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, strategic, and analytical, then marketing might be a good fit for you. Marketers often have to be collaborative, innovative, and organized as they research new ways to communicate, develop effective messaging, and work to generate interest in a company.

Sales: If you enjoy working independently, being competitive, and connecting with new people, then sales might be a good fit for you. Salespeople often have to be personable, organized, and self-starters so they can develop better relationships with customers, identify their needs, and convert those needs into a sale.


Marketing salaries vs. sales salaries

Marketing jobsSalary (average base pay in US)Sales jobsSalary (average base pay in US)
Social media marketer$54,685Sales development representative$68,477
Marketing assistant$44,725Sales analyst$78,942
Public relations specialist$54,064Account executive$87,432
Market research analyst$69,816Sales engineer$116,330
Marketing manager$77,663Sales systems manager$118,371

*All salary data from Glassdoor (November 2022)

Key skills for marketing and sales

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

Read more: What Is a CRM? And How Does it Help Businesses?

Marketing vs. sales degrees 

If you’re interested in a career in marketing, a degree in marketing can help you learn about strategies and develop essential skills that may help you succeed in this line of work. But you don’t have to limit your options to a marketing major. 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 the Salesforce Sales Development Representative Professional Certificate, which introduces you to the entry-level work SDRs do in tech.


professional certificate

Salesforce Sales Development Representative

Unlock your potential in tech sales. Build job-ready skills for an in-demand career as an entry-level Sales Development Representative (SDR). No degree or prior experience required.


(285 ratings)

22,859 already enrolled


Average time: 6 month(s)

Learn at your own pace

Skills you'll build:

Sales Development, interviewing, Sales, Time management, Cold Calling, teamwork, Personal Advertisement, Audience, Personal Branding, Resume writing, cold emailing, objection handling, Prospecting, video prospecting, sales engagement, Customer Relationship Management Software, empathy, Proactivity, Creative Problem Solving, Coachability, Communication

To build a foundation of job-ready skills in marketing, consider a credential from industry leaders Meta or Google in Marketing Analytics or Digital Marketing & E-commerce, 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. 


professional certificate

Meta Marketing Analytics

Launch Your Career in Marketing Analytics. Build in-demand skills and gain credentials to go from beginner to job-ready in 5 months or less. No degree or prior experience required.


(1,394 ratings)

34,331 already enrolled


Average time: 7 month(s)

Learn at your own pace

Skills you'll build:

Marketing Strategy, Data Analysis, Marketing Mix Optimization, Statistics for Marketing, Advertising Effectiveness Evaluation, Marketing, Digital Marketing, Python Programming, Tableau Software, Data Visualization (DataViz), Statistical Analysis, Linear Regression, Statistical Hypothesis Testing, Marketing Mix Modeling, Marketing Plan, A/B Testing, Meta advertising, Social Media Marketing, Ads Manager, Marketing Science, Facebook Advertising


professional certificate

Google Digital Marketing & E-commerce

This is your path to a career in digital marketing. In this program, you’ll learn in-demand skills that can have you job-ready in less than 6 months. No degree or experience required.


(10,077 ratings)

270,157 already enrolled


Average time: 6 month(s)

Learn at your own pace

Skills you'll build:

Marketing, E-Commerce, display advertising, Email Marketing, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Customer loyalty, Marketing Analytics, Customer Outreach, Website Structure, Customer Awareness, Google, Search Engine Marketing, Social Listening, Social Media Bidding, Customer Engagement, Social Media Analytics, Social Media Branding, Email Writing, Email list segmentation, Email marketing strategy, Email marketing analytics, Contact management, Digital marketing KPIs, Spreadsheet management, Presenting to stakeholders, Media planning and strategies, Fulfillment and delivery, E-commerce platforms, E-Commerce Strategy, Seasonality, Job preparedness, Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Portfolio preparation, E-commerce store optimization, Building customer loyalty

Written by Coursera • Updated on

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