Sales vs. Marketing: What's the Difference?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Both marketing and sales focus on the customer, but in different ways. Learn the difference between these important business units: sales and marketing.

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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, whilst 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 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 brand awareness and loyalty. 

  • Salespeople communicate more directly with customers. They’ll use email, phone and video calls, and in-person meetings to approach potential customers, hoping to convert them into 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. 

Read more: Marketing Strategy: What It Is and How to Create One

Careers in marketing 

A marketing career can take many paths, including: 

  • Strategising 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 behaviour, and product competitors 

  • Publicising a company’s news and endeavours 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 influencing 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 their team executes. 

Read more: What Is Content Marketing?

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 fulfil them. 

Account executives manage customer relationships, fulfilling a yearly quota that brings 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 to effectively communicate the benefits of what they 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 organised as they research new ways to communicate, develop compelling messaging, and work to generate interest in a company.

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

Marketing Salaries vs. Sales Salaries

While both marketing and sales positions boast attractive and competitive salary potential, depending on which area you are looking to work in will impact your earning potential. [1]

Marketing jobsSalary (average base pay in India)Sales jobsSalary (average base pay in India)
Social media marketer₹2,74,685Sales development representative₹6,50,000
Marketing assistant₹2,93,124Sales analyst₹6,65,193
Public relations specialist₹3,00,000Account executive₹2,91,828
Market research analyst₹4,50,000Sales engineer₹5,00,000
Marketing manager₹10LSales manager₹8,00,000

Key skills for marketing and sales

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

Marketing vs. sales degrees

If you’re interested in a marketing career, a marketing degree 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 marketing 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 communications, business, or finance degree 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

Taking the next step in your career might mean learning new skills or earning a certificate in sales and marketing. The Digital Marketing & E-commerce Professional Certificate offered by Google can help you learn skills like e-commerce, email marketing, display advertising, search engine optimisation, analytics, customer outreach, and more. 

In as little as six months, you could be job-ready for work as a digital marketing, SEO specialist, email marketing specialist, social media marketer, or sales analyst. After a series of seven self-paced courses, you’ll earn a shareable certificate to demonstrate your skills to potential employers. 

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