Getting Clear on Marketing and Sales

by Dec 15, 2021

Once you’ve defined your TAM, SAM, and beachhead markets for your startup, you’re ready to start putting together your go-to-market strategy. But first, you need to understand the difference between marketing and sales. Then you’ll better understand how to focus your efforts in order to be successful.

Put simply, marketing is the process of getting people interested in your product. Sales refers to all activities that lead to closing a sale on your product or service. Marketing and sales play different roles depending on your industry and your buyer. In some businesses, marketing is the most important driver in creating revenue. Once people are interested, they make a decision to buy or not. In other businesses, sales drives revenue. Once people are interested, more one-on-one contact is needed to close the sale. Many startups use a combination of both.

Tying Marketing and Sales to Your Revenue Model

It helps to think about your revenue model and how, exactly, you’ll make a sale. What has to happen in order for you to get paid?

man looking at sales charts

If you have a B2C startup, and you receive most of your revenue when a customer “adds to cart” online, or when advertisers on your website receive exposure or clicks, you might spend more time and energy on marketing.

You’ll build a great website, for example, that showcases a brand and feeling, has great SEO, helps customers understand why your product solves their problems, makes a compelling offer, and drives them to click that “buy” button. And you’ll probably have a strong social media presence and a blog to share content relevant to your audience, establish your expertise, bolster SEO, and drive traffic to your website. Everything you do will build traffic to your website to generate advertising income and/or to get customers to click that all-important “buy” button. This is all marketing work.

Some B2B startups use revenue models that rely more heavily on sales than marketing. Let’s say you’re selling some expensive edtech to school systems. School districts are complex organizations with hierarchies of decision-making power, tightly managed budgets, and predictable but rigid buying cycles. You’ll still have to build a great website and platform for your edtech, but that won’t be enough to clinch a sale. Someone will need to make direct contact with those who have buying authority. They’ll need to build a relationship with the right person, make the case for your edtech, demo it, shepherd the sale through the district’s layers, and be available during and after implementation.

Finally, if your startup’s revenue model relies on transaction fees or distribution, your marketing and sales efforts will vary depending on your unique industry and product.

Who’s Selling? Who’s Buying?

In the early days of a startup, the founder often drives sales. Eventually, you may be able to hire a sales team, but for now, you should be prepared to make the call, the visit, the sale—whatever it takes. When you pitch investors, they’ll consider how well you’re selling to them as an indicator of how well you’ll sell to others.

And as you may have intuited from our edtech example, just because you’ve defined the market and your customer doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve pinpointed the specific person who is your buyer. In our next post, we’ll talk about the importance of getting that right.

 The long and the short of it is, break it down and look at both marketing and sales. Think through all the things you’ll need to do to promote awareness, build engagement, inform, and close the deal. What will it take to acquire a customer from the first step of introducing your company or product, through to making the sale? (We’ll get to keeping that sale later.)

Don’t Wait to Start 

The execution of your marketing strategy should follow the same iterative process as the product design. In other words, get out there and test it! Try to get some pre-sales to gauge interest and test your marketing strategy. Do you get more pre-sales from AdWords or Facebook ads? Are people willing to pay right away to try your product, or will you gain more traction from a freemium model?

Don’t wait for a perfect marketing plan, or a perfect product. Put something out there, learn from your customers, and iterate to get better. The bottom line is, start early. If you’re not a little embarrassed by the flaws in what you’re selling, you’re starting too late.

Creating a great product is exciting! But if you can’t sell it, it’s all for naught. Invest passion and energy in selling your product, too. In some cases, superior marketing and sales can create the real edge over your competition.