Don’t Let Sales Leaders Run Marketing (EVER!)

Marketing isn't the same as sales.

It is very easy to conflate sales and marketing, especially from the outside. If you’re an engineer or an operator, it’s understandable how salespeople and marketers could seem like the same thing — with transferable skills.

Sales isn't marketing. Salespeople aren't marketers.
The very best marketers can sell ideas, not products. The best salespeople sell products.

I’ve seen this pattern many, many times — an engineer founder hires a super charismatic former sales manager as a Chief Revenue Officer or Chief Marketing Officer. On paper, she looks great. She’s killed her quotas. She tells a great story about herself. She gets you excited!

I’ve also increasingly seen this pattern in larger companies — a senior, top-performing sales manager is put in charge of marketing. Again, on paper, he looks like a great fit. He’s been on hundreds of sales calls. He has “the field’s perspective on marketing”. Executives respect him.

In both cases, it rarely works. And, it usually fails spectacularly.

Both salespeople and marketers are tasked with adding customers and growing customer relationships. Both are very top-line oriented. But, in practice, they couldn’t be more different.

Here’s why:

  1. The personas of great marketers and great salespeople are very different. Great marketers are patient, creative, independent, thrive in (some) ambiguity, are curious and are driven by data. Great sales people are impatient, are drawn to authority, structure and hierarchy, operate on intuition, crave attention and feel entitled to success
  2. Sales exists in the moment. Sales is about closing the deal today — not tomorrow. Marketing has a history and builds for a future. Marketing is about momentum and trajectory. Salespeople live in the field with 1 metric that matters — quota attainment. Marketing lives inside the organization with meetings, with office politics, with ambiguous authority and accountability
  3. Marketing spends money — often a lot of money — in very discretionary ways. Salespeople are paid well and sometimes can have a lot of expenses (travel, training, customer entertainment, etc), but very little spending is truly discretionary. Marketing spends much less money on staffing as a percentage of their budget. They hire vendors, run campaigns and invest in consultants. These decisions are balanced against short, medium and long-term goals. The best marketers are very agile — this year’s spending could look very different than next years
  4. Selling well is 95% about executing and 5% about learning and adapting. The formulas are generally well defined and change slowly. Marketing well is closer to 50/50. Great marketers are always trying new things — incrementally improving what works, experimenting with brand new ideas and constantly listening to the market (especially customers). Marketers are never happy with their website and all of their marketing materials — they’re always working on something newer, better. Salespeople often use the same 5+ year old presentation/content that they’ve “always used”
  5. Selling is linear. While there are some “long tails” in performance distribution (i.e. a few duds and a few rock stars on the sales team), adding another salesperson generally has a very specific and consistent return. Hiring salespeople is similar to investing money in blue chip stocks — returns are pretty good, usually consistent, though not without risk. Marketing is exponential. It is much more like investing in a start-up (or venture fund). With marketing, 1% of spend can yield 99% of results. A great social media campaign can pay off like a unicorn start-up while another campaign could yield zero results

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