Sales or Marketing?


Don Scales runs Investis, a large digital communications agency. He is a marketing guy who talks about brands and their power to convey compelling stories. But he is also a numbers guy who holds a degree in chemical engineering and mathematical physics from Rice and an MBA from Harvard. In a world where selling is often pitted against marketing, Don has a foot planted in both camps.

The Sales and Marketing Spectrum

Traditionally marketing and sales are two poles that define a spectrum of work companies do to drive revenues. The work is different in several important respects:

  • Focus: Marketers ask themselves how to effectively communicate with broad audiences. Think websites, brochures, and campaigns. Salespeople ask themselves how to effectively communicate with individuals or small teams.
  • Time: Marketers play the long game. Think brand, research, and product launches. Salespeople play the short game. The product is set. It has advantages, and it has a price. Their job is to tap the ball in the hole.
  • Push and Pull: Marketers speak of demand generation. Their focus is on bringing products to market that inspire customers to beat a path to a company’s door. Salespeople get in planes, trains, and automobiles to go meet customers. They offer what a company has to sell. Their focus is not on demand (that would be order-taking in their world) but rather on supply generation.

Much of this language comes from the world of consumer products. But does it apply to the provision of professional services? The short answer is yes. The longer answer is that in a world where individuals and their expertise are the product, professionals need to have both long and short-game skills to finish the full eighteen holes.

Above All, Think

Ask Don about how to land a new client and his main advice is, above all, to think. He says that professional service providers don’t have a product to brand or sell, per se. They have their experience and their brains which they bring to the table. They are solution providers. In that world, your market research and product development (things that marketers do) happen in the same instant as you are presenting and pitching (the work of salespeople).

This a radical notion that undermines centuries of conventional wisdom about the power that stems from a division of labor workforces. Nineteenth-century sociologist, Émile Durkheim, wrote the division of labor inevitably produces “a proportionable increase of the productive powers of labor.” It is as if the world of professional services is a throwback to a time when those in business were craftspeople who had to be skilled in everything from design and production to marketing and sales.

Marketing and Selling Required

That is why professional services are so hard to scale. An expert point of view can scale. Write a book and it can be read by thousands. But experience and brains are difficult to productize and deliver to large numbers of customers. Which is why Don’s message that we need to both be marketers and salespeople continues to be critically relevant to anyone who is in the business of building a practice around their expertise.