The discussion about sales and marketing and how the two groups work together has been around for decades. There are companies and business professionals who normally sit in one camp or the other. I’ve noticed over my entire career that one either classifies themselves as a salesman/saleswoman, or a marketer. You hardly ever hear someone describe themselves as both. This always struck me as curious, because I always thought about what I do with a salesperson’s hat and a marketer’s hat.

I started out my career as a marketer for a direct marketing company which specialized in developing, manufacturing and marketing collectibles. No one there had a title that said “sales.” Yet, as marketers, we were responsible for producing the direct sales for the company. From our mail plans, mailings, print ads, and eventually e-commerce marketing initiatives stemmed the lifeblood of the business in the form of revenue. So early on, I suppose I conflated the two functions together at least for that type of business – B2C (business to consumer), direct marketing – and the company was successful to the extent the marketers did their jobs well.

Then, I spent 5 years at Playboy as a marketer, but a different kind of one. I wore two different hats, officially. For some of my responsibilities, I was overseeing B2C Direct Marketing via e-commerce, print catalogs, online subscriptions and the like. For the other portion, the marketing hat I wore was a service hat to the external sales team selling to other businesses (B2B). On one hand, the company was successful to the extent that the marketers did their jobs in terms of bringing in revenue directly from consumers. On the other, it was successful to the extent salespeople could bring in advertisers leveraging the materials and services marketing provided. On paper, one didn’t trump the other, they were both very much key revenue streams.

To come full circle, I joined Epic Media Group four years ago and created from scratch a marketing organization that was wholly a service business. The company is predominantly B2B, and the success of the company relies largely on the ability of salespeople to bring in advertisers (there are several other success factors that are outside the scope of this discussion too). As marketing fits in the organization, it is a service business which services the entire company, Sales included. I’ve always felt, and the other executives do too, that our marketing team exists to enable all of our teams (Sales, Distribution, Syndication) to be able to more clearly communicate our competitive position, sell our services better, reach more prospects, and take care of existing clients.

So, having decades of experience 1) running sales teams, 2) running marketing teams, 3) overseeing revenue, and 4) overseeing service businesses, I’ve seen a lot of dynamics at work independently and together. Therefore, it bugs me when professionals make an attempt to “rank” the two organizations based on where the revenue comes from. It is short-sighted in a few ways. The fact is depending on the business, marketing can drive revenue, sales can drive revenue, and marketing and sales can drive revenue together. Trying to compare the two is really apples and oranges; the right way to look at it is they’re both fruits and they belong in the same fruit bowl.

Let’s focus on marketing as a services business in particular (the latter example above), since people who disagree with my way of thinking about the two functions are quick to point to that scenario when diminishing or dismissing the importance of marketing. From the service side, here is how I look at it:

Poor Marketing teams don’t do much to assist or boost the sales teams efforts in generating revenue and gaining clients, and can actually hinder their efforts.

Strong Marketing teams can do a whole lot to assist or boost the sales teams efforts in generating revenue and gaining clients, and can actually be a critical part of those efforts.

If you have a poor sales team (luckily, I’ve never been around one, but do know of them), Marketing can actually help make up for a lack of productivity. In a sense, marketing can create an environment that pushes the sales team to a higher level of achievement than they would have attained without them. By coming up with clear marketing collateral, creative designs, one-of-a-kind events and entertainment, and using strong social media and PR, marketing has the ability to in a sense deliver a Salesperson’s pitch indirectly.

I’d say all of that is important.

Another thing people often underestimate when evaluating the importance of marketing as a service business is that it can be turned into a revenue stream, and not just a cost center or order taker. I have personally done this and seen it happen. What are some services that a good marketing team provides in-house, to sales, and to sales’ clients?

Creative Services and design. Client events and entertainment. Branding and brand development. To name a few.

Not only do good marketing teams provide these services, and plenty more, to a company and to its partners, they can provide them to the outside world and charge for them. They can provide in essence agency-like services for a fee. If you’re good at what you do why not, right? This way, not only is your marketing team providing everything they normally do, but they also can reap the rewards of turning themselves into direct revenue-producers too. Need that next great flash creative? Hire marketing! Need to run an event and sell sponsorships against it? Hire marketing!

By turning your services into revenue producers, you are also acting as a new lead generator for your sales team. You can see how this might play out. If marketing is promoting their services out of house, and gets hired by a new client and does a good job, it creates the possibility for a future relationship with your sales team from the goodwill built up. Marketing can open the door for more business for sales. I’ve done this with teams before, so yes, it does happen.

Overall, I think the comparison of sales and marketing, or even the argument that pits the two against each other, is tired and old and increasingly irrelevant. I’ve sat on all sides of the aisle and I can definitely say that in every single type of business, marketing has its clear role and importance and sales has its. Sometimes, sales relies on (good) marketing; other times, it’s flipped.

In either circumstance, I guess my takeaway is that people in Sales and Marketing have to check their egos at the door when working together. To use a basketball analogy, Kobe Bryant is the leader and best player for the Los Angeles Lakers; most of the on-court strategy flows through him and for the team to win largely the responsibility is on him, but equally important – with much less of the limelight – is Pau Gasol and the 6th Man of the Year, Lamar Odom, and the others on the team. In a big game, Kobe doesn’t always take the last shot; if he gets double-teamed, he needs to pass the ball to someone with a clearer shot. Whoever that person is needs to expect that they might have to take the last shot, and then make the shot.

Using this analogy, sometimes Sales is Kobe. Sometimes, Marketing is Kobe. Either way, if you’re one of the other “guys” out of the spotlight at any given time, you need to play just as important a role as the superstar and when called upon to step up, be able to do so. The Lakers haven’t won championships because of Kobe, though he’s been a major contributor. They’ve won them because of the Coach, and the entire supporting cast. If the supporting cast was poor, they wouldn’t have won a thing, and sometimes Kobe plays a supporting role too.

I’ll close by simply saying it is not a good idea to make broad generalizations when referring to Sales and Marketing. There are simply too many dynamics at play in most businesses, and so hopefully you’re carrying a much more balanced mindset with you the next time you are contemplating the roles of both functions at a company.