Selling vs Telling. What’s the Difference Between Sales and Marketing?

The other day I had breakfast with a business owner who is a great sales person.  He was very quiet, but people always lean in to hear what he has to say and consult with him about how to solve problems in their business.

I asked him how he got so good at sales.  He said it’s simple.  Most people think that sales is telling other about the product, but sales is about listening. 

“We have two ears to listen, one mouth to talk,” he told me.  “Selling is not telling. Selling is listening.”

Marketing is actually more about telling, building awareness, advertising and PR. Marketing is direct mail and brochures and flyers.  Marketing warms up the prospect, but sales makes them a business partner.

He has 4 steps that sales people must go through before they begin “doing sales.”

  1. Close their mouth.
  2. Ask questions.
  3. Find out the customer’s problem.
  4. Ask “Did they try ________ solution?”  “Did they try ________ solution?”

Then… only then, talk about your product/service’s features.

Do you agree? Marketing is about telling and sales is about listening?

More discussion about the difference between sales & marketing:
Spell Brand: Marketing is going out… Sales is exchanging.
Lead Response Management: Timing is the difference.
Peak Sales: Where to invest your money when times are tough

11 thoughts on “Selling vs Telling. What’s the Difference Between Sales and Marketing?

  1. I think that marketing and sales are both about selling. Sergio Zyman/Paul Garrison were defining marketing as: “sell more, to more people, more often, for more money and more efficiently.” I guess this is the whole purpose of sales as well, isn’t it?

    If we think about the purpose of all marketing activities, be it advertising, PR, packaging and so on, their ultimate purpose is to sell more, because that’s the whole point of the business as well. Building awareness or listening to your client in a sales meeting are both tools that allow you to sell more.

    And as an ancient Chinese proverb says: “Tell them and they will forget. Show them and they will remember. Involve them and they will understand.” I guess that if you really want to sell more, in both marketing and sales you need to get yourlself and your customer involved.


  2. Great advice! As a small business owner, I am constantly being approach by salespeople. As soon as I see them coming, I run as fast as I can in the opposite direction. Why? Because they are trying to tell me what I need. Instead, they should be listening to my needs and responding accordingly with products and services that are applicable. More salespeople would be successful if they would take this approach.

  3. I love the old chinese saying`tell them,they will forget; Show them,they will remember;Involve them,they will understand“. But Telling & Showing are just the preceding parts of Involving , isn`t it ? I think Sales is the integral part of Marketing. Showing Sales seperately is just to highlight Sales in the total Marketing.Sales is little bit tilted toward `listening` .

  4. High,
    in my business career I’ve seen a lot of marketing guys thinking, they are the better sales guys. Interesting thing is that there are rear sales guys, thinking they are the better marketing guys. Interesting, isn’t it?

  5. Hi,
    I accept the fact that all we do in the business is to increase sales.
    But Marketing and sales are 2 different functions, for example in sales prompt advertising is a sales function and brand building advertising is a marketing function.
    In a business if you are only focusing on increasing sales your customers will forget the values of your company and try to find a company which gives values rather than just products.

  6. “Do you agree? Marketing is about telling and sales is about listening?”

    I would think it’s the opposite. Marketing is about listening and sales is about telling. But it can work in a three-fold communication pattern.

    Customers -> Sales: Sales is about listening to their customers.

    Sales -> Marketing: Sales is about telling Marketing and Marketing is about listening to Sales.

    Marketing -> Sales: Marketing is about telling Sales and Sales is about listening to Marketing.

    Sales -> Customers: Sales is about telling Customers.

    But overall, Marketing is about listening to Sales with what is needed/sells and then creating the copy/designs/materials that allow the Sales to tell.

  7. At a base level, I agree that Marketing is Telling and Sales is listening. While they are two separate disciplines, the trouble I have witnessed over the years is that marketing people have little respect for sales people. Often sales is never consulted with when developing marketing campaigns, when in fact they are a fabulous resource for the big idea. Sales are the folks on the front line who see the good and bad of the brand.

    When ever I am introduced to a new client, the first thing I discuss is the sales staff and what issues they may have with the marketing message. How many companies STILL only talk to sales after the campaign has launched to make them aware of what is being pushed out.

    My strategy is to include them in the process, to not only get their buy-in but to also validate that the strategy makes sense on the street. While they are listening to clients needs I love that they are also passionate of the brand message and positioning. Respect sales -they make you the money.

  8. i think marketing and selling is much different, as marketing is all about customer satisfaction and customer delight, but selling is all about direct profit,,

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