The title of this article might just confuse you! Surely, they are both just as important, aren’t they? Here is the reason for what might seem to be a very strange question -
In these times of enforced isolation, I decided to carry out some primary research in my own area of expertise. Sales and Marketing…
Over my very long (now 43 years +) career which has covered sales and marketing, then promotion to sales and marketing management and ultimately large corporate business leadership I have always felt that society (at least in the UK) seems to accept or admire marketing quite readily, but looks down on selling. So, with some spare time I went online and looked for undergraduate (1st Degree) courses in the UK that focussed on marketing or sales in 2020. The results, quite simply, astonished me. Here is what I found through my searches…
According to the Guardian's University Guide 2020, there are more than 500 undergraduate courses in the UK with a major/core marketing component (marketing led). While some are combined with related fields such as economics, psychology, design or fashion, there are a lot of ‘pure’ marketing courses. There is a total of 2,809 courses across 133 institutions covering “management, marketing and business”. On searching, I quickly realised there isn’t even a search category or sub-category in the University Guide for sales!
Nothing came up in any of the official guides I could find. So, I reverted to “pure google’. I found one University advertising four sales degrees. However, on digging into the site, each one is actually entitled ‘Sales and Marketing’ – the content seems about even. Another University offers a ‘Sales and Marketing Management’ degree – same story. Three more universities advertise sales degrees, but on getting into the detail, one says its management course can lead to a career in selling, the others, again, offer marketing degrees with varying amounts of sales content. So, on reflection, I would suggest that to say there are 5 real sales degree courses in the UK is actually being pretty optimistic.
For the UK then, my research comes up with 500+ marketing degrees, 2,809 ‘Business, Marketing and Business’ courses. And 5 ‘Sales’ courses. Really? Seriously?
But perhaps it is just Degree courses that have this leaning? I then searched for what we in the UK term ‘Further Education’ courses instead – you know, night school, study at home etc. I got much the same result.
How can selling become more professional and accepted, how can standards rise, against this societal judgement and backdrop? What is the picture in your country? Is it the same? Better? Even worse?
Let me step back here. Where am I coming at this from? My career has led to me being awarded Fellowship in both the Chartered Institute of Marketing and the Institute of Sales Management. My feet are firmly placed in both ‘camps’. I don’t have an axe to grind but I am evangelical about improving standards in sales. Not so much in marketing. Why? Well, just look above – there is already plenty of support and activity geared to helping all marketing disciplines improve.
Since I left the corporate world, I have worked to help over 40 promising start-ups improve their business prospects. When those with the big idea come from, say, scientific or academic research backgrounds I am often asked “what’s the difference between them anyway? Surely, it’s all much the same?” At that level I will reply with something like “Both exist to help the business meet its commercial goals, grow and prosper. But marketing is typically ‘one to many’ and is focussed on letting your target market(s) know you exist (market visibility, PR/awareness activities) and then creating leads to pass to sales, which can ultimately result in revenues. Sales is usually ‘one to one’ and takes those leads (or works itself to find them if there is no marketing support) and actually takes each one along the resulting sales pipeline, hopefully to the close and delivers the actual revenues required by the business”. Now, I know for this audience, that is very over-simplistic but you get my drift, when explaining at a very high level for those who have no understanding yet.
I see both sales and marketing as critical to any business. They are co-dependent, they should be synergistic. But sales actually delivers the revenues that drive the business and the economy. How then can society and education be so unbalanced? And what can we all do to influence/change things for the better?
For my part, I can imagine a situation where there are a greater number of sales degrees (or indeed, study courses of any kind). Some might argue that perhaps sales doesn’t merit a full degree course. That might be true, but I can assure you the same was said for marketing years ago! However, I can easily imagine – today – sales led and badged degree courses that have that absolute focus but which also cover other associated areas such as business studies, international trade, economics, marketing, PR and management through modules in these disciplines.
In the UK, organisations like the ISM are already doing a fantastic job in working to improve awareness and standards within the selling profession and outwards. But what can we each do? The imbalance I see today is damaging to our economy and to all our futures. What do you think?
I don’t come to this from a perspective of having all the answers. But I do see the problem every day…
Jim is the author of The B2B Selling Guidebook and The B2B Leaders Guidebook and a 'fairly experienced' sales person, sales leader and corporate executive. He is also addicted to chocolate!