Key business functions: marketing and sales

Introducing the areas you'll find in every business – here it's marketing and sales
Types of work

This series of articles will introduce - and demystify - the key areas that you'll find in every business.

In this article, the focus is on the closely-related areas of marketing and sales.


Marketing is the process by which an organisation creates and keeps customers by creating something of value for them.

The first step in any successful marketing campaign is understanding the "5 Cs" or the customer, and the business's capabilities, competition, collaborators and context. Only by analysing the landscape it operates in will a business be able to make decisions about marketing strategy.

The next step is for the business to decide for whom they want to create value and how and working out how to get there through the "4 Ps": pricing, promotions, placement and product features.

Marketing can be perceived as a "fluffy" occupation and hence an easy graduate career. The perception of what marketing people do is often something like this: an inspired creative comes up with a memorable campaign distributed across a number of media outlets, builds a brand, and increases sales.

In fact, in today's analytics-driven and increasingly digital environment, marketing is becoming a more quantitative rather than qualitative job, with data guiding decisions on how to get a product to the customer.

Marketing professionals are often required to not only to have sophisticated maths skills but also, especially in the case of digital marketing, know how to code.


Sales is often dismissed by ambitious graduates and business schools. But sales is one of the most important functions of any business and the ability to convert a potential customer into a sale is one of the most useful - and difficult - business skills to acquire.

Sales can be divided into two halves: responding to inbound enquiries from customers who found about you themselves through, for example, a friend or your marketing campaign; and outbound sales where you reach out to a customer through a phone call or email.

The aim of both sales functions is to push the user through the "sales funnel" by engaging them with the brand, converting them from a lead to a prospect, and then, finally, making a sale.

Partly depending on whether you are a B2B (business to business) or B2C (business to consumer) salesperson, this can be done in a multitude of ways - from performing demos, to loyalty programmes, to customer specials.

Most successful salespeople like people and are able to empathises with the customers they're selling to. As they progress in their career, they also need to develop strong skills in negotiation and other persuasive techniques.

Most salespeople work on the basis of aiming to close as many deals as possible and are often remunerated on a commission basis.

Case study: Pebble Technology

Pebble Technology, creator one of the world's first smartwatches, decided that they wanted to exploit an opportunity they'd identified to sell urban cyclists, other keen amateur athletes and busy, young professionals a smartwatch that connects with a smartphone, eliminating the need to carry one of these devices when on the go.

The company realised that, as their youthful target audience tended not to wear watches, their main competition was an empty wrist, so they'd have to clearly outline the benefits of the watch to convince customers to purchase it.

However, Pebble felt it had some advantages: they were early to the market in a relatively new product area; and its executives had a native understanding of their potential customers as many of them were cyclists themselves.

But, despite these advantages, they failed to find investment on suitable terms. They then turned to crowdfunding website Kickstarter and raised a record-breaking $10.3 million (£6.5 million) through the website - with the added valuable benefit that it also acted as a marketing and sales channel.

Through numerous focus groups and Kickstarter feedback, the company decided that the product should work with both iPhone and Android smartphones, be visible in direct sunlight, operate for a week or more without recharging, and be waterproof.

Given their niche and mostly young target market, Pebble started by placing its product online, with "early bird" backers on Kickstarter given an opportunity to take advantage of a special reduced price. They then moved into retailing in specialist electronics stores such as Best Buy so that salespeople could educate different audiences about the product and potentially find new customers.

Today, Pebble is one of the best-selling and most popular smartwatch brands, though is facing stiff competition from Samsung and the Apple Watch.

Key concepts



A measure of the number of individuals moving out of a group identified for marketing purposes over a specific period of time.

Customer lifetime value

The expected benefit to be gained from a particular customer's business during their "lifetime" of purchasing a product.

Inbound marketing

Refers to activities that bring potential customers to the business (as opposed to marketing activities involving marketers having to go out to get a prospect's attention) - for example, drawing in customers through content on the company's website or through Google searches.


Dividing a broad market into subsets of customers with common characteristics and needs.


Stands for "return on investment" of a particular marketing strategy, a comparison of the amount of money generated and money spent.


Close the sale

Means to bring a sales prospect to a decision point. So the "closing ratio" is the number of sales over a period of time divided by the number of sales presentations over the same period of time.


Anyone you could approach with a reasonable expectation of selling to them who could thereby become a customer.


A line of potential candidates who are likely to purchase within a given amount of time.


The act of contacting leads to attempt a sale or demonstration.

Prospect qualifying

Confirming that a lead is the person at their organisation capable of making a purchasing decision.

Sales cycle

The sales process, from beginning to end. Normally starts with research and ends with attempting to get referrals from satisfied customers to potential new leads.

Further reading


The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries and Jack Trout

Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers Into Friends and Friends Into Customers by Seth Godin

Selling the Invisible: A Field Guide to Modern Marketing by Harry Beckwith


Great Leads: The Six Easiest Ways to Start Any Sales Message by Michael Masterson and John Forde

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini

Life's a Pitch: What the World's Best Sales People Can Teach Us All by Phillip Delves Broughton