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Someone asked me to explain the difference between sales and marketing…

Someone asked me to explain the difference between sales and marketing, as I see them, and why I think more indie hackers should focus on sales.

Marketing is about spreading your message far and wide to raise awareness of what you're doing among large numbers of people. This is often done via channels like advertising, PR, sharing with online communities, social media, blogging, etc.

Sales is about talking to individual customers and closing the deal. This is usually accomplished by hiring salespeople or, in the early days, having the founder do it herself. It can happen over email, chat, the phone, in-person, wherever, as long as it's a real conversation. "Inbound sales" takes advantage of marketing — prospects who've heard your marketing message will actually visit your website, call, or email you, at which point you begin sales conversations. "Outbound sales" is the opposite — you're taking the initiative to reach out to people to begin these conversations. Both are valuable.

So why I am I so bullish on sales over marketing?

Benefit #1 of sales: Whenever you can talk to someone and engage in a back-and-forth discussion, you're almost always going to be more persuasive compared to that person seeing a website or ad you've put up. This is because you'll be able to listen to the other person's concerns and objections and address them in real-time. There are among many other psychological factors at play, too.

Benefit #2: It gets you talking to customers, which means you learn a lot more. People who bounce from your website without paying won't tell you why, and you can't ask them questions. People who say no to you on a sales call, however, will tell you all sorts of things you'll benefit from hearing. And when your sales conversations go well, you can learn what resonates with your customers by hearing them express it in their own words and seeing how they react to yours. Even if you have a marketing-focused business, I recommend beginning with sales, as it's a great way to learn what kind of language you should be using in your marketing copy and ads.

Benefit #3: It's expensive. Ideally, every business would be able sell to every potential customer, because it's so effective, but it can be prohibitively expensive considering how much time it takes per customer. So why is this a good thing? Because doing sales forces you to charge a lot of money for your product, which forces you to build something that's actually valuable, which means customers are more likely to buy. Creating a valuable product is one of the central challenges of being a founder. Too many marketing-obsessed founders make their products super cheap, and in doing so remove all the pressure to create something valuable.

Benefit #4 of sales: It's fast. You can call someone up and make a sale today. You don't necessarily need a website or even a functioning product! Compare to, say, spending 6 months blogging 3 times per week so you can get some articles to the top of Google. It's not that you shouldn't do that — you absolutely should. But you should be selling in the meantime if you really want to iterate and learn quickly.

  1. 2

    It's interesting that sales doesn't seem to get covered as much in Indie Hacker communities, but it's so valuable to get that quick feedback and will make your marketing & product so much better in the future

    1. 1

      Sales is not that attractive to many developers and tech founders. It requires talking to people (scary) rather than writing code (fun), and it doesn't have the same reach as a massively successful marketing campaign.

      It's also a lot less visible than marketing, and therefore less familiar. All of us encounter dozens of marketing campaigns on a daily basis, but we're rarely the target of sales calls.

  2. 2

    Great - I'm in the middle of a post on the same thing (also inspired by your earlier post). Over all very similar, but it's interesting to see where we diverge.

    Will post a link to the finished article later today.

    1. 1

      Make sure your post includes some info about how to get started with it! haha

      Like, how do you start the conversation? Do people just do cold contacts via LinkedIn or something?

  3. 1

    This was required for me. Your reply on my comment in that post had me confused. Was wondering. Now it is quite clear. 😃

  4. 1

    Sales is how I built my most successful business, which was a purely offline brick and mortar business. It was very fast and easy to get started.

    On the other hand, growing it was very capital and time intensive compared to the other end of the spectrum, like my friend who built a nutrition website via SEO and domain expertise. While doubling my revenue basically always increased my costs by something like 1.9x, doubling his adsense (and later DFP) revenue probably only increased his costs by 1-2% each time. With more revenue relying on each customer, revenue was also inconsistent, which was sometimes painful given the high fixed costs. This is a major reason I eventually quit that business while he continues to run his ad-driven business on a part-time basis, earning more and more (likely into the 7 figures this year)

    I get sales and I'm not opposed to it, but it also sucks in its own unique and special way.

    1. 2

      These are good points. It's also possible to build a scalable sales-focused business. To do so usually requires selling low-churn high-ARPU software. My favorite example here will always be @lynnetye's business, Key Values.

  5. 1

    This sounds awesome! I would love to be having conversations with people about my app - even if not for sales, showing people and seeing what they like/dislike would be amazing!

    I'm definitely fearful of reaching out to people. It sounds scarier when trying to convince them to buy haha.

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