Why Marketing Departments are WAY More Valuable than Sales Departments in the Digital Age

by Marcus Sheridan

sales v marketing

Before I really get going here, let me say that I really don’t like the title of this blog post (even though I wrote it), mainly because I wish we were at the point where marketing and sales were completely combined—without silos—in every organization across the world.

If this were the case—businesses, brands, and bottom lines would be dramatically affected for good across the board.

But because this is not the case,  I’m going to save that argument for another day, and let’s just stick with the question at hand:

If you had to choose between hiring someone in marketing or hiring someone in sales, which would you choose?

(You’re not allowed to say “It depends” and must make a choice here)

Although I’m not sure of *your* answer, I can tell you that over 90% of the time most CEOs and management teams today would say “sales.”

Sadly, this has been the same answer for almost 100 years.

But it makes no sense whatsoever in the digital age, and here is why.

The Power of Assignment Selling

As pretty much everyone knows, I used to be a pool guy. And for roughly 7 years of my life, I would go on about 220 in-home sales appointments a year in an attempt to earn someone’s business.

With an appointment time of roughly 2-3 hours, you can do the math and quickly see how I had no life and was easily working over 60 hours a week on most occasions.

Luckily for me, though, in 2009 our company discovered Inbound Marketing through HubSpot and we embraced a very different philosophy of generating company leads—a simple process of taking every question we’d ever received from a prospect or customer and answering it on our company website.

Although this act of digital marketing proved incredibly effective in generating more traffic and leads through the website, it took me until 2012 to fully grasp the magnitude of what was going on with our customers as they interacted with the content.

In January of that year, as I was busy looking at our web analytics and seeing if I could pick up on any patterns, I found a unique anomaly that changed my life and dramatically altered the way I see “selling” today.

What I saw was very simple: If a prospect (lead) read 30 or more pages of our website before we went on a sales appointment, they would buy 80% of the time.

Considering the industry average was about 15%, this was a profound discovery, and it led us to a new way of selling, something I’ve since written about many times— “Assignment Selling.”


Assignment selling, in a nutshell, works like this:

Let’s assume you call my swimming pool company and say you’d like to have us out to give you a price for a swimming pool. Instead of saying, “Sure, we’ll be right there”, which is what we used to say, it now sounds something like this:

River Pools Employee: “Mr. Jones, we’d love to come out to your house, but you’re getting ready to spend a lot of money. And because you’re getting ready to spend a lot of money, we know you want to be educated. In order for you to be educated, we’ve produced two items that are going to make all the difference. The first is a video I’m going to email you that will show you the entire process of having a pool installed in your backyard. By watching this video, you won’t need to ask us when we come to your home what the installation is going to look like because you’ll now see it for yourself, in great detail. The second item I’m sending you is a guide that answers all the common questions you have about swimming pools right now. Now this guide is a little long—about 30 pages—but I promise it will be worth your time. Mr. Jones, will you take the time to review each of these before our appointment on Friday?”

Mr. Jones: Sure (This is the answer we received 90% of the time)

River Pools Employee: Great. We’ll give you a call as well Friday morning just to confirm you took the time to do those things.

Hopefully you noticed what happened within that conversation. Mr. Jones is now committed to watch an extensive video and read an eBook. And because he’s going to do this (if he doesn’t, we simply don’t go out to his house), there is an 80% chance he’s going to buy the pool.

At River Pools we used to have to go on over 250 sales appointments a year just to sell about 70 swimming pools a season.

Last year we went on about 115 sales appointments and sold 85 swimming pools.

See the profound difference?

And because we’re so close to the industry (we teach at the major conferences) we also know that our company closing rate is the highest in the country—and it’s not even close.

I’m not saying these things to brag, but rather to make a point.

In 2009, when my business was floundering and on the brink of ruin, “hiring another sales person” wasn’t the answer to success.

Instead, embracing the way consumers shop today is what led to our discovery of assignment selling, a system of selling that I’ve since implemented with multiple clients (B2B and B2C) with tremendous success.

The Zero Moment of Truth: It’s All About Better Marketing

This example of swimming pools is simply a microcosm of a major trend impacting every single business around the world, which is what Google calls “The Zero Moment of Truth” (The moment when a prospect first interacts with your business, be it through email, phone call, walking into your shop, etc.)

YouTube Preview Image

Studies have shown that consumers make roughly 70% of the buying decision before they actually *contact* a company for the first time, an amazing stat and one that frankly puts significant pressure on all businesses around the world to earn the trust of the consumer well before first contact.

This is exactly why our traditional belief of having a “sales staff” is going to change in the future. It used to be that a sales person was *everything* in the sales process. Now they are less than 30% of the process. And for businesses that really understand the Zero Moment of Truth like River Pools, that number is even less.

This trend is not going to change. It won’t reverse itself. And because of this, businesses need to wake up to the reality of what’s going on.

Frankly, it saddens me to see that despite what is happening with all of us as consumers, most marketing departments are under-manned. Just to give you an example, last year I spoke to a national brand in the manufacturing industry that had over 350 sales people and a staff of 5 in the marketing department.

Are you kidding me?

Unfortunately, I’ve seen many examples like this over the past few years as I’ve traveled the country, which is also why so many marketers feel overworked, understaffed, and under-appreciated.

It’s time for this to change. Businesses need to see the obvious happening around them. Great marketing is the future of the buying process—listening, communication, teaching, and being extraordinarily helpful—that’s what consumers want on the front in of the buying cycle, certainly long before they ever talk with a “sales person.”

Those businesses willing to address this need will lead their industries in the years ahead.

Those that do not will fall by the wayside.

Your Turn:

I’m curious to get your opinions on my points here. Are you finding that most marketing departments are still way undervalued in comparison to their sales counterparts? If so, what do you feel is the best solution to solve the problem?

Mad Marketing Podcast

If you like the articles, you'll love Marcus' podcast and insightful tips on business and life.

Click to listen

Subscribe to Future Articles

Read Marcus' future articles and stay on the cutting edge of business, marketing, and life success tips!

Click to subscribe

Previous post:

Next post: