Home » Entrepreneurial CEO » Marketing vs. Selling – What’s the difference?

Marketing vs. Selling – What’s the difference?

Creating anything new is exciting. The thought of what a new business might become is exhilarating. The pursuit of that dream is the passion that drives every entrepreneur.However, this euphoria can quickly turn to chaos. Events can overwhelm the inexperienced start-up team. Many founders have watched as their great technology slipped through their hands and …

Creating anything new is exciting. The thought of what a new business might become is exhilarating. The pursuit of that dream is the passion that drives every entrepreneur.

However, this euphoria can quickly turn to chaos. Events can overwhelm the inexperienced start-up team. Many founders have watched as their great technology slipped through their hands and was exploited by others who knew better how to manage, plan and execute a marketing strategy.

The typical entrepreneur is the greatest salesman in the world. They are selling their solution. They are convinced that there are an unlimited number of customers who need what they have created, and they are going to find them all and “sell” them on their solution. 

Steve Jobs and his partner “Woz” were convinced thirty plus years ago that we all would need a personal computer. If you study Apple’s history you will see that their great idea was duplicated and enhanced by others more adept at marketing, who at the time and during the growth phase of the PC into the laptop, usurped Apple’s initial leadership position and even to this day dominate the market for PC’s and laptop’s.

Steve has learned something about marketing over all these years as is evidenced by the iPod,  iPhone, iTunes and the sophisticated line of iMac lap tops. 

What is the difference between Marketing and Selling? Marketing as was defined by Reis and Trout a long time ago in their best selling book “Positioning” as The Battle for the Customers Mind.

So marketing is creating a demand in the customers mind so that they will seek you out. Sales on the other hand is chasing customers and asking for the order.

Another way of thinking about the difference between selling and marketing is the difference between a product and a brand. A product is something that is typically created by a company, made in their factory and placed in stores or given to salesmen to sell. Much like what has been happening for a long time now with the American auto manufacturers. The assumption is that the cars will be sold by their dealers salesmen.

A brand on the other hand is something that exists in the mind. As Reis and Trout said a long time ago “the mind is like a dripping sponge” and the only way something gets in is by replacing something that is already there.  

I have been teaching in my executive briefings and in the MBA level courses I teach on marketing strategy, that the mind is a mental product grid like a gigantic ice cube tray with individual cube spaces that contain information pertaining to specific brands. Some of us can retain information on more than one brand, but typically not for more than three brands.

In addition, I teach that we also have value thresholds for the brands that we buy. For some of what we buy we have quality preferences and for other products we do not. For those with a quality preference we have some brands that we have categorized as having a “unique set of attributes” and for which we have only one Brand preference and no alternatives.

For the others in our quality brand category we have several preferences ranked first, second or third, or however many we can retain. These brands with a quality preference have positions that we have established for them based upon our own personal preferences.

For the products for which we do not have a quality preference, but still use we usually categorize as the “cheapest”, another position in our mental product grid.

So as you can see, I suggest that we have brand positions in our mental product grid for three categories (special, quality, cheapest) for all the brands that we buy. If we care about a product category then we seek out brands that are special or have one or more levels of quality perceptions. If we do not care about a product category then we seek out brands that we perceive to be the cheapest.

If you ever want to test this hypothesis just look into your shopping basket the next time you go to the supermarket. I will bet that half of the brands in your basket are well known with clear unique selling propositions and the other half the cheapest brands on the shelf in their category. 

Marketing then is about creating those positions in the mind and the monies spent by marketers to promote and advertise their brands result in what’s called “brand equity”, or the value resulting from customer preferences for those brands. It is about crafting your unique selling proposition and promoting it perpetually so that it gets into the mind and stays there occupying a “position” in the customers mental product grid. 

Simple examples are to be found in the cars we buy. Certain customers believe that Mercedes Benz has “the best engineered cars in the world”. Others with the same socio-economic profile believe that BMW provides the “ultimate driving experience”. And, yet others will tell you that Volvo’s are the “safest cars on the road”.

Obviously, Toyota has also done a great job of marketing with their Camry, Avalon and Lexus brands as many more car customers these days are seeking them out over GM and Ford products.

Think about my concept of the mental product grid and all the products that have established brand positions in your mind.

Are you selling your products or marketing your brands?

Have you clearly defined the unique selling proposition that sets you apart from your competitors in the minds of customers?

My next column will be about the current transitions in marketing to Internet Marketing.

E mail me with questions or comments so that we might begin a dialogue to help you get your business to where you want it to be. I can be reached at rmdonnelly@chiefexecutive.net

An entrepreneur himself, Bob has spent most of his career involved with starting, growing and selling businesses. Having held managerial positions with IBM, Pfizer and Exxon, he draws upon extensive organizational experience with large and small companies in advising CEOs of growing firms. He is available online to answer questions from Chief Executive readers, as well as offer workshops, tips, books to read and a monthly online column about common issues facing CEOs of growing firms. Bob has been featured in USA TODAY for his work with Inc 500 firms and is associated with NYU’s Stern Graduate School of business in their Center for Entrepreneurial Studies where he is a Venture Mentor, Marketing Strategist and Business Plan Reviewer.


He is the author of GUIDEBOOK TO PLANNING – A Common Sense Approach to Building Business Plans for Growing Firms, which has recently been reprinted. He is a past contributor to Chief Executive and one of his articles was featured in The Best of Chief Executive.

E Mail Bob at: rmdonnelly@chiefexecutive.net

About bob donnelly

bob donnelly
Bob Donnelly is CMO of Flo-Tite Valves & Controls, a U.S. based supplier of valves and components to the process control industry in North America. A coach, educator, and advisor to founders/CEOs of growing firms, he is a serial entrepreneur, having started, grown and sold several technology based businesses. Previously he held executive positions at IBM, Pfizer and Exxon.