Marketing vs Advertising vs Sales

By Lee Collins •  Updated: 07/01/18 •  4 min read
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Has nobody ever explained the difference to you between marketing vs advertising vs sales?

On a FB group thread things got a little heated.

The thread has since been deleted, but the jist of it is a person asked for:

“A top-notch marketer to help with advertising, who would agree to work only for a % of results”.

Later, it was revealed the results would be the expectation that the marketer is expected to “get sales” – that was the measure of results for her. (So ONE more sale?)

There were many issues uncovered in the unfolding of that thread. One of the the issues is the marketer would have no control over the sales process, only advertising.

Here’s the thing:

Her team already had sales people, so the marketer’s job was to get people to these “closers” to close the sales.

So many issues, so little time, so to keep focus on the original point of this post…

Here is my humble interpretation of marketing vs advertising vs sales.


Marketing is crafting the message. Understanding the WHO, the audience.

  • Who is the message for?
  • What are their pains, frustrations and desires?
  • What keeps them up at night?
  • And, often even more importantly, what wakes them up and excites them in the morning?

I have seen many variations in the past 20 years. My current favorite way to map this out is with Justin Brooke’s empathy map. Truly a fantastic tool for understanding your market.

Of course, even after you map out what you believe it is through your own interpretation, surveys, etc. It still requires testing to see if you are hitting or missing the mark.

That’s called… advertising.


Advertising is putting the message you crafted in front of the right people, the hungry audience.

Then validating the results you get back to see if you are hitting or missing the target.

Advertising requires patience. The process I have adopted is: baseline, control, test scale. Yep, old-school direct response strategy taught to me by the masters of the game. And it works very well although, for some, it is a bit too methodically “slow”.

I say you cannot rush great results.

The advertising campaigns you see out there doing great didn’t happen overnight. Unless, occasionally, by dumb luck. Then they can fail just as quickly unless while they ARE working you can reverse-engineer WHY.

So, marketing is crafting the message and advertising is getting the message to the right people, but how do you get them to BUY?


Sales is the buying process.

If everything is a great match up to this point, you have an amazing shot at a winner, a closed sale.

But baby steps toward your end result work forward and, unfortunately, backward. Here’s the thing – any mis-step or incongruency during the marketing or advertising phase will be compounded at the SALES phase where you are asking them to take out their wallet.

Especially when the marketer and advertiser has no control over the final step, the sales process.

Marketing vs Advertising vs Sales

All 3 steps (and there are more, this is just a high-level overview) have to work like a well-oiled machine to produce the desired end result of a successful sale.

In ad agencies, marketing, advertising, and sales are commonly 3 separate roles.

Because they are 3 separate skillsets.

It’s like a 3-legged stool – it doesn’t work without all 3 legs working together.

Heck in most agencies there is someone who crafts the ad, and another person who then puts it onto the appropriate ad networks.

I have found most people do not understand this distinction.

They expect one person to do marketing, advertising and sales and, often, much, much more – calling it all simply “marketing”.

It’s not.

Hence this post.

The thing is…

Most “marketers” perpetuate this false belief either because, at best, 1) they simply don’t take time to educate the client on exactly what to expect or, at worse, 2) because they don’t even know themselves.

This is not intended to be all-inclusive and, in many ways is an oversimplification.

But, I also believe if we don’t start laying out some good, fundamental education for all these young, eager “marketers” (as well as for our potential clients) we are doing everyone a dis-service.

Especially the nice lady who probably had all the best intentions when she asked for “top-notch marketers willing to work for free”. I truly hope she finds what she needs and is super-successful.

As always, I hope this helps explain the difference between marketing vs advertising vs sales and, if you need any help we should talk.e

Lee Collins

Lee Collins is a former Air Force Network Systems Engineer and Fortune 500 Corporate VP - who is best known as an early pioneer of Direct Response Marketing on the Internet. He has over 24+ years experience running operations for multiple multi-million dollar marketing, software, SEO, financial, and business coaching companies. When Lee isn't helping his private clients solve big (and small) marketing and operations problems, Lee is most likely heading up into the mountains in his fully-equipped Jeep Gladiator. Or just gone fishing.