What Is Sales? A Definition and Guide. “Sales” is a simple little word that we see every day, used in a wide variety of contexts. When a word becomes so ubiquitous, its meaning can become obscured. So even though we all know what this term means in a general sense, you may find yourself asking, “What is sales in a business context, and how does it differ from and relate to other key areas such as marketing and support?”
In this post, we’re going to answer that question by taking a deep dive into this concept. We’ll discuss what this term means, the role it plays in a successful business, what sales jobs consist of, and how to dip your toes into the field.
Let’s get to work!
What Is Sales?
You’re no doubt familiar with the word “sales” and have used it many times. If you’ve never sat down and tried to define it, however, you might find that it feels broad and nebulous.
So, just what is sales? In simplest terms, we can define it as:
The activities and processes involved in exchanging a product or service with another party in return for money.
It’s worth noting that some of the terms in this definition may mean many different things. For example, the ‘product or service’ being sold can be just about anything, from a car to a digital download. Similarly, the ‘other party’ involved might be an individual consumer or an enterprise business.
The key point lies in the first part of the definition – “activities and processes”. Sales is about more than just the moment when a customer clicks on Buy and money transfers from their account to yours. It encompasses the entire journey of encouraging and enabling an interested lead to make that purchase.
What’s the Difference Between Sales and Marketing?
To better understand the role and responsibility of sales professionals, it helps to put their work in context. The most closely-related business arena is marketing. In fact, the two fields are often confused. So let’s take a closer look at how they are distinct but interrelated.
In a nutshell, marketing is the process of making people aware of your product or service, educating them about it, and encouraging their interest in it. Effective marketing results in ‘leads’ – people who are likely to purchase your product or service, but have not yet made the decision to do so.
On the other hand, sales takes those leads and ‘converts’ them, turning them into paying customers. It translates attention and interest into actual transactions.
Sales vs. Marketing – An Example
To illustrate how this might play out in a real-world context, let’s imagine that your business sells website hosting. Your marketing team might:
- Create content and advertisements that make people aware of your hosting service and how it differs from your competition.
- Set up and maintain business profiles on key social media sites to engage with people and build a community around your hosting service.
- Invite interested parties to sign up to an email marketing list, and then send out messages that inform them about how your hosting service can make their lives easier.
All of this activity – when done well – will result in a pool of interested leads. That’s when the sales team takes over, handling activities such as:
- Following up with leads to try and encourage them to take the next step.
- Guiding leads through the steps required to make a purchase, such as choosing the right hosting plan and successfully completing the purchase process.
- Developing and maintaining a relationship with the new customer in order to encourage them to stick around long-term and potentially purchase additional services.
As you can see, these two areas are closely related, and it’s not uncommon for the marketing and sales teams to work together. At the same time, their primary responsibilities involve different parts of the ‘buyer’s journey’, making both crucial to a business’ success.
How Are Sales and Support Related?
The other business arena that sales is most closely connected to is support. Both are ‘customer facing’ processes. In other words, they’re all about responding to the needs of customers and providing solutions.
‘Customer support’ or ‘customer service’ involves making yourself available to help customers when they have a question or run into a problem. That makes it a crucial part of the sales process, both before and after a conversion takes place. Some of the ways that support is vital to sales include:
- Clearing up lingering questions or concerns that prevent an interested lead from making a purchase. Your support team might help a lead understand how a product might fit into their existing workflow, for example. Alternatively, they might clarify the differences between various options.
- Enabling the purchase process to go smoothly. While it’s important to optimize your checkout process, customers may still have questions or experience confusion that risks driving them away at the last minute. Your support team can be available to help them through those issues and finalize the sale.
- Building strong relationships with customers over time. It’s often expensive to attract a brand-new lead – it’s a lot cheaper to encourage multiple sales from the same customer. Effective support plays a huge role in making sure a new conversion is happy with their purchase. Most importantly, it can influence whether they go on to become a long-term customer.
Just as with marketing, support isn’t the same thing as sales, but it’s vital in making sure the process is successful. It may help to think of marketing as what gets you the first sale, while support is what helps you continue to land more sales after that.
What Does a Sales Job Look Like?
The above definitions should help you better understand the role sales plays in a successful business. However, if you’re thinking about a career in this field, it might be useful to know a little more about what it looks like to work in such an environment.
Firstly, your day-to-day responsibilities will vary depending on what kind of sales you end up working in. There are many different specialties, such as:
- B2C Sales. This stands for ‘Business to Customer’, and is probably the first thing that comes to mind when you think of sales. It involves selling products or services to individual consumers, and often focuses on a high volume of small-ticket sales for various items.
- B2B Sales. ‘Business to Business’ selling is when you target entire companies rather than individuals. This kind of sales often relies more heavily on developing strong relationships, and on processing big-ticket purchases and bulk orders from fewer clients.
- Inside Sales. Rather than describing who you’re selling to, this term describes the type of process a sales team might follow. Inside sales are typically conducted in an office environment and involve communicating with potential and current customers via email, phone, live chat, and similar channels.
- Outside Sales. On the other hand, ‘outside’ sales involves meeting customers where they are. This means a less structured working environment and more face-to-face interactions. It might involve door-to-door sales, direct meetings with potential clients, or attending conventions and other events.
No matter what kind of sales environment you opt for, you’re likely to spend a good deal of your time on tasks such as:
- Performing research, reaching out to leads, and/or making calls.
- Communicating with potential and current clients, including answering their questions, processing their requests, and so on.
- Presenting your products or services and making a case for how they can resolve ‘pain points’ and make customers’ lives easier.
- Negotiating prices, terms, and conditions, in order to ‘close the deal’.
- Following up with past customers or clients to maintain relationships with them and solicit further sales.
You’ll also likely work closely with other individuals or teams. This might include the marketing and support departments, for the reasons we described earlier in this post.
How Can I Pursue a Career in Sales?
When you’re considering an occupation in sales, it helps to start by making sure this field is a good fit for your strengths. Successful sales professionals are skilled in:
- Communication. It’s hard to make a sale if you can’t communicate clearly and connect with potential customers.
- Collaboration. As we mentioned earlier, sales isn’t generally a solo effort. That means you’ll need to be prepared to work within a team.
- Flexibility. Sales often involves working with many different accounts and customers, and completing a variety of tasks on a day-to-day basis. It’s useful to be able to switch gears quickly.
- Time management. The sales world can be fast-paced, and leads/customers will expect quick responses. In other words, you’ll need to manage your time carefully.
If you feel like you have what it takes, the good news is that sales is an enormous field. Just about any business needs one or more individuals to handle its sales needs, so jobs are simple enough to find.
It’s also an area that doesn’t necessarily require specific qualifications. It helps to have a degree in a related field, such as marketing, advertising, or business. However, there are many ground-level sales jobs that merely require the above skills and a willingness to work hard.
The best way to find out if sales is for you is to get some hands-on experience with it. There are many excellent online job boards for finding sales work, both freelance and full time:
If you’re not sure where to begin, SalesJobs is a solid place to start, as it includes postings for all kinds of sales positions (both large and small).
Sales is a thriving and diverse field. It’s not just about making cold calls or knocking on doors. It’s all about meeting potential customers where they’re at, convincing them that your product or service will improve their lives, and taking them from interested leads to satisfied buyers.
While it’s closely intertwined with processes like marketing and support, sales occupies its own crucial realm during the latter half of the buyer’s journey. If you have strong communication skills, the ability to function both self-directed and within a team, and a knack for working fast and flexibly, this is a field where just about anyone can start small and work their way up.
Have you ever worked in a sales environment? If so, feel free to share your stories and experiences in the comments section below!
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