Marketing vs. sales

May 18, 2017

Marketing is the backbone of sales and business development, so be proactive and stop thinking of it as just an overhead function.

I am passionate about marketing. Everyone who works with me knows it. I am on a mission to bring clarity between marketing and sales to the AEC industry. It’s a greatly misunderstood subject in many firms and that confusion holds back firms of all sizes. Marketing is an essential business function that fuels growth. Most firms have what they call a marketing department. These departments spend the majority of their time and resources responding to opportunities by assembling proposals, statements of qualification, presentations, and so forth. Unfortunately, that is not marketing. That is sales support, also know as business development.

Marketing is the process of finding out the needs of your client, then persuading them your products and services meet their needs. It creates awareness of your firm and the services you provide. Typical real marketing functions include advertising, branding, web and social media, and direct mail. Sales is the process of persuading the client to actually buy your services. So whereas marketing is proactive in creating opportunity, sales is reactive in that it attempts to close the deal on a specific opportunity. Sales is developing the proposal and the presentation in the pursuit of actually winning a project.

In order to get your organization to start thinking differently about marketing, you must first start with providing a clear definition of what it is. Here are a few things that can help you advance this cause:

  • Define a marketing and sales organizational chart. Provide clarity on roles, making specific investment in both true marketing and sales support functions. The organization needs to understand what marketing people do versus sales/BD and how to get the resources they need to grow their areas.
  • Invest in real marketing staff. Have dedicated resources toward building and managing client lists, executing marketing campaigns, generating awareness, and constantly updating and populating your website and social media channels. These are critical marketing functions that many firms underinvest in. Larger firms need a strategic marketing leader in the form of a director or chief marketing officer who has a seat at the highest level of the organization. They need to be involved in overall corporate strategy as well as driving growth through marketing and sales strategies.
  • Tie marketing into the projects. Marketing and BD staff need more integration and coordination with project teams. One of the big challenges for marketing in professional service firms is that we are marketing and selling a service versus a product. Products are built in factories with precision and have very clear features and functions that deliver a consistent experience to the consumer. Professional services are delivered by people with unique personalities and personal circumstances that can vary the experience greatly. People have good days and bad days and that alone can greatly affect how the service is delivered to the client. Project managers need to know how to act and be held accountable for a high level of service that marketing and BD can then communicate and sell.

The majority of AEC firms need to empower marketing more than they currently do. Organizations must break from viewing marketing as an overhead function and instead view it as a critical need for driving growth and profits. Marketing sets the stage for much more effective business development and sales performance. Without it, firms simply respond to opportunities and are a proposal factory. Firms that invest more in real marketing outperform their peer firms. Invest in leadership, staff resources, software, and online channels to truly set your firm apart and make your organization see the benefits of real marketing.

Chad Clinehens is Zweig Group’s president and CEO. Contact him at

This article is from issue 1195 of The Zweig Letter. Interested in more management advice every week from Mark Zweig, the Zweig Group team, and a talented list of other guest writers? Click here to subscribe or get a free trial of The Zweig Letter.

Want to hear more from Chad Clinehens on business development and marketing? Check out this seminar!

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.