What do you mean,
that’s not marketing?

This, too, is a marketer.

This, too, is a marketer.

Maybe it was his red face. Maybe it was the steam coming from his ears. Either way, it was clear that Brent was worked up.

Asked what was bugging him, Brent replied that, just the evening before, his neighbor said something rather insulting. “You’re in marketing?” the neighbor said. “So is Mike, down the street.” The insulting part came next: “He’s the top salesperson at an auto dealership.”

Top salesman at an auto dealership? Perhaps you can see why Brent was upset. Brent occupies an office on the 22nd floor of a prestigious tower. The tower happens to be ivory-colored, but this is surely coincidence. There, seated at a desk beside a window overlooking the city, he carefully culls and crunches marketing data. “That’s marketing,” he said, with not a little pride. To say that a mere seller of cars was a “marketer” was to trivialize the level of Brent’s expertise and accomplishment.

This was not the time to make Brent angrier. He was holding a briefcase he could easily have deployed as a weapon.

But between you and me, he couldn’t have been more wrong.

“Marketing” is a large umbrella covering many valuable functions. These include research, product design, packaging, data mining, creative work, media analysis, branding, programming, planning, Brent-style number crunching, and more. All of these require specialized training and expertise. But for any specialist to say that salespeople aren’t marketers would be like coaches and sports analysts saying that the folks wearing helmets out on the field aren’t football players.*

It is equally naïve and unjust to claim that face-to-face selling requires no specialized expertise. If you knew Brent, you would agree that he is the last person you should turn loose on customers, his MBA notwithstanding. He has great data skills, but he has the people skills of a ground wasp.

It’s important not to lose sight of the ultimate goal, and of what ultimately pays the salaries, of the above-listed marketing functions. Namely, getting someone to buy something. News flash: shorthand for “getting someone to buy something” is selling.

Marketing is a euphemism. It has the advantage of sounding more hifalutin and avoiding the pushy salesperson stereotype, but it has the disadvantage of allowing people like Brent to lose sight of what their profession is about.

To dismiss salespeople as not-marketers is more than snobbish. It is shortsighted. People who are daily face-to-face with customers know things that traditional kinds of research will not turn up. Input from salespeople might just add real-world perspective to all of those programs and policies descending from Floor 22.

Brent would do well to spend a bit of time on the sales floor. (Provided, that is, that he only observes. Trust me on this, you don’t want him talking to customers.) He might pick up valuable information that his numbers will never show.


*No analogy is perfect. To assert that the folks wearing helmets on the field aren’t football players may be correct in the case of teams that are not the Denver Broncos.

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