Selling people what they need

According to Robert J. Ringer

Try to sell people what they need, and you’re liable to end up in bankruptcy court.

According to C. Merrill York

Theodore Levitt, onetime lecturer on business administration at the Harvard Business School, aptly described the difference between sales and marketing: “Selling focuses on the needs of the seller and the need to convert product to cash. Marketing focuses on the needs of the buyer and the need to satisfy the customer through the products produced.”

To put it another way, it’s sales’ job to influence the customer to buy what the company has produced. It’s marketing’s job to influence the company to produce what the customer wants. Both are concerned with the customer but, while sales talks, marketing listens.

In a company with a true understanding of marketing, it is marketing that guides and controls the entire operation, with manufacturing playing the role of a service activity and supplying the products needed by the customer as relayed to it by marketing.

Notice how Levitt talks, mistakenly in my opinion, about the “needs of the buyer”. York is correct to be talking instead about “what the customer wants“. So it’s strange that he thinks Levitt has described “aptly”. Need and want are very different things.

According to Peter Drucker

Marketing is not only much broader than selling, it is not a specialized activity at all. It encompasses the entire business. It is the whole business seen from the point of view of the final result, that is, from the customer’s point of view. Concern and responsibility for marketing must therefore permeate all areas of the enterprise.


Because the purpose of business is to create and keep a customer, the business enterprise has two – and only two – basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business.

If you’re trying to convince society to modify its rules to, say, slow down the destruction of the planet, then you’re in sales.

A business tries to produce things that people want to buy, and they really don’t care what they sell as long as it makes money. The marketing function is to figure out what that is.

But you can’t just make something different and sell that. “Hmm, climate sanity isn’t getting traction in the marketplace of ideas, so maybe we should try selling vanity and avoidance this season.” You have to find a way to sell what you’ve got, like a huge warehouse of goods you’ve got to unload somehow.

Even if you’re developing technology that will save the planet, you’re probably mostly in sales, not marketing.

According to Buckminster Fuller

Very frequently I hear or read of my artifacts adjudged by critics as being “failures,” because I did not get them into mass-production and “make money with them.” Such money-making-as-criteria-of-success critics do not realize that money-making was never my goal. I learned very early and painfully that you have to decide at the outset whether you are trying to make money or to make sense, as they are mutually exclusive.

Aside: According to Ken Kesey, regarding love, “it’s just good sense”.


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