The Art of Sales in the 21st Century

After a decade of being in the 21st century, no longer are the two departments of sales and marketing entirely separate. Although they still have two very different positions in a company, what they used to mean seemed very black and white, and now they’ve been thrown into the grey area to which most of us thought they belonged to anyhow.

For a long time, many of us have been unable to determine the difference between the two, simply because they are both involved in obtaining a customer. So what is the simple way to define them, in order to understand their roots?

Marketing can be defined as selling the idea of the product/service to a customer. Marketers are responsible for putting the company out there to the customer so the customers know about it. Sales, or Consultants and Agents in sales departments, pick up at the next point of the workflow to actually interact directly with the customer. Knowing about it is one thing, but we can’t market every aspect of the product, and that’s what a Sales Agent has always been for. We are able to see the customer interacting with the physicality of the product or service because there’s a human entity attached to it.

But what is happening in the 21st century to these two departments? How are they inevitably coming together, yet remaining the same?

Marketing and Sales Today

The Consultant.

Before, with small markets and limited access to information, customers were brand loyal because they had to be. The role of marketing was small, normally a one-man show, with several salespersons to then pick up afterwards. Sometimes we didn’t even need a marketing department, because the advertising didn’t take up enough time for one person to do a full time job.

Now, marketing has more platforms available to them beyond simple advertising, but this also means that customers have more options open to them for finding the products and services they truly want, and together we have created a system of extra needs. Because there are so many competitors for what we’re marketing, we can’t sell it unless we create a need for the customer beyond their necessities that takes into account their individual wants.

The problem arises when one small, or large reason, causes a customer to switch brands to another company simply because their information has become more accessible, therefore trustworthy.

From this, the job of a marketer is not just to sell the idea of a product or service as complimenting your needs, but the experience of it as unattainable, everlasting, and unmatched. You want it because you have been told you need it, and you need it because no one else has it. So are needs and wants the same thing? At the risk of confusing the reader, I will clarify.

Customer A. wants to buy a new window because theirs is drafty.

Customer B. wants to buy a new window because theirs is drafty.

Customer A. finds an advertisement for windows that include a lifetime warranty, and continues on to look at the company website. Once on there, they become engaged with a Live Chat Agent, the next step in the marketing chain, who doesn’t take into account their individual situation, so the customer leaves.

Customer B. also finds an advertisement for windows that include a lifetime warranty, and continues on to look at the company website. Once on there, they become engaged with a Live Chat Agent, the next step in the marketing chain, who takes into account their situation and recommends the best product to them. In this encounter, the act of marketing itself has become a service the customer truly needed in order to be passed on to the next step in the chain, namely the Sales Consultant.

If there was a Customer C in this scenario, we could further subdivide the scenario with a customer who purchases from the company because the Sales Agent listened to their needs and wants and found a suitable product for them, and Customer B did not receive this. As you can see, every step of the way is now a service in and of itself that leads up to the final product. Taken as a whole, the experienc eof marketing and sales is complicated, taking into account the customer’s needs AND wants.

If the customer needs a new window because the old one was drafty, they likely want a better quality one this time around. However, quality of the product will be associated with quality of the company, so the customer needs you to be in tune. You must create this need within yourself in order to facilitate the transaction. Instead of sitting behind our desks creating fictitious needs for our customers, we need to create realistic, applicable ones so that brand loyalty can rise again.

The Salesperson must become a marketer, because they need to continuously re-sell the idea to the customer, even after they have been bombarded by promotional materials. The marketer must also be a salesperson because we are no longer distanced from our audience.

Marketing and sales have turned into very fine arts, in that the role of both is now focused on retaining customers and obtaining new ones, not just simply discovering the next thing to offer our current fan base.

The role of being a customer itself is a very fine art, because we’re stuck between giving in to our wants and selling out to our needs. We recognize a human being on the other end of the sale, and we know a lot has gone into their position and whoever has backed their marketing, but in the end – we need to be able to navigate in this world the way we used to before: What is really right for me?

Because we are bombarded by so many images and pieces of information a day, it’s hard for us to know the answer. It’s difficult for something to stick unless it really stands out, really speaks to us, or is just a perfect fit for who we are. Often, we have seen or heard something so many times, we can’t forget it, and only then do we take it as trustworthy. And we can’t escape this part of our world, either, as a customer or a business, and it is to the point where we are shown more things in one day than we could ever possibly afford.

So what to do about it?

Marketing to the tourist of a developed country, from those living in a developing country. Seen off the coast of Lago de Nicaragua, Nicaragua.

The Role of Customer

The roles of marketing and sales have evidently become intertwined if we look at the Returning Customer. It is no longer up to sales or marketing to secure a customer.

It was often thought that a customer joins a company because of good marketing, and stays because of a great sale. Nowadays, however, a customer needs both, repeatedly, in order to stay. One mistake from a sale can cause that person to leave forever, no matter how tempting a promotion is a year later, or how clever the ad is that’s showing up on billboards, Facebook, and every other website you visit. Your team needs to be 100% in synch with each other, or the entire company gets blamed for one person’s mistake. Although we see a human being on the other end, we don’t care enough to stay, because we’re human beings too and our needs have to trump all the other ones competing for the top slot of attention.

But how is all this related to art, and how is modern business more art-like than before? As most of you are wondering, how can this post be relevant for the platform that it’s on, and doesn’t it belong somewhere else more akin to its main industry?

Let’s take a look at one component of business, that sets aside marketing and sales, and brings into account the entire structure.

What is it when I say, Hello?

Hello used to be proper. Hello used to be how to answer a phone, whether we knew who was calling or not. Now, Hi is seen as proper. What used to appear as passive is now professional, because Hello is too formal. With our main mode of communication switching from the phone to email, the rankings of these words must switch accordingly.

What will happen to Hi, when it is seen as too formal? When emails are still necessary for communication, but not the primary means because IM is taking over, what will happen to Hi? We do not exactly have a shorter way of saying things, so will the reversal take place once more, or will we keep using Hi?

We greet each other in ways that are seen as acceptable, whether it be to society or each other. We even greet our friends only in ways they will understand, even if it isn’t a polite term, because they’ll understand the joke. So even though letters and emails are not necessarily only a part of business, their use from the personal to being swallowed up by businesses is certainly the case over time.

How many of you try to write an email in another way than “Hi ____,”

How many of you are trying to end an email in another way than, “All the best,” “Sincerely,” “Kind regards,” or some other candid response?

What is the point of having polite, candid responses if we know they are empty and meaningless? How many of you feel better knowing someone took the time to customize their response to use, instead of using the same old template? Can we even notice the difference anymore, or are they all templates?

Letters sent to and from loved ones as a main form of communication, before email and telephone, normally followed their own templates – those that existed between the two pens. Nowadays, handwriting and typing are linked in how genuine our responses are. Because we’re following the mainstream in our overall method, we have to act mainstream in our individual messages.

On top of this, and at the end of the day, we simply do not have time to create entirely new messages anyway, even if we wanted to shed the status quo. For those of you who are adamant they do, think about how we write more correspondences a day than ever before, and how often you are crafting a message instead of doing something else you should be completing.

Are we marketing with our messages, or are we selling? The act of creating a message, formed around a societal template of acceptability (or not), is marketing in that we are marketing to our own selves what is and is not what we want. In the message itself as a final draft copy, we have sales, in that the actual item is now there for us to push onto the person we’re communicating with.

Edge Walkers in Toronto, ON, posing in a photo for loved ones show that wavingis still a sign of saying hello in the 21st century.
Edge Walkers in Toronto, ON, posing for loved ones show that waving is still a sign of saying hello in the 21st century.

How it all Fits Together

In the 21st century, we are all marketers. We all have access to platforms of communication, and we are all forced to use them following the guidelines created by others, in order to get our message across that channel to another person attracting as little noise as possible. If the message reaches who we want, whether it be verbal, written or perhaps both—a text message sent to an answering machine—we have successfully sold the idea.

Well, at least for the moment. Until the messages circulate back again and we turn the wheels on sales and marketing as interconnected nodes of the same network.

Marketing, therefore, is about reaching, not obtaining as it was in the past. Marketing used to obtain a customer, sales would secure them. Now sales does the obtaining, and we are left to let the customer decide whether they want to secure themselves, each and every time we interact with them.

The time of businesses being about basic ratios and numbers to market and sell are gone, because the focus has turned to the relationships with have with people, or how those numbers were created. All of the data we have we gathered from customer interactions, and looking at an interaction in and of itself without segmenting that data can actually show you a better idea of how to proceed with that person.

Of course, it is nice to know how many of our clients live in one area or what age they are, or a group of people we think would enjoy this new product we have over the rest of our customers, but pulling out the niches between them and marketing to them as individuals is the only way to show the experience of your product or service is the best because, ultimately, people care about people.

We are a network of interactions, not simply a hierarchical or straight-and-narrow path from the product to the people. Our products are our people, and our business is our people. We need to create a real value that can stay afloat for individuals, instead of coming up with reasons why something might be valuable to anyone.

Target audiences are becoming more minute, data segmentation is rapidly dividing, and we need this in order to create unique customer profiles that can still be used in tandem with the group. The future of our world in 2020 is one where all businesses, or at least strong, sustainable ones, are interconnected networks focused on people and the value each person has and contributes to the company, whether it be as an employee or customer, instead of the focus being on the product or service.

The future of marketing, sales, and all other aspects of business, is that of the creative – we need artistic approaches and outcomes in order to be successful, because the same old rigid processes can no longer withstand a customer-driven market.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Edited by Jordan, Brandon T. Gass.

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  1. A very entertaining article to read. Shared with friends.

  2. Science will make it work and Art will be the reason for someone wanting it in the first place.

  3. Munjeera

    I like your use of the word “niche.” Futurist Alvin Toffler has commented that the bridge between producer and consumer is bridged by technology through the configuration system. He also talks about how in the future markets will be defined by niche markets. Your article makes good points and one in which art is influenced by markets much to the dismay of purists. But personally I like your “power to the people” tone in your concluding sentence and agree 100%.

  4. Adnan Bey

    Agreed, things have certainly changed since the end of the 20th century. With the advent of the internet and digitized technology meshing with virtual and cyber worlds, things are bound to change. I like how you gave an example of Customer As and Bs to help make your point, and how similar they’ve really become, as well as their differences.

  5. Emily Deibler

    Wonderful work. Thanks for clarifying the difference between marketing and sales at the beginning of the article. You make good points about the shifts in what is considered formal and how we are all essentially marketers in how we approach socializing.

  6. Overton

    All of life is sales. Children sell their parents on toys, men sell women on marriage, missionaries sell their religion, and politicians sell people on votes. Although tucked under the rug at most business schools, without sales, no company can flourish.

  7. Excellent. I’ve been in sales for 30 years and this is a great read.

  8. Great piece on capturing the essence of sales.

  9. Gita Oates

    Coming from a Creative Arts Marketing students; I completely agree.

  10. Marketing is an art…I think without applying science nothing in the world returns some good stuffs at the end…because analysis and measurement is the key to get anything in our earth…

  11. Brilliant!

  12. It’s all about positive energies.

  13. Very interesting take on sales. Many different aspects to consider.

  14. I believe it takes an artist to filter the science into useful information.

  15. The selling process is a psychological affect and very scientific and the art itself is built around it.

  16. Winfred

    I like this, great work.

  17. Thank you for posting this, absolute gold, love it.

  18. Amazing presentation!

  19. True marketer make the customers believe that they have what they want.If two are more companies sell the same product then its in the marketers techinique how it selled.Moreover advertisement also proves to be engaged with marketing since advertisement acts as promoter of their products.Whether the product is good or bad is another issue but tellin the customers that there is a product like this in the market is another whole chapter.Successful buisness magnets use scinece as their advantage.There will arise a question how will science help in advertising?actually it plays a very i,portant role.whether the product is a custom car or a promoter of a prodect a science called Golden ratio is used.i think the ratio is 1:16[close to that].This plays a huge role in how people are decieved.The above article was quite true how marketing worked.Nice read-]

  20. moonyuet

    Great Article to analyze the Sales

  21. The two most beneficial sources I have found for doing sales today is the book ‘the Purple Cow’ and everything by Gary V. Basically it is about having a deep audience verses a wide platform of people who see but do not respond to content and offers. Great article!

  22. AnaMRuiz

    This article echoes a big push encouraging graduate students in the arts towards entrepreneurial paths. Although I agree in principle, I become exhausted just looking at the postmodern descriptors we now adopt: grad student, researcher, writer…PR Twitter specialist?

  23. Fantastic article; definitely gave me more insight into the world of marketing, and how even simply being a customer is a delicately balanced art.

  24. creative content developers like those at hold the key to modern marketing!

  25. There is a gap closing between sales and marketing and Instagram is playing a large role in that. Successful businesses are selling a philosophy, a lifestyle, a mindset, and they execute this through their social media presence. What hasn’t changed, is that effective marketing equals an increase in sales. But how they’re going about it is changing rapidly: if the business can get the consumer to buy into our way of seeing the world, they’ve locked them in. Nike is a powerhouse because they have tapped into the aspiring athlete of their consumer. lululemon athletica is a major competitor because they are “selling” self motivation, community, and the power of language. So now what businesses are faced with is not just how to create a need in the consumer but how to be so inspiring that the consumer wants to live up to their own aspirations. Fascinating indeed.

  26. This is a great read. It’s helpful to dissect the intricacies and operations of marketing, understanding its role within our everyday lives and recognising how it can influence the choices we make, whether we are conscience of them or not.

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