Marketing-led VS Sales-led

February 1, 2022



In today’s business universe, more and more companies are evolving to become “marketing-led” rather than sales or financially driven.


Most organizations, large and small, are taking their cues from benchmark companies such as Starbucks, Harley Davidson, Southwest Airlines and FedEx in the attempt to replicate the tried-and-true business model that all marketers and companies so adamantly covet. However, most company executives often underestimate what it takes to implement such a dramatic shift in company strategy. The successful implementation and execution of such a corporate strategy rely on it becoming an essential part of a company’s DNA from top to bottom, inside and out—including long-term resource commitment (financial and personnel). So, what does it mean to be marketing-led, and do most companies understand the consequences of implementing this dramatic shift in strategy and culture?


Let’s start with a basic understanding of “marketing-led.” Marketing-led companies focus on the key initiatives that will sustain growth in the new, “customer/buyer-driven” environment, where the focus is on the wants and needs of the customer. A sales-driven approach is more of a “bag ’em-and-tag ’em” approach, where the emphasis is solely on securing the sale at any cost. A bona fide, world-class marketing-led organization has a clear long-term focus on core items such as retention, customer satisfaction, customer experience management, and the lifetime value of a customer. Conversely, a sale or financially driven organization is primarily concerned with customer acquisition, revenue, market share, and price/costs.


Two hurdles that many companies experience during the shift to a marketing-led approach are cultural and financial. As a result, they often end up with a hybrid approach, that is part marketing-led, part sales-led and part financially driven. This position can lead to confusion, not only internally but also among customers and channel partners.


Looking at The Sales-led Approach in More Detail.

In the traditional world, your team will generate interest from the top of the sales funnel. Then a sales/business development rep (S/BDR) will take control of lead qualification, and they will pass prospects over to the sales team to close the deal. After that, the customer will head straight to the onboarding process. Simple, traditional, and effective. This sales process places customer engagement away from your product or service because sales target decision-makers. Not the end user. And you must pitch to them why your product or service is the right one for them – there is often no consideration of the customer wants and needs.


What are the benefits of being sales-led?

Here are the key reasons why companies might want to rely on this approach:

  • Speed and efficiency: A sales-led, go-to-market strategy can reward friction. If you can quickly filter leaders, you can focus on providing high value with your solutions.
  • Increase conversion rates: Sales-led is a concrete way to make sure you target relevant leads. And this can lead to much higher conversions by targeting customers keen on your product.
  • It works with larger businesses: Companies targeting enterprise-level organizations typically use sales-led. These businesses often need specific solutions, and this approach lets you target them directly.
  • Helps with customer education: Using sales is an effective way to quickly inform prospects about your product, leading to faster customer onboarding, as well as greater products/service awareness, which can increase the chances of retention.


The market-led approach in detail.

Here, your company focuses on the market, its customers, and their needs. By doing so, you can create products and content that matches your marketplace. The acquisition process is vital in all of this, and the focus of marketing-led companies is to carry out thorough market research. This means the approach is more market focused. The goal is to provide a product or service that satisfies customer requirements rather than your own. You need to be very responsive to sudden market changes when taking up this strategy, as your company will be operating in a competitive environment driven by market research and an in-depth understanding of who your customers are, what they need, want and how they feel.


What are the benefits of being marketing-led?

The key benefit is the added value you provide your customers with:

  • Excellent customer satisfaction: Based on your market research, you can develop products and services that deliver customer expectations. This adds real value to every aspect of your product, service, and how your company is perceived.
  • Increasing customer retention: Happy customers lead to ongoing business, which means your retention rates will be higher.
  • Great word of mouth: If you are marketing-led, your users tend to sing your praises. So, you can expect excellent feedback that will strengthen your brand.
  • Master your market: Your company will have a clearer understanding of marketing, helping you stand out among your competitors.


Evolving a customer-led growth approach.

Customer-led growth (CLG) takes user feedback to qualify overall customer value. With the information you have, you can then maximize the potential of your end-to-end customer experience. So, the goal is to get a company-wide understanding of what the customer experience should be. Intending to add value to customers at whatever stage customers are with your product or service. This means customer-facing and technical teams need relevant KPIs to build the following strategies:

  • Acquisition
  • Engagement
  • Retention
  • Expansion

The aim is to quantify and qualify the value you create for customers. And there are some great reasons to consider evolving to this growth approach.


What are the benefits of evolving customer-led growth?

Being customer-led creates an opportunity to thrive in your market with a thorough understanding of your customer base:

  • CLG creates a profitable business model: With the interests, wants and needs of your customers leading, you build a strategy that benefits your technical, operational, commercial, and organizational side. So, you can become perfectly poised to build out a successful business.
  • Customer acquisition is easier: CLG offers users support at every step of the sales funnel, which helps to improve long-term growth.
  • It simplifies your onboarding process: With your focus on customers, you can turn your sales processes into an unbroken chain of events—from acquisition to retention, you can tailor it to offer increased value.
  • Build your brand advocates: Making sure your customers are happy can turn many of them into active promoters. Having them spread positive word of mouth can attract more customers. The perfect world, an ultimate path towards success, and a real opportunity to thrive in your market.


A review of the differences

Summarizing the key differences between the three approaches:

  • Sales-led: Tend to use a hard-sell approach with sales volumes, upselling the produce with all sorts of promotional sales techniques.
  • Marketing-led: Involves extensive market research to deliver products and services that meet the target customer needs.
  • Customer-led: Uses deep-dive customer insights and research to drive growth decisions. From which you can develop your product.


Okay, so the headline may have been somewhat dramatic, but it is impossible to over-emphasize the need for all companies, big and small, to reassess the ways they approach their market, sales, and customers. The approach you use depends on your business model and what you want to achieve. So, it is best to review what you want to aim for before picking your approach.