There is some confusion amongst young and old sales practitioners as to the difference between a sales executive, a marketing executive and a business development executive. In the late 80s when the MARKETING IS EVERYTHING worldview caught on in Nigeria, organizations such as the petroleum marketing company in which I was working became uncomfortable with salespersons who acted as Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s Zombie (“… Zombie way na one way, …tell am to go straight, …”). Irrespective of the results that such practitioners posted, the cutting-edge firms just didn’t want them anywhere near their payrolls. In essence, they no longer had space for any sales staff whose preoccupation was to grab whatever product was thrust into his hands and force-feed it to the customer.
Corporate image or branding was a central issue in the corporate management of that era and those companies that took it serious had a clear preference for the emerging crop of market-centred sales executives. The ‘new generation’ banks of the 80s were in the vanguard of this role definition. Their field sales staff were called marketers and paid fabulous incomes which made the designation so prestigious that salespersons in other industries that still used the designation of ‘sales executive’ began to see themselves as lower species.
The ascension of this paradigm of Marketing as the core purpose of any business coincided with the era of Babangida’s Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) which turned out many youthful entrepreneurs. To most of these young entrepreneurs, the appellation, ‘Marketing Executive’ sounded funkier than its stale forerunner, ‘Sales Executive’. So the designation was adopted left, right and centre, by even people who couldn’t tell marketing from operations.
In conformity with the zeitgeist, people and companies changed their reports from, for instance, “I sold 3 units of product A to customer B”, to “I marketed 3 units of product A to customer B”. Everything was done to supplant the term ‘selling’ with ‘marketing’. And it still goes on today. It’s normal to find a well-paid staff with customer-development responsibilities announce that he is going out for ‘marketing’ when he’s about to embark on sales calls.
It needs to be said and acknowledged that a person bearing the appellation of ‘sales executive’ is also by definition, a marketing executive. Every salesperson is a marketing person because sales is a subset of marketing. The profession of Marketing has practitioners who are public relations experts, channel and distribution experts, retail, wholesale and logistics experts, branding experts, product design experts, marketing research experts, marketing communications experts, advertising experts, strategy experts, sales experts, direct marketing experts, etc. All these are marketers and those who function in those roles at the officer level could rightly be called Marketing Executives.
There are, however, organizations whose marketing departments are distinct from their sales departments. Such companies provide us with the most palpable distinctions between a marketing executive and a sales executive. The marketers are usually strategists (not marketing communications folks) who design and supervise marketing campaigns which should open doors for the sales team to waltz in and get converts. Never mind that the two sister-departments are always cat-and-dogging as marketing folks decry the poor sales conversion rates by the sales team, who in turn abhor what they would characterize as the ludicrous value delivered by expensive marketing campaigns. At least in companies like this, the two designations are distinct and refer to different job descriptions. They are not the subject of this article.
The situations that irk me to the bone are those where the person called ‘marketing executive’ has the same set of jo
b functions (generating leads, converting the leads to orders and repeat-selling over and over) that are customary to sales executives. The position of Marketing Executive in this case is not a new job category. As we hinted above, it was introduced to distinguish the strategic salespersons from the ‘zombie’ ones and as far as I’m concerned, it’s a waste of language. ‘Marketer’ is not supposed to be a synonym for ‘professional salesperson’. The ‘zombie’ salesperson was never a professional salesperson in the first place. At best, he may have been a hustler or a peddler.
We don’t need another name to distinguish a good salesperson from a poor one. A thorough surgeon will not be called a cardiologist or a pharmacist, or just anything but a surgeon in order to distinguish him from his less effective counterparts. There is only one kind of professional selling. Every sales professional encapsulates the best of strategic marketing – at a one-on-one level with his prospects. Each of us must learn to interpret marketing plans and synthesize them into formidable tools for converting prospects to customers. That’s what strategy is about, isn’t it? We don’t need a different designation before we can attain that. It’s a basic skill for us. It comes with our territory. It’s who we already are by definition.
The fact that a person is designated as a Marketing Executive does not make him superior, more knowledgeable, more skillful, more deserving, or more strategic than those of us called ‘sales executives’. We are sales executives; that’s who we are – and we are damn proud of it!
Published in BUSINESSDAY newspapers of Tuesday, February 20, 2007