If I were to ask you to sum up the fundamental difference between sales and marketing in one word, what would you say?

Sure, sales is often short-term and marketing is long-term. That's more of a tactical difference. I'm talking fundamentals. At the end of the day, both sales and marketing need to sell something, so what is the difference?

The one word I would use to describe the difference: subtlety.

Sales is, "Here is a watch, buy it." Marketing is more like, "Here is a blog post about watches. By the way, I also sell watches."

If you're a good salesperson, you sell me a product and I buy it. If you're a good marketer, you tell me such a compelling story that I decide I want to buy this product without you explicitly telling me to do so.

So how does basketball fit into all of this? It contains my single favorite metaphor for remembering the difference between sales and marketing--and using those differences to make your startup more successful.

The Alley-Oop

Ever watch an NBA commercial or game and see one player throw the ball into the air to another player, who then takes the ball mid-air and slam dunks it? That's called an alley-oop and it sure is pretty.

The alley-oop is the perfect form of deep collaboration between teammates. It's the perfect depiction of the way teamwork is supposed to look. One player elevates the ball. The other--fully in sync with that first player--leaps into the air, catches the ball and slam dunks it to the cheers of the crowd.

That first player who tosses the ball into the air? He could have gone straight to the hoop and tried to score himself. Instead, he chose the more subtle path of communicating with his teammate and setting the floor for the glorious alley-oop and eventual dunk.

Sales and Marketing

If you do marketing right, you're elevating your brand for the sales or advertising team to bring it home and slam dunk the deal.

If I come across an ad for your product on Facebook, and it's the first time I am ever exposed to your brand, you're doing it wrong. Ads are meant to convert, to slam dunk, but if the ball is not already in the air, there is nothing to dunk.

Now, imagine I come across an ad for your product and as soon as I see that ad, I'm reminded of the blog post you wrote the week before that provided me some deep insights on my own challenges. Imagine that as soon as I see that ad, I say to myself "Oh, I know those guys. They replied with a great article when I asked a question on Twitter yesterday." 

Marketers call this a touch point, I call it an alley-oop.

As a marketer, your goal is to subtly elevate your brand so the sales team or that ad, can take that elevated brand and turn it into a conversion, slam dunk it.

The beauty of the alley-oop besides the obvious pleasing visuals, is the perfect communication between the two players, in that split second. They are not competing for the spotlight, quite the contrary, they are setting the stage for the success of both players and the team as a whole.

Often times, sales and marketing are viewed as competitive. You are either spending your time and resources on sales or you are spending it on marketing.

The truth, though, is that a good sales team and a good marketing team complement each other perfectly. If they both do their jobs, they're setting the stage for both teams--and the company as a whole--to succeed, much like an alley-oop.